Following last year’s presidential election, some Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) members proposed that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) also take up the role of party chairman, but Ma rejected the suggestion, saying he preferred to concentrate on national affairs and that it would be more appropriate for party affairs to be managed by others.
Recently, some KMT members again proposed that Ma act as KMT chairman, but this time he did not reject the suggestion, saying that he wouldn’t mind taking the post if it had a positive influence. Since then he has refused to comment on the matter.
Analysts have said that Ma will declare his candidacy for the post on May 20 — the anniversary of his election — and assume the chairmanship in July. This would be a major change — and may reflect the difficulties facing Ma in transforming the party.
The power of the earlier KMT regimes was centered in party headquarters rather than the Presidential Office or the Cabinet.
Important policies were often determined by the party’s Central Standing Committee, then carried out by party members.
When Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) died, for example, his successor as president, Yen Chia-kan (嚴家淦), was merely a titular head of state because actual power remained at party headquarters. This was also where power struggles took place.
If former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) had not served as KMT chairman when assuming office, his position would have lacked any power. It had already been determined within the party that Lee should succeed president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) when he passed away, thus there was little conflict.
Instead, power struggles relate to control over party headquarters. When the KMT lost the presidency in 2000, party headquarters remained the KMT’s center of power and legislators continued to follow its orders.
In normal democracies, political parties play the role of electoral machine instead of a center of national power distribution. Before he was elected, Ma seemed to have an eye on this characteristic when he called for a separation of the party and the government.
Following the presidential election, no one would have opposed Ma if he had attempted to take the chairmanship of the party, but if the president had served concurrently as party chairman, then he would have to follow resolutions made by the KMT Central Standing Committee — and the party would be in control of the government once again.
To initiate this separation, Ma declined to take the position.
Taiwan does not have a true presidential system; for a president to have complete control over the state requires an absolute legislative majority. Ma is a popularly elected president installed by an absolute majority of voters, while his party garnered almost three-quarters of all legislative seats.
It should therefore have been easy for Ma to govern the country, but not all KMT legislators listen to their president. The legislature’s refusal to pass all of Ma’s Control Yuan nominees served as an example — and a warning.
The KMT’s power struggle has placed the executive, the legislature and the party on equal footing. Normally, the executive has enormous resources and should be able to bring the legislature into line. On the other hand, party headquarters has no executive or legislative power and should be excludable from the center of power.