President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was elected chairman of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) yesterday. He actively campaigned for the position even though he was the only candidate. Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄), KMT chairman since 2007, has been abruptly and rudely pushed off the stage.
Reactions to Ma’s decision to double as KMT chairman have been negative. True, his predecessors in the party, presidents Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國), also held the KMT chairmanship, but Taiwan is now a full-fledged democracy and for Ma to revert to the authoritarian practice of interlocking party-state leadership seems inappropriate.
Ma, whose list of about-faces and abandoned promises is long, pledged while running for president in 2007 not to serve as KMT chairman if elected.
As he said: “The president should be devoted full-time to government affairs.”
But now Ma says his decision to serve as KMT chairman was prompted by his “sense of responsibility for the nation’s competitiveness and government performance.”
Since taking office in May last year, the Ma administration has been troubled by the lack of party-government cooperation and the “disobedience” of the legislature, where the KMT has a nearly three-quarter majority.
To Ma’s chagrin, the legislature has on several occasions failed to confirm his appointees to two other branches of government, the Control Yuan and the Examination Yuan. Moreover, the legislature blocked half of the 50 bills on a priority list submitted by the Executive Yuan during the legislative session that ended on June 16.
One observer said the KMT caucus was not making a sufficient effort to support the president and the Cabinet and that Wu had failed in his responsibility as KMT chairman to push KMT lawmakers to follow party orders. This is why Ma wants the chairmanship.
Other commentators said the Presidential Office, the Cabinet, KMT headquarters and the KMT caucus were acting like four separate entities, failing to coordinate on legislation.
Many KMT lawmakers are veteran politicians and experts on various policy issues. They have their own concerns and preferences, which is another complication.
To gain full control, Ma intends to subdue or remove potential rivals inside the KMT. One such target is Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平), who ran against Ma for the KMT chairmanship in July 2005 and lost.
Wang continues to wield considerable power and influence as the legislative speaker and can hold Ma in check. Ma’s first goal is to erode Wang’s power base and lead his allies in the legislature to abandon him — dividing and conquering.
Ma has won over Deputy Speaker Tseng Yung-chuan (曾永權), Wang’s key partner, and some media speculate that Tseng will replace Wang as the next legislative speaker.
As party chairman, Ma will be able to nominate candidates for legislative elections and other posts and decide who the next legislative speaker and deputy speaker will be. He will also be able to appoint dozens of legislative members-at-large. In terms of policy-making, the KMT Central Standing Committee will set the legislative agenda. Thus, the room for independent political thinking and action by KMT lawmakers will likely be curtailed drastically.
In a meeting with Wu on May 24, Ma said the KMT-Chinese Communist Party (CCP) platform should not set the agenda for cross-strait relations.