Mon, Oct 12, 2009 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Local factions: They win, or Ma loses

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Chiang Lien-fu (江連福) was kicked out of the legislature after being found guilty of vote-buying by the Taiwan High Court at a second trial on Friday. Chiang is the third KMT legislator to have his election annulled because of vote-buying, following Lee E-tin (李乙廷) of Miaoli County and Chang Sho-wen (張碩文) of Yunlin County. Taoyuan County’s Liao Cheng-ching (廖正井) was given a yellow card by the Miaoli District Court, which annulled his election at the end of his first trial on vote-buying charges. Liao may be given a red and have to leave the legislature when the High Court announces its verdict in his appeal at the end of this month.

These losses come at a bad time for President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who assumes the KMT chairmanship this Saturday. Although a handful of lost seats do little damage to the KMT’s absolute majority in the legislature, the by-election wins by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Non-Partisan Solidarity Union have dealt a blow to KMT morale.

Ma claims to stand for clean government, but the series of vote-buying convictions of KMT legislators has hurt these claims. The KMT remains a party built on corruption, and Ma’s personal charm cannot conceal the fact. This will put the KMT at a disadvantage in December’s elections for city mayors, county commissioners and councilors.

Once notorious for buying votes in local factions, the KMT’s control over the factions is now slipping. The party faces defections and a split vote in many electorates as the factions reject the central leadership’s choice of candidate and put forward their own instead.

Rival factions are familiar with the KMT’s channels for mobilizing voters and buying votes, and so are able to spy on one another, thus creating a balance of distrust. In last month’s legislative by-election in Yunlin County, rival factions headed by Chang Jung-wei (張榮味) and Chang Ken-hui (張艮輝) did just this; the result was that neither was able to use the money that had been set aside for buying votes — and traditional KMT voters stayed home.

The DPP won no more votes than in previous elections, but its support was enough for candidate Liu Chien-kuo (劉建國) to win by a wide margin.

If the Yunlin effect is repeated in December, the KMT’s campaign could suffer serious damage.

When Ma takes over as KMT chairman, he will lay claim to the combined powers of the presidency, the Cabinet, the legislature and the party. However, Ma has run into a series of obstacles in the past three months. First, Typhoon Morakot brought calamity to the nation, and Ma’s weak response sent his popularity to rock bottom. Now the KMT faces a crisis as factions rebel and legislators lose — or stand to lose — their seats. For Ma, nothing is going according to plan.

With his insistence on clean politics, Ma has always viewed local factions with disdain. In last year’s presidential election, his personal popularity was enough to get him elected without having to rely on local factions.

Now, however, the political situation is different. In a weakened position, Ma might be tempted to compromise with the factions. If he does so, his political halo will be damaged. Whatever Ma decides to do, there will be consequences that he would rather not face.

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