Wed, Oct 14, 2009 - Page 8 News List

THE LIBERTY TIMES EDITORIAL: KMT keeping its ‘chamber pot’ full

The role of local factions in Taiwan’s democratic evolution has become a focus for discussion in the wake of three recent events — the defeat of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) in last month’s Yunlin County legislative by-election, the failure to pass a referendum proposal to allow casinos in Penghu County and the withdrawal of KMT candidate Chang Li-shan (張麗善) from the contest for Yunlin County commissioner in December’s local elections.

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) reacted with his famous phrase: “We would rather be defeated than tolerate abuse.”

On the surface, Ma seems to be saying that he would rather gloriously sacrifice himself than compromise with local factions, but he is actually evading responsibility for the KMT’s recent defeats. It reminds one of the words of Tu Yueh-sheng (杜月笙), the boss of Shanghai’s Green Gang (青幫) who said: “Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) treats me like a chamber pot. When he’s done with me, he sticks me back under the bed.”

Tu’s words shed an interesting light on the present situation. The circumstances may differ, but the essence of the problem is the same.

Tu’s “chamber pot” is an apt simile for the sinister way local factions have traditionally divided the spoils with KMT officials. The story goes that when Tu, whose name struck fear into the hearts of people in Shanghai, witnessed how Chiang turned on his allies and ordered the massacre of labor union leaders, he said to his underlings with a sigh: “People call me ruthless, but compared to this lot I’m a pious Buddhist vegetarian.”

Of course Tu was no vegetarian monk, but his description of Chiang was spot on. When the KMT was defeated by the communists in the Civil War and retreated to Taiwan, it transplanted its policy of playing one faction against another. Much research has been conducted on the origin of Taiwan’s factional politics since Hu Fu (胡佛) published Political Change and Democratization (政治變遷與民主化) in 1988.

Ma may talk of abuse by local factions, but history shows that it was the KMT, that epitome of corruption, that nurtured those factions with the enormous resources it got by siphoning money from the national treasury into its own coffers. The factions are regularly rewarded with a slice of the action of local construction projects. Come election time, they are responsible for going door to door to buy votes.

Factions have been the very basis of the KMT’s political survival. The fact is, for the past 60 years, the KMT has used local factions to implement its divide-and-rule policy to control the Taiwanese.

The party has maintained overwhelming power in local government and the legislature and only lost control of the presidency and central government for eight years. This shows that the mutual reliance of the KMT and local factions remains unchanged.

Ma would rather not talk about how his own poor performance has wrecked the KMT’s chances in recent by-elections. Instead, he puts the failures down to local factions and their “abuses.” Is this not a modern-day version of Chiang and his chamber pot?

We see many KMT branches splitting over nominations for December’s elections for mayors, county commissioners and councilors. Ma would have us believe that it is because he is saying goodbye to the factions, but the real reason is that the factions are no longer playing by Ma’s rules.

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