Unsurprisingly, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday announced he had chosen Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) to be his running mate in January’s presidential election.
At a press conference, Ma touted Wu’s extensive administrative experience, describing the premier as a “trustworthy” partner with whom he would feel confident fighting the presidential race. Vice President Vincent Siew (蕭萬長), who had previously said he would not seek a second term, also attended the press conference as a gesture of support for Wu.
However, a Ma-Wu ticket has little to offer voters other than a sharp reminder of the lack of talent in the ranks of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).
Speculation about Wu seeking the vice presidency has been circulating for months. Unlike the 2008 presidential campaign, when rumors about Ma’s possible running mate ran wild before he announced he would pair up with Siew, there have been no other potential challengers.
When Ma selected 72-year-old Siew as his running mate in June 2007, Siew promised that he would only serve one term, paving the way for someone from a younger generation if Ma ran for re-election in 2012.
Ma defended his selection of Wu, 63, saying there was a generational change in terms of the nine-year age gap and the different political experiences of the two men, but added that it was too early to say if Wu would emerge as the next leader of the KMT.
Such suggestions are unconvincing. Wu may be nine years younger than Siew, but he is only two years older than Ma. However, a quick run-through the ranks of younger KMT members highlights the lack of potential stars.
The shortage of new blood to replace the older generation is a long-term problem in the 100-year-old party, which maintains a patriarchal system in which individuals such as former vice president Lien Chan (連戰) and former KMT chairman Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄) continue to wield disproportionate influence — especially Lien, who led the party to its worst-ever drubbing and yet is still pandered to.
Just look at Ma himself. Once a rising star in the party, Ma took over the KMT chairmanship with promises to reform the party and establish democratic practices to attract new and younger members. He tried to establish a party primary mechanism during his first term as chairman in 2005, but failed. He also failed in several other attempts at reform, not to mention his vow to clean up the Augean Stables that is the KMT’s stolen assests mess. Under-the-table negotiations remain the main way party candidates are selected at both the local and national level.
Within the party, Ma, like New Taipei City Mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫) and Greater Taichung Mayor Jason Hu (胡志強), is still seen as one of the younger generation.
Closing the talent gap is a pressing issue for Ma and the KMT, especially when Ma’s main rival in the January polls is Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文). She has said her running mate could be someone in his or her 40s, a generation that has many one-time student leaders who gained experience serving in the previous DPP administration. Tsai also said younger DPP members would play a bigger role in her presidential campaign.
The DPP vice presidential search will definitely be more exciting to watch than the KMT’s could ever hope to be, just as the transition of power to the younger generation in the DPP will probably be far smoother.
While Ma’s re-election campaign will probably dominate his political agenda in the six-and-a-half months before the election, he should renew efforts to make internal KMT elections more transparent and put an end to the older generation’s imperial chess game if he wants to see the KMT mark another decade, much less a century.
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