The election looms and all eyes are on the disarray in the pan-blue camp. Every day we see senior Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and People First Party (PFP) figures trading words in the press. So is it war, or is it peace? Even Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平), respected by all parties, seems at a loss to explain.
KMT Secretary-General Liao Liou-yi (廖了以) initially intervened, trying to cool tensions by engineering a meeting between President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and PFP Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜). Then King Pu-tsung (金溥聰), executive director of Ma’s campaign office, promised to withdraw the libel suit he had filed against Soong. To all appearances, the KMT has certainly done enough to give the PFP face.
However, of the three conditions for KMT-PFP cooperation both King and Ma have announced — joint nominations in districts where candidates have not been finalized, opinion polls deciding selections in districts where the KMT has already completed the nomination process and no PFP nominations for the legislators-at-large roster — the latter is the most important.
At first glance it certainly does seem like the KMT has been quite magnanimous here, but appearances can be deceiving. The KMT has already completed its nomination process and if legislators are to be decided by public opinion polls, the KMT candidates have a head start. If they then ask the PFP not to nominate any legislators-at-large, they are essentially consigning the PFP to oblivion.
The KMT’s attitude seems to be that a bust-up between the parties is inevitable, but that responsibility for the divisions lie with the PFP.
As far as most outside observers are concerned, King’s lawsuit against Soong was the main obstacle to KMT-PFP cooperation. This was withdrawn, tensions eased, and so the ball seems to be in Soong’s court. But what does he do? If he backs down he will look weak to his supporters, and he is done for, but if he keeps steering his party on its own path regardless, he has fallen into King’s trap, for the KMT could then claim it is not to blame for the divisions.
Soong is juggling the options of putting himself forward as a candidate for president, legislator or legislator-at-large. A decision to seek a legislative seat would impact independent Legislator Chen Fu-hai (陳福海), Lienchiang County Commissioner Chen Hsueh-sheng (陳雪生), a PFP member, and PFP Aboriginal Legislator Lin Cheng-er (林正二). The PFP’s objective is to combine its legislative caucuses to maintain its political influence. If the KMT cedes a few districts and, through negotiations with the PFP, allocates KMT legislator-at-large seats, the camp will be able to form a legislative caucus.
If the pan-blue camp splits, the PFP will have more than electoral defeat to contend with. The costs of the election alone are going to hurt. This is why it is prevaricating on announcing its legislator nomination list, playing for time to give itself more room, waiting for the optimal moment.
Soong’s chopping and changing and refusal to reveal his hand, causing consternation in the KMT, may well just be bluff. Both sides are engaged in a game of chicken. The KMT wants to work with the PFP, but not at the expense of risking more internal disputes or endangering the presidential election. This is Ma’s bottom line. Should the pan-blue camp split, the KMT has to find a way to avoid bleeding votes, possibly consolidating the staunchly blue vote by seeding a sense of crisis. This would not be a wise move, but then the KMT is not known for making the best decisions.