Two weeks ago, several retired generals got together in a touching show of support for President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) ahead of January’s presidential election. On the morning of Sept. 2, Ma attended an event to mark Armed Forces Day and National Defense Day, and to celebrate the centennial of the founding of the Republic of China (ROC). He was joined by dozens of retired generals.
The next morning, the president of the Central Military Institute Alumni Association’s (CMIAA) general committee and former army commander-in-chief General Chen Chen-hsiang (陳鎮湘) held another event at the Armed Forces Officers’ Club on behalf of the heads of Taiwan’s five biggest veterans organizations.
The purpose of the second event was to drum up support for Ma’s re-election bid, and it was attended by about 25 retired generals and more than 600 people representing the military associations.
Ma was there to address the throng, and to personally hand out campaign flags to the heads of the veterans associations of various counties and cities around Taiwan. Forty-seven associations and organizations were involved, including the Veterans Association of the ROC. In addition, support groups are to be set up as branch associations in 17 cities and counties around the country to rally behind Ma’s campaign.
After watching events over the past week, it has become obvious that many media -commentators have neglected a couple of key points.
First, the Armed Forces Day event was organized by the Ministry of National Defense. How is the ministry directly associated with these retired generals?
It is difficult not to be suspicious of their use of this event to express their opinions in this way, especially in this politically sensitive period in the run-up to the presidential election.
Second, it is unusual for the head of the CMIAA to be able to mobilize all of these veterans organizations on such a huge scale. Who paid for it all?
It would be fine if it were financed by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) funds, donations by private businesses and industry, or the retired generals themselves.
However, if any financial support or subsidy was forthcoming from the government, this would be a different matter entirely. It would be going against the principles of administrative neutrality and non-intervention by the military in elections.
Perhaps the KMT is enlisting the retired generals to lend their weight to mobilizing military subordinates. This kind of tactic has served the KMT well in past elections. However, this doesn’t appear to be the most effective way to run campaigns. During their time in the service, military personnel may well feel obliged to toe the line for the sake of their careers, but once they are discharged, they can do as they please. Most military personnel have their own ideas and perspectives.
Asking retired generals to show their support for Ma shows little more than their individual voting intentions as members of the KMT. They cannot speak for anyone else. If the Vocational Assistance Commission for Retired Servicemen were to publicize the respective proportion of retired generals to decommissioned officers or servicemen, we would know for sure who was being taken more seriously.
What have the local KMT branches done for discharged officers and soldiers? It is not enough to simply play the retired-generals card every time an election is on the horizon. As far as future presidential candidates are concerned, retired military personnel, officers and enlisted men alike will care more about whether a given candidate had implemented the political promises they had made concerning matters of national defense, the progress of current national defense policy reform and the plans they have for the future.