Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has just returned from a trip to the US where she had a series of appointments in her capacity as the DPP’s presidential candidate. She was virtually shadowed by King Pu-tsung (金溥聰), head of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) campaign team, who made sure he was there at every stop, aping her every move. Former premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) got it right when he accused King of being up to no good and stopping at nothing to prevent his rival from making any headway. Such is King’s strategy.
We saw a similar strategy during the 2008 presidential election. The DPP came up with the idea of calling for a referendum on Taiwan’s entry into the UN, as a way to bolster former premier Frank Hsieh’s (謝長廷) campaign. The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), in an attempt to take the wind out of the DPP’s sails, called for another referendum, on the Republic of China re-entering the UN. This exercise in obfuscation worked well. The public had trouble distinguishing between the two and ultimately lost interest. The result was that neither managed to reach the threshold necessary for a referendum to be held.
King did not care about ridicule over a lack of originality or innovative ideas. All he was interested in was holding the opponent back so Ma could maintain his lead. Now that Ma is seeking re-election, his campaign manager is up to his old tricks again. Ma, as president, was unable to go to the US to tail Tsai, so King went in his stead.
Tsai met members of the US Congress in Washington; King was not far behind. Tsai attended a seminar with think tank academics; King did the same. Tsai gave a speech at Harvard University; King arranged to give a speech at Harvard. Tsai met with overseas Taiwanese in Los Angeles. Guess what King did when he was there? He made sure he was there at every turn, forcing her to share the limelight.
King exploits his special status. It has long been known that he is Ma’s close friend and confidant. It does not matter whether he is officially the secretary-general of the KMT or holds no particular title, the whole political world knows he is, to all intents and purposes, Ma’s alter-ego. He often sounds more like Ma than Ma himself. It was King who turned the discourse to Ma’s visit to China following his re-election and of the possibility of cross-strait peace talks, forcing Tsai, who up to that point had avoided clarifying her position on the cross-strait issue, into the debate. After they had crossed swords, one claiming that Tsai’s “Taiwan consensus” lacked substance, the other that the “1992 consensus” was a sham, there was little opportunity to develop the point further with US officials and academics, to persuade them about the issue.
Many people were impressed by Tsai’s ideas and her level-headedness during her US visit, but the overall impact she made was deadened by King’s immediate refutations and attempts to sidetrack her. Meanwhile, Ma and his running mate, Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義), had the run of the country, drumming up votes. King has done pretty well.
His strategy is working for the time being, but it is based entirely on the frontrunner frustrating the attempts of anyone behind from catching up. His problem is that the public is none too impressed with Ma’s track record or his policies. Once the campaign starts heating up and the legislative candidates enter the fray, King’s strategy might not be so effective. King has successfully put a spanner in the works of Tsai’s US trip. It is now up to Tsai to bring Ma to account in Taiwan.