Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Alex Tsai (蔡正元) is not a party heavyweight, but recently, he used his Facebook account to challenge the legality of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) bid for another term as KMT chairman. By saying that Ma cannot stand for re-election, he has embarrassed the president and put an end to the illusion that no one in the party is willing to challenge Ma. Citing the Civil Associations Act (人民團體法), Tsai said that the leader of any civil association can only be re-elected once –– and this includes political parties.
Ma was first elected as KMT chairman in 2005, but had to step down in 2007 because of allegations of his misuse of the mayoral special affairs fund during his tenure as Taipei major. He was replaced by Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄), who served as party chairman until 2009 when Ma was acquitted of corruption charges and re-elected.
Following the precedent set by former Jhunan (竹南) Township mayor Kang Shih-ju (康世儒), who had his 2011 election annulled after having being previously elected in 2002 and 2006, Ma appears ineligible to stand for re-election unless the Civil Associations Act is amended.
The KMT says its charter stipulates that the chairman can be re-elected once and that the two most recent elections took place in 2007, when Wu was elected, and in 2009, when Ma was elected. Therefore, Ma’s bid would not violate the re-election rule. However, Wu’s election was a by-election in order to fill Ma’s place and complete the remainder of his term.
Minister of the Interior Lee Hong-yuan (李鴻源), who is the top official in charge of civil associations, is avoiding the issue by saying that the situation should be resolved in accordance with party regulations.
Tsai’s challenge is testing party support for Ma. While no one will yet openly challenge Ma’s authority, Vice President Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) and his confidantes in the party’s top leadership are the only ones who have come out in support of him.
Those with real power, such as Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) and New Taipei City Mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫) have followed Lee’s approach, while party legislators appear to be standing by, waiting to see how it will play out.
Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) and Greater Taichung Mayor Jason Hu (胡志強) only offered their support after several days.
The whole situation has raised eyebrows and some think Tsai is paving the way for another person to claim the position of chairman. Others have suggested that he is trying to make a name for himself in preparation for a run in Taipei’s next mayoral election. Whatever the reason, Tsai has shown that Ma’s bark is worse than his bite.
With a public approval rating of just 13 percent, Ma is already a lame duck, despite still having three years left of his second presidential term. To consolidate his power, he needs to gain a firm hold on the party so he does not end up as a mere figurehead.
When Ma rebuked former Taipei EasyCard Corp chairman Sean Lien (連勝文) for remarks disparaging the government’s economic performance, he gained little party or public support. Meanwhile, the KMT candidate in the recent legislative by-election in Greater Taichung rejected Ma’s support, despite his opponent being backed by all the Democratic Progressive Party heavyweights. Ma’s star is clearly waning.
From the moment Ma was re-elected president, he has wanted to build his historical legacy, but his dream is divorced from reality. It is just as Control Yuan President Wang Chien-shien and The Economist have said: Ma is inept and a bumbler.