President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) needs to stop apologizing for the corruption scandals involving close aides and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) politicians. He should also stop talking about how shocked and saddened he was to learn about the bribery allegations against them. We’ve heard it all before.
KMT Taipei City Councilor Lai Su-ju (賴素如) allegedly accepted NT$1 million (US$33,490) in bribes from the developer of Taipei Twin Towers project — a scandal that erupted just months after a corruption scandal involving former Executive Yuan secretary-general Lin Yi-shih (林益世). Both occured on Ma’s watch, and, as he said in an apology on Thursday regarding the Lai scandal, he should take full responsibility for KMT members’ acts of corruption.
Both Lin and Lai were trusted aides as a top official of the Executive Yuan and director of Ma’s chairman’s office respectively. The KMT had promoted them as fresh faces and young hopefuls under Ma’s chairmanship.
Their fall from grace have highlighted the problem of the KMT’s power structure. Under the party-state mechanism, Ma holds absolute power and only takes advice from a small circle of aides.
His reluctance to be more engaged in grassroots politics and to have a deeper understanding of the party’s local factions has made it easier for politicians like Lin and Lai to abuse their power and allegedly pocket bribes.
Ma has pledged to speed up party reform and eliminate the so-called “black gold” or vote-buying culture in the KMT since his first stint as party chairman in 2005. His promise once gave the public high hopes that the 100-year-old party could be cleaned up.
Now his aides alleged involvement in bribery scandals has destroyed the public’s confidence in the integrity of the Ma administration.
While the KMT scrambles to deal with the crises, Ma is still planning to run for re-election as KMT chairman in July, despite growing challenges from party members.
He has said that only by his doubling as KMT chairman can the administrative and legislative branches work closely in implementing policies. However, despite Ma’s chairmanship, the Cabinet still has trouble getting the KMT legisative caucus to carry out government reforms and has failed to improve efficiency.
The problems of illicit party assets, black-gold politics and factional infighting has also clouded the party over the years.
Cleaning up the party’s stolen assets and making the party “asset free” was a major goal of Ma for improving the party’s image. Most of the problematic assets have been handled, but the party is unable to sell the Central Investment Holding Co, which is valued at more than NT$20 billion.
However, the KMT’s old practice of relying on vote-buying and influence peddling among local factions continues to occur in elections.
Anti-corruption reform efforts in the KMT are a daunting task that require collective and persistent efforts. Ma must expand his small circle of aides and seek help from outside this pool of talent if he is to uphold party integrity. Transforming the KMT into a clean party is not something he can accomplish alone.