Lack of support from party lawmakers and record-low approval ratings have rendered President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) a lame duck president only one year into his second term. While he continues to stumble as president, it is only reasonable to question the impact of the burden on him of handling KMT affairs at the same time.
Yet on Thursday, Ma defended his bid to be re-elected KMT chairman by insisting it was his duty to double as party chairman and president.
The reason? To continue party reform and enhance cooperation between the party and the government. Yet, we have seen little change in the KMT since he first took leadership in 2005. The KMT continues to be riven with corruption scandals and despite repeated promises to clean up its illicit assets, the party has still not rid itself of its remaining asset — the Central Investment Co.
Government reforms carried out under Ma’s chairmanship — the pension reforms, capital gains tax and the proposed 12-year education program — have demonstrated little cooperation between the executive and legislative branches and highlighted haphazard policymaking.
The signing of the cross-strait service trade pact last week, which opens 64 industries for Chinese investment, again showed how Ma neglects public concern about the impact on local business of closer ties with China.
Even KMT lawmakers criticized the lack of transparency, the party caucus reaching a consensus with the opposition camp on the need to assess how the domestic service sector would be affected before submitting the pact to the Executive Yuan for approval. The move would delay the Ma administration’s plan to implement the agreement by the end of this year.
Yet Ma has dismissed calls from KMT members for him to focus on the presidency. Instead, he has insisted that only by serving as chairman can he lead the KMT to cooperate with the administrative branch.
Ma’s insistence on keeping the party-state mechanism shows that he has failed to recognize the problem. Surely the administrative power he holds as president would provide him with cooperation from the KMT without the need to take over the chairmanship if he had good command of the policymaking process and ran a tight, effective administration.
KMT members’ concerns about the future of the party under Ma’s leadership were voiced by the former speaker of the now-defunct Taiwan Provincial Assembly Kao Yu-jen (高育仁), who described Ma’s administration as “plain incompetent,” even though this could have been interpreted as support for his son-in-law, New Taipei City Mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫).
As Ma stressed in his inauguration speech last year, leaving a historical legacy is a priority for him during his second term as the president.
What this legacy might be is dubious. If re-elected as KMT chairman, he will take the reins of the party for another four years, prolonging his political career after his presidency ends in 2016. While Ma did not confirm whether he will visit China in his capacity as KMT chairman, he is expected to exploit his chairmanship to play a role in cross-strait development.
Yet his party leadership will continue to face challenges as the KMT struggles to obtain victories in the seven-in-one elections next year. Ma will also have to lead the party to win the 2016 presidential election if he wants to consolidate party support.