Today, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) is electing its chairman and tens of thousands of its members have been mobilized to vote for the incumbent — President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九). Pundits liken the election to a mid-summer festival political farce, as Ma is the only candidate in the ballot, while another possible rival was disqualified on “technical” grounds, ensuring that Ma would be the winner.
Nonetheless, Ma has taken a month-long leave of absence from his presidential duties to campaign all around Taiwan to solicit votes from the KMT’s rank and file.
That Ma will be re-elected is a foregone conclusion, but he wants to win big, lest he lose face. Reportedly, a secret “word of mouth” campaign has been organized by Ma’s detractors inside the KMT to turn the election into a vote of no confidence on Ma and instigate the disgruntled members to abstain from voting.
Why does Ma feel compelled to seek the party chairmanship again?
Reporters once reminded him of a pledge he made while campaigning for president in 2007 that he would never serve as KMT chairman if elected, because “the president should be devoted full time to government affairs.” Despite the pledge, he did seize the party chairmanship from Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄) in 2009. A deceitful and hypocritical Ma would assert that his decision was not a power grab, but was “prompted by his sense of responsibility for the nation’s competitiveness and government performance.”
Whereas Ma has controlled so much power from the party and state, and the KMT has also possessed a majority of seats in the law-making Legislative Yuan, pathetically he has been unable to get things done or done properly. Indeed, Ma does not know how to govern and his leadership performance is so bad that many observers, including the senior officials he appointed and veteran party leaders have branded him incompetent.
Last year, a very unpopular Ma was re-elected for another four-year term, thanks to the unceremonious intervention on his behalf by China and the US. Although he received fewer popular votes and a smaller margin of victory (51.6 percent) than in the 2008 election (58 percent), he proudly claimed that he won the popular mandate to implement a grandiose program for a golden decade — a policy platform he announced during the election. A survey made public by Taiwan Indicators Survey Research before Ma began his second term in office showed 57.4 percent of respondents regarded the president as not trustworthy and 67.5 percent disapproved of his performance.
Since then, he has been faced with a record-low approval rating and various polls show his support in the range of 15 percent to 25 percent, as well as growing criticism within the KMT, including its lawmakers. Numerous reasons cause the growing discontent and resentment. Chief among them is Ma’s failure to deliver on several major campaign promises in his first four-year term: the so-called “6-3-3” promise, namely, to increase annual economic growth to 6 percent (it is still below 3 percent), to lower the jobless rate to 3 percent (the latest data show a rate of 4.06 percent), and to increase annual per capita income to US$30,000 (but most people’s real incomes are either stagnant or in decline).
Adding to these grievances are a string of the Ma government’s unwise and rash policies implemented without approval by the legislature, including fuel and electricity price hikes, which anger the general public. Likewise, a not well-thought through plan to re-impose a capital gains tax on stock transactions has badly alienated the middle class and business community.