Of the many resolutions passed at the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) 19th National Congress, none drew more attention than an amendment to the party’s charter that links the KMT chairmanship to the office of the nation’s president so that any KMT head of state will automatically double as chairman.
The consensus among the public is that this amendment was tailor-made by the KMT Central Standing Committee for President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who doubles as KMT chairman, since it ensures that he no longer needs to be concerned about being ousted as party leader if the KMT suffers significant losses during the mayoral and county commissioner elections at the end of next year.
As far as the party is concerned, there are numerous advantages and disadvantages to having the president concurrently hold the chairmanship.
The pros of this arrangement are the creation of seamless unity between the KMT and the central government; consistency between the two sides; the parity of the highest position in the party and the national government; an increased ability to avoid conflict between the KMT and the government, while maximizing the efficiency of communication between the two entities; the minimization of friction within the party; wider access to resources; potentially stronger party morale and the capacity to ensure that the KMT chairman’s vision is carried out.
However, the drawbacks include the increased likelihood of problems arising from trying to serve the party and national interests simultaneously, as well as a vulnerability to accusations that the party and the central government are too intimately intertwined. In addition, the measure creates a negative image of the party in the eyes of moderate voters.
What all these pros and cons have in common is that they involve questions of political party autonomy and the reason most politicians would prefer not to touch upon this issue is because it has come up before, when the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was in power.
In 2002, when I was DPP chairman, the DPP revised its internal regulations to allow former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) to concurrently hold the party chairmanship, just as Ma has done now.
At the time, the hope was that such a step would facilitate consistency and unity between the DPP and the government, but the move was met with a barrage of criticism from the public. Ma’s decision to push through the same change to the KMT’s charter smacks of plagiarism — it is nothing new.
What is more, speaking from past experience, I believe that there needs to be an urgent debate on whether this arrangement constitutes a violation of the separation and balance of powers as stated in the Republic of China Constitution.
The Constitution’s stipulations on the separation and balance of powers, and the independence of the branches of government are there to ensure popular sovereignty — the principle whereby a government’s authority is created and maintained by the consent of its citizenry — and human rights.
The president is part of the executive branch of government. In our system, unlike in the Cabinet system, the president is not directly accountable to the national congress or legislature, and is unaffected if Cabinet is dissolved. It is therefore important to maintain the separation and balance of powers to prevent the arbitrary abuse of presidential powers and to let popular democracy operate as it should.