Ahead of the seventh anniversary of his taking office on Wednesday, Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) finds himself at odds with President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration, after questioning the credibility of the Special Investigation Division (SID) over its allegedly improper handling of a lobbying case and urging the government to abolish the unit.
Hau, one of the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) potential candidates for the 2016 presidential election, has challenged the government’s stance on various issues, including the denial of medical parole for former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and the ongoing construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City’s (新北市) Gongliao District (貢寮).
The mayor’s open opposition to government policies is an obvious attempt to distance himself from the Ma administration amid the president’s record-low approval ratings, as he ponders his next step after his final Taipei mayoral term ends next year.
As Ma’s political influence dwindles during his second term, several KMT politicians have started distancing themselves from him. Taichung Mayor Jason Hu (胡志強), in a speech on Friday during his third inauguration, lashed out at the KMT, accusing it of poor communication with party members, and indicated that Ma, who was recently confronted by shoe-throwing protesters, can open a shoeshop.
New Taipei City Mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫), another likely KMT presidential candidate, seems to be handling his relations with the Ma administration more cautiously than Hau. However, his father-in-law, former KMT legislator Kao Yu-jen (高育仁), has openly described Ma as an incompetent leader and voiced support for Chu’s bid in the next presidential election. Facing growing discontent within the party, the Presidential Office and the KMT have issued statements defending government policies, but have refrained from openly confronting politicians.
Amid the anti-Ma movement, the backlash from within his party has seriously damaged his reputation as KMT chairman. It makes it much more difficult for Ma to maintain unity in the party factions ahead of the seven-in-one elections next year and the presidential poll in 2016. If he wants to obtain victories in next year’s elections, it is a priority for Ma to maintain his political strength as president and chairman. Resolving his rift with Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) over Wang’s alleged improper lobbying and repairing his relations with the party’s old guard are tasks he cannot escape doing.
Nominations for mayoral elections in Taipei, New Taipei City and Greater Taichung will test Ma’s negotiation and leadership abilities. Ma and the KMT should be cautious about interfering with the possible candidacy of former Taipei EasyCard Corp chairman Sean Lien (連勝文), son of former vice president Lien Chan (連戰), in the Taipei mayoral race, while strengthening communication with the Chu and Hu camps, as well as smoothing the transition process.
Once a political star and the strong leader of the pan-blue camp, Ma has seen his approval rate drop and his power wane over the years due to his incompetence and arrogance.
If the president clings to power and refuses to change, there is little doubt the party will fare badly in next year’s polls. If this happens, Ma will become a lame duck president and KMT chairman, and face more confrontations from within the party.