The infighting within the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has produced three losers — President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) and the party’s former presidential candidate, Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱) — and one winner: Chairman and the party’s new presidential candidate Eric Chu (朱立倫).
From start to finish, it looks as if the players in the political tug-of-war have been following a predetermined script.
Wang was double-crossed by Chu in a ploy that looks like two thieves stealing from each other. After crushing Ma during the illegal lobbying scandal two years ago, Wang let his guard down; and as a result, his efforts to seek nomination as the KMT’s presidential candidate were obliterated by Chu.
Who could have predicted such an outcome at the beginning of the presidential race?
To deal with a political opponent such as Chu, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) must treat Wang’s fate as a warning and stay on guard against lurking threats.
On the eve of the KMT presidential primaries, Wang had already been laying the groundwork for his bid when Ma unexpectedly voiced his opposition to Wang’s nomination. He then denied that he was seeking to scuttle Wang’s bid; but who would believe Ma over Wang?
Meanwhile, Chu was repeatedly calling for unity within the KMT without elaborating on the meaning of his words. Faced with a rival who was holding his cards close to his chest, Wang hesitated. Support for Wang then melted away and transferred to Chu.
Yet, Chu still insisted on not throwing his hat into the ring, preferring to stay on the sidelines, because if he had expressed his desire to run, he would have had to prove his commitment by resigning as New Taipei City mayor.
However, everybody knows the KMT does not stand a chance of winning January’s presidential election. If Chu had resigned as mayor to run for president, he would have to resign as chairman if the party loses the election, which means he would lose everything.
That is, unless Chu were left as the KMT’s only viable candidate. In such a situation, Chu would be in a position to argue that he should be able to hold onto his mayoral post as compensation for taking on the task of running as the party’s candidate in an election that appears to be a lost cause.
Attacked and subdued, Wang was unable to make a move. With no suitable candidates willing to put themselves forward, the party was facing imminent disaster until Hung, with the support of the party, stepped forward to run as the KMT’s presidential candidate.
All Wang could do was question Hung’s ability to take on the role. Outside observers, convinced that it was legislators from Wang’s faction who were trying to snuff out Hung’s campaign, sought to pin the blame on Wang.
However, he said he was innocent and told his allies in the legislature to refrain from attacking Hung.
Who, then, was inciting pro-Wang legislators and making them believe that Wang might still be nominated as the party’s candidate?
After Hung passed the threshold with flying colors to become the KMT’s presidential candidate — which should have enamored the public toward her candidacy — political commentators immediately started to call for her replacement. The reason given was that she had already started to have a negative impact on individual KMT legislators’ chances of re-election.
Observers once again associated the words of the pundits with those of Wang. And again, Wang claimed his innocence, yet nobody believed him, since his allies were so vehement in their criticism of Hung. With Hung getting such high levels of support in the primary polls, how could there possibly be a negative impact?
However, commentators engorged themselves on a never-ending diet of off-the-record briefings from “high-level members of the KMT,” which told of repeated demands to rescind Hung’s candidacy, while Wang suffered in silence as the stench of collusion hung around his neck like a dead albatross.
As more rumors started to spread about Hung, the bigger the problem became, which took a toll on Hung’s reputation.
However, KMT headquarters continually emphasized that both it and the party’s local branches fully supported Hung. Anyone with an understanding of Chinese political culture would realize that the party was in fact attempting to paper over the cracks: both party headquarters and local branches were quietly unsupportive of Hung.
Eventually, the party’s inner circle had Hung on the ropes, while Chu seized the opportunity and used the excuse of rescuing the electoral prospects of legislative candidates in the nation’s south as justification to topple Hung.
There remained only one possibility for the KMT: to nominate Chu as its presidential candidate.
Chu, following the script, said he has a duty toward New Taipei City residents, while his colleagues within the New Taipei City Government popped up on cue and appealed to Chu to continue serving as mayor while running in the presidential election.
This way, Chu can portray himself as the savior of the party. Even if he loses the election, Chu will appear to have performed a valuable task, and will be able to hold onto the chairmanship, thus blocking former Taipei mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) and others who are eyeing the post.
Further, by providing justification for remaining New Taipei City mayor, Chu has guaranteed that he would be able to retain that job in the event of a defeat in the election.
Wang has been sidelined and discarded as a pan-green imposter, and Hung has been left stunned, while Ma, looking after his own back, is staying silent.
This is the type of person Tsai is going to have to deal with. Although Chu appears to be a passive leader with poor coordination skills and a flawed character, in fact he is a highly ambitious individual and a ruthless opponent who is also good at mischief.
Although Chu has already resigned himself to defeat at the presidential election, Tsai must stay vigilant and avoid underestimating Chu the way Wang did.
Having been used by Chu as a means to eliminate Hung, the falsely accused Wang is left out in the cold.
Shih Chih-yu is a professor of political science at National Taiwan University.
Translated by Edward Jones
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