President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has said that with absolute power comes absolute responsibility. The evidence points more to him abusing the power he has and taking absolutely no responsibility for it.
The Cabinet’s draft political party act would bar political parties from investing in property or making money, setting a two-year time limit as of its enactment for parties to transfer ownership or sell off their assets. If they fail to do so within this period, they would have six months to hand these assets to a trust. Parties that do not comply with this legislation face a fine.
The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has said it is committed to dealing with the issue of party assets in a reasonable, open way in line with the law and for the public good, and that its resolve to address the issue remains unchanged. The truth is quite the opposite. There are still questions over how Ma handled the sale of China Television, the Broadcasting Corp of China and the Central Motion Picture Co. That is enough to blow a hole in the KMT’s story.
Ma and the KMT seem to think they can take the Taiwanese public for a bunch of fools. They think people will believe anything they say. From the time he became party chairman to the last presidential election, Ma has announced on several occasions that he would sell off all party assets and “return them to zero.” He has chosen a funny way to go about this over the past few years.
As it stands, the KMT still earns several billion New Taiwan dollars in stock dividends alone and remains the wealthiest political party in the world. It does make one wonder whether the party, far from being interested in reducing its assets to zero, might actually be contemplating adding a few zeros to its wealth.
While the nation is getting poorer, the people to whom the country belongs are getting poorer and the opposition parties are getting poorer, it is only the KMT that is getting richer. This version of the poverty gap really is something of a miracle of “democracy.”
The KMT’s party assets are best described as “ill-gotten assets,” commandeered from the national coffers. This is why people have been calling on the party to return the assets to the country. It is only right and just that these “ill-gotten assets” are returned.
Even when the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was in power, the KMT exploited its effective legislative majority to block any legislative attempts to address the issue. After the KMT returned to power in 2008, Ma quickly forgot his campaign promises to “reduce the party assets to zero.” He has put them to good use in the various elections over the past few years.
Not too long ago, the Control Yuan released a report saying that in the recent presidential election, DPP candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) had more political donations and campaign funds than Ma did. That does not make any sense. The elephant in the room is how the KMT’s assets gave Ma’s campaign access to wall-to-wall advertising and an army of campaigners.
Only those in the loop have any idea where the prodigious amounts of political donations to Ma’s campaign ended up, and Ma and the KMT are remaining tight-lipped on the subject. Why on earth would the party let go of this secret weapon that helped it bag the election? And to what end? Ma has had his fill, and future party leaders will want some of the pie, too.
In the past the KMT has tried to use legislation not to return the assets but to detoxify them instead, rebranding this “ill-gotten wealth” as legitimately obtained. It is trying this with the current draft political party law, too. Can laws make stolen goods rightfully owned property? And if the KMT is able to pull this one off, how can anyone in Taiwan be sure their property rights will be guaranteed? More importantly, if it is successful in detoxifying these assets, Taiwanese democracy itself is in peril, because there will be little fair competition between the parties to speak of.
The past four years have seen so many examples of Ma’s curious ideas of how a country should be governed that people have lost count. It is quite unfathomable how someone as utterly clueless as Ma can get away with everything he does, until one remembers he has access to these party assets. There has not been one election they have not helped the party win: They have been instrumental in guaranteeing the party’s perpetual advantage in the national legislature and local government.
As party chairman, Ma has control over these “ill-gotten assets,” as well as the right to nominate candidates, which means that he has legislators eating from his hand. When Ma says elderly farmers should get such and such a subsidy, the legislators nod; when he says there is to be a hike in fuel and electricity prices, up they go; when he says there is to be a capital gains tax on securities transactions, it goes ahead. So when he talks of “one country, two areas,” you can bet that is what is going to happen, too.
This is a tragedy for Taiwanese democracy. Ma is using these “ill-gotten assets” against Taiwanese, the very people his party stole them from. He dallies with unification; he dallies with the economy; and then, when his squeaky-clean image is exposed, he tries to change the law to detoxify the assets and bag the lot for the party.
The KMT is in bed with big business. Life is becoming increasingly difficult for ordinary people who are now facing the threat of being sold down the river. How can anyone say that the party assets issue has nothing to do with them? Ma and the KMT are holding on to these assets as if their lives depended on it, which in a way they do. Taiwanese have to find a way to shake off their shackles and save themselves. There is no better place to start than by addressing the issue of these “ill-gotten assets.”
Translated by Paul Cooper