Last Saturday, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) held the fourth plenary session of its 18th Central Committee. Although the meetings of the KMT’s top body are routinely held every year, they are basically just a rubber stamp for the party chairman. However, this year was different.
Leadership consolidation has always been one of the KMT’s guiding principles, and it is adhered to in every statement or proposition made at the party congress. If the central leadership comes under attack, it is a challenge to the chairman’s authority and a sign that a redistribution of power is underway.
At the meetings of the party’s Central Committee and Central Advisory Committee, all statements and propositions seemed to be directed at public policy issues such as the capital gains tax on securities transactions and the retirement pensions issue. However, these are some of the policies of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration, so when Central Committee members and members of the Central Advisory Committee discussed these policies, they were in fact ambushing Ma.
One of the speakers, William Hsu (徐弘庭), the Central Committee member suggesting the implementation of the capital gains tax be delayed, is special assistant to Sean Lien (連勝文), the son of former vice president Lien Chan (連戰). The implications are self-evident. Neither of the two Liens attended the Central Committee meeting, but while attending an Aboriginal activity, Sean Lien said that if the economy does not improve, we will all be beggars regardless of who is elected. This was clearly not appreciated by party leadership.
Furthermore, senior advisor to the president Chao Shou-po (趙守博), who reviewed the pension system, has long been an important associate of Lien Chan, and before the meeting, Chen Keng-chin (陳庚金), another old Lien associate, criticized Ma’s use of people. It is clear that the Lien family are finding it impossible to hide their dissatisfaction with how Ma is running things.
Another former party leader, Wu Po-hsiung (吳伯雄), said that observers were criticizing Ma for picking his appointments from too narrow a group of people and that this had caused some people supporting the KMT to leave the party. Although he avoided criticizing Ma directly, everyone got the hint: Wu’s faction within the KMT is also dissatisfied with Ma’s performance.
Ma did not respond to the criticism during the meeting, but party headquarters issued two statements to rebut both Sean Lien’s and Wu’s comments.
The statement said that “Lien’s comment was tactless and could be misleading to outside observers.”
Another statement used Minister of the Interior Lee Hong-yuan (李鴻源), Taiwan’s representative to the WTO, Lai Shin-yuan (賴幸媛) and Minister Without Portfolio Yang Chiu-hsing (楊秋興) to show that Ma’s appointments were not restricted to a narrow group of people. Ma has ignored criticism and admonitions from outside observers, and is also unwilling to bow his head to senior party leaders, and that was the reason why they chose to make their differing opinions made by proxy.
The exchange of blows at the Central Committee meeting should not affect Ma’s prospects for re-election as KMT chairman, but will weaken his authority.
The opposition between senior leaders and Ma is now out in the open. Ma can do nothing about outside criticism of his government’s incompetence, and he is also unable to put an end to internal conflict.
As next year’s national and local elections draw nearer, competition between senior party leaders, local leaders and the central party leadership over nominations will intensify, and there might even be a risk of a split in the party.
The risk of a possible split, from the central leadership down to the local level, is a sign that the KMT might be about to lose power.