President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) appears to consider himself a wise, respected statesman despite having a popularity rating of less than 20 percent after five years at the nation’s helm. He wants to be re-elected as chairman of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) so that he can maintain his grip over the party, the government and the armed forces, all for his own totalitarian ends.
There have been murmurings of late that Ma’s incompetence in governing the country and his disregard of the public will have caused a feeling of frustration and malaise among the “deep blue” electorate, making it difficult for them to muster the enthusiasm to leave the house and show their support for him at the ballot box. The grassroots voters are also feeling jaded, unhappy with his performance, with some thinking of abstaining from voting.
The pro-Ma media distinguish between the deep blue and the grassroots voter base, saying they are two different forces. The former refers to a specific ethnic group, which includes civil servants and teachers; senior members of the party government and military; and members of the Huang Fu-hsing (黃復興) military veteran branch (a special branch of the KMT consisting of military veterans and their family members). The latter refers to influential figures on the local level, most of whom are Taiwanese, and their followers who share their common interests.
Ma stops at nothing to look after the interests of the deep blue voters. They are the main force protecting him and standing in the way of reform. They still support him, although they know one cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. The grassroots vote, on the other hand, are not necessarily on the same page as Ma when it comes to national identity or their own interests; they also know they will never be able to get into his inner circle. This section of the KMT’s voter base is increasingly losing faith in Ma, and ever more dissatisfied with his leadership.
To equate the KMT grass roots with the deep blue voter base is to misunderstand the threat that Ma’s pro-China policies have on the livelihoods of the public at the grassroots level. This grassroots support no longer serves to reflect the mood of the public or its will. At this point a party like the KMT and its grassroots support cease to make sense.
Ma and the KMT grassroots voters may sleep in the same bed, but they dream of different things. Ma has no time for grassroots voters, except during elections when he relies on their vote. Their power derives purely from their numerical strength, and they are essentially selling their favors in the hope that it will do them some good in the long run.
Senior KMT members understand their grassroots support, but they have consistently failed to understand the importance of the party’s ill-gotten assets. The first time Ma decided to run for party chairman while being the president, former minister of foreign affairs and Control Yuan president Frederick Chien (錢復) advised him against it. Chien’s reasoning was that if Ma held both positions, he would not be able to control the KMT. This was Chien’s advice, but he was wrong: When Ma got his hands on the party’s assets, he had KMT legislators deep in his pocket, and party heavyweights such as former chairmen Lien Chan (連戰) and Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄) and Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) obediently fell in line behind him.
KMT members, a servile and corrupt lot, will elect their dictatorial chairman. There is little chance that Ma does not know that by controlling the party’s assets he can get everyone — the deep blue voters, the grassroots base and the senior party members — to do his bidding.
James Wang is a media commentator.
Translated by Paul Cooper