Is President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) trying to take Taiwan back to the bad old days by centering power in the party’s headquarters rather than in the Presidential Office?
The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government may deny it, but the dividing line between state and party is becoming increasingly blurred under the leadership of Ma, who doubles as KMT chairman.
On July 24, Ma, while presiding over the KMT’s Central Standing Committee meeting in his capacity as party chairman, offered an apology over the case of army corporal Hung Chung-chiu (洪仲丘), who died in military detention on July 4 in controversial circumstances.
“As the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, I am utterly saddened that in the national forces, under my leadership, a case in which someone allegedly died from abuse has occurred. I have the responsibility to offer a solemn apology to Hung’s family and the public,” Ma said.
While Ma may think he has played his part well by making the statement and offering an apology, by making the comment in an inappropriate capacity at an inappropriate location, Ma is leading the regression of Taiwan’s democracy by failing to distinguish state affairs from party business.
The Hung case has caused a public outcry and dealt a heavy blow to people’s confidence in the nation’s armed forces. With the consecutive resignation of two defense ministers, there is no denying that the military’s morale has been further dampened.
Yet, rather than taking action to address the low morale of the troops and calm their fears and possibly agitation by, for example, visiting the military in his capacity as commander-in-chief, Ma’s actions appear to be a throwback to Chiang Kai-shek’s (蔣介石) party-state regime, in which the country was run from KMT headquarters.
Ma did it again earlier this month by announcing the appointment of Yen Ming (嚴明) as the new defense minister during a KMT Central Standing Committee meeting on Aug. 7.
These incidents suggest that Ma is clinging to the concept that “the party leads the state (以黨領政)” and regards the nation’s troops as belonging to the KMT. Therefore, he is unaware of how inapt it has been to make comments suited to his role as the commander-in-chief and announce a military personnel appointment, both at party headquarters.
President Ma, who was re-elected to the KMT chairmanship last month, has defended his decision to double as KMT chairman by saying it would be easier for him to push policies and boost the government’s performance. Yet, not only has Ma proven he is poor at working two jobs — evident by his administration’s performance these past years that has been anything but stellar — worse, he time and again treats the KMT Central Standing Committee as if it were the center of national power. This suggests he is taking the nation back to the old party-state regime.
The handling of the cross-strait service trade agreement negotiations is a clear example: KMT headquarters clearly damaged the government’s integrity by mapping out and setting the agenda for cross-strait development before handing it over to government agencies for implementation.
When meeting with foreign guests, Ma often touts Taiwan’s democracy and trumpets his desire to further it, stressing that it is a path “worth continuing on.”
Indeed, Taiwan is proud of its democratization and it is befitting for the head of the state to broadcast this achievement to the world. However, talk is cheap.
Ma has proven he can talk the talk about furthering Taiwan’s democracy. The question is: Can he walk the walk, consolidating its democracy rather than sabotaging it from within?