Most Taiwanese, media outlets and economists owe President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) an apology. Ma is neither stupid nor inept: The swiftness, accuracy and ruthlessness with which he acted against Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平), a political enemy with almost 15 years experience as speaker, would make even Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) envious, considering his handling of former Chinese Communist Party Chongqing secretary Bo Xilai (薄熙來).
Ma may not be very good at running the country, but he is an expert at political power struggles, leaving his opponent with no immediate room to maneuver.
Using wiretapping records from the Special Investigation Division (SID), Prosecutor-General Huang Shih-ming (黃世銘) learned about a telephone conversation Wang had with Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘). After comparing that with records of Wang’s conversations with former minister of justice Tseng Yung-fu (曾勇夫) and High Prosecutors’ Office Head Prosecutor Chen Shou-huang (陳守煌), Ma disregarded any concerns that the wiretapping might be illegal and moved to eliminate Wang.
Accompanied by Vice President Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) and Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺), Ma held a press conference at the Presidential Office and said this was “the most shameful day in the development of Taiwan’s democracy” and: “If this was not influence peddling, then what is?”
Ma clearly does not care that the president — although constitutionally higher than the legislative speaker — cannot direct and control the speaker. Although Ma is also chairman of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and dealing with a party member, in doing so at the Presidential Office he used the wrong status and the wrong forum.
Wang should have had an opportunity to explain and defend himself against the accusations of illegal lobbying. However, the Presidential Office and the Cabinet had already made plans for dealing with the legislature and they were just waiting for the KMT’s disciplinary committee to expel Wang and strip him of his status as legislator-at-large.
They did not give Wang a chance to defend himself and acted without waiting for his return to Taiwan. Ma’s swift and crafty reaction was very different from how he handled corruption scandals surrounding former Cabinet secretary-general Lin Yi-shih (林益世) and former KMT Taipei City councilor Lai Su-ju (賴素如).
Ma received Huang’s report on Aug. 31 and Wang departed for Malaysia to attend his daughter’s wedding on Sept. 6. One hour after Wang’s departure, at a press conference, Huang informed the media of the report. Ma, who had approved Wang’s leave and knew that he would be on an isolated Malaysian island, made a show of demanding that Wang return immediately to make it seem as if Wang was unwilling to do so. The party’s disciplinary committee meeting was set to take place in the morning on the day after Wang returned, giving him no time to prepare a response.
This is a lesson in advanced political infighting, and Ma should be given an award for his directing and screenwriting. However, Ma seems to have forgotten that his counterpart is not a character in a political thriller; he will not stick to the script.
Wang probably has the widest political network, reaching across party lines from the central government down to local governments. With almost 40 years of legislative experience and an understanding of legal and political issues, he has few peers.
Judging from the political strength from his wide support base and the legal knowledge he displayed at Wang’s press conference, Ma has overestimated himself and underestimated his opponent. The KMT’s disciplinary committee may have expelled Wang from the party, but Wang has appealed the decision.
The show is just beginning.