Only one day after Tseng Yung-fu (曾勇夫) was forced to resign as minister of justice, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) called another press conference in which he berated Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) for failing to acknowledge his alleged involvement in illegal lobbying. He said: “This is the most shameful day in the development of Taiwan’s democracy and its rule of law.”
Within one day, Tseng stepped down, still professing his innocence, and Lin Shiow-tao (林秀濤), the prosecutor in charge of the original breach of trust case, protested that the Special Investigation Division (SID) had misrepresented interviews. Ma, however, was fully behind the SID and forced Tseng to resign with no chance to defend himself.
The SID called a press conference to declare the case closed, rained fire and brimstone and threw accusations, but stopped short of any indictments and did not dare to refute Lin’s protestations. They simply referred the case to the Control Yuan, an institution that is of no real use to anyone.
However, Ma was different. He followed his thunder with action in a way that has rarely been seen from the modern Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).
On the day Tseng resigned, Ma, acting as KMT chairman, said he expected Wang to return to Taiwan immediately to explain himself. The next day he found pretext to further express his opinions.
It is probably impossible for Ma and Wang to reconcile. The dramatic events of those two days give the strong impression that the SID passed the ball to Ma and Ma then ran with it, committed to going for a touchdown.
Ma is well aware the public has little time for politicians lobbying the judiciary and that the revelation of Wang’s alleged involvement in an illegal lobbying case would put pressure on Wang, and cast doubt on his position as a legislator-at-large.
As KMT chairman, Ma has considerable power over Wang’s political future. He could decide to suspend Wang’s duties during the investigation or he could rescind his status as legislator-at-large.
That Ma and Wang do not see eye-to-eye is an open secret in political circles, yet they have managed to coexist for years without one having to tackle the other.
The trouble is, with the precipitous fall in Ma’s popularity ratings, Wang has found it increasingly difficult to support Ma’s policies. Wang’s procrastination over major votes in the legislature over the cross-strait service trade agreement and the referendum over the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in Gongliao District (貢寮), New Taipei City (新北市), has been like a spark to dry tinder.
Ma had wanted the service trade pact to be effective from Jan. 1 next year, which would require it to be ratified in the legislature before the end of this year. Further, if a clash between the referendum and next year’s seven-in-one elections is to be avoided, the former would need to be passed in the next legislative session.
In contrast to Ma’s sense of urgency, Wang acts as if these are of no concern, and seems to agree with the opposition that the agreement needs to be scrutinized clause-by-clause. Ma finds this infuriating.
Now that Wang is facing this case, his political fate is in Ma’s hands. If he decides to deal with this as an internal party matter, Wang will need to capitulate and may have to resign if he is to maintain a semblance of dignity.
Even if Wang decides to sue for a reluctant peace, Ma will have to keep a very close eye on his adversary. Any stay of execution will be contingent on Wang’s vigorous support in getting the agreement and the referendum passed in the legislature.
However, if Ma decides to remove Wang, it will change the dynamics in the legislature immediately. Wang has proved a hard man to fell and wields considerable influence. Bringing him down will mean that Ma has the legislature under his control.
The KMT legislators will be aware that Wang has been caught and that Ma has played a masterstroke by starting legal proceedings. If they have any complaints about Ma, they will need to first clear out all the skeletons from their own closets. Otherwise, they can be sure that they will be the next Wang Jin-pyng.
Julian Kuo is a former DPP legislator.
Translated by Paul Cooper