Over the past couple of days, the ongoing influence-peddling affair has made increasingly bigger headlines. All kinds of conjecture are circulating, and the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) internal power struggles have taken center stage. Debate is rife about strife within the judiciary, the legality of the telephone surveillance, whether the state apparatus has been used for private purposes and whether the political process has been given priority over the legal process.
When the corruption cases involving former Cabinet secretary-general Lin Yi-shih (林益世), former Taipei City councilor Lai Su-ju (賴素如), Nantou County Commissioner Lee Chao-ching (李朝卿) and Changhua County Commissioner Cho Po-yuan (卓伯源) appeared one after another, it was the beginning of the fighting within the KMT.
Ma’s approval ratings remain low and, as the different party factions are making their own plans for the seven-in-one elections next year, there is a high possibility that Ma will miss out.
In addition to wanting to rid himself of a legislative obstacle, Ma also wants to set an example for anyone who disagrees with him, and take back power and control.
The timing of his attack on Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平), coinciding with Wang’s trip to Malaysia to attend his daughter’s wedding, while criticized, might have been the correct decision — although the move appeared to be not well planned.
The media outlets and political commentators that have beleaguered Wang have shown their true colors and how frightening politics can be when on the wrong side of their ire. Even before there was a legal decision, and despite the fact that Wang was not even in Taiwan, the media were used to kick-start the whole affair, in effect issuing a political verdict.
Although this aggressive and unreasonable approach has attracted a lot of criticism, it might have been acceptable if it were a struggle within the KMT. However, the involvement of prosecutors gives the impression of political interference. The judiciary will lose credibility because of this.
A key issue is whether a criminal investigation was used as an excuse for wiretapping to advance an administrative investigation. Many countries use wiretapping in the name of national security, so its regulation is a concern for every democracy.
Another issue is that the accusation of illegal lobbying was an offshoot of the trial of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislative caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘), so perhaps the two cases should be handled separately. The influence-peddling affair is not a criminal case, but an administrative and a political one. It involves what could be an internal disciplinary issue. The administrative system must handle such cases according to procedure; if existing rules and regulations are not followed, the legal and disciplinary system will be thrown into chaos.
What is worrying is that the judiciary and the state apparatus may become tools in a political struggle. In recent years, the public has been faced with a seeming contradiction: On one hand the judiciary should be appropriately monitored to prevent judges issuing verdicts at their own discretion and on the other hand the judiciary should be independent and free of external interference.
Unfortunately, it seems the system has failed on both counts.
Infighting in the military caused the public to lose faith in its abilities and infighting in the judiciary is causing people to lose faith in the judiciary. Will the KMT’s infighting make people lose faith in the KMT?
The power struggle in the KMT could spark another split in the party, following the formations of the New Party and the People First Party. During his time in office, Ma has not been able to consolidate support, and the many administrative measures that have been taken under inauspicious circumstances have resulted in the loss of many supporters.
The KMT lacks younger talent that can take over and its branches are controlled by local families and factions, while the central leadership is controlled mainly by senior officials and academics. Social organizations and movements have never been the party’s strong suit, so it was perhaps unavoidable that the party has become disconnected from the general public.
If the negative development of Taiwan’s two-party politics continues unabated, public dissatisfaction and weariness with the DPP and the KMT could put an end to the post-Chiang democratization era. How this will all end up is anyone’s guess.
Norman Yin is a professor of financial studies at National Chengchi University.
Translated by Perry Svensson