“Stupid is as stupid does?”
“Hypocritical is as hypocritical does?”
“Ruthless is as ruthless does?”
These are just some of the many ways that President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) recent “assassination” attempt on Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) is being questioned and interpreted.
Regardless of what explanation wins out, and whether Wang is found guilty or not, few will dispute that last week was disastrous for Ma. As an unpopular, lame duck president with little more than two years left in office, once the president chose to strike at Wang, a member loyal to the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), Ma needed to finish him off with the first blow. He did not do so.
Thus, not only have Wang and his supporters had time to regroup, but Ma has drawn irrevocable battle lines within the party. The issue has become too serious; party members will have to choose sides.
To make matters worse, those outside the party who have long questioned Ma’s capability and motives can smell blood; he will have no respite.
Peace will be impossible in the next two years before the presidential election, but peace is what Ma, now proven untrustworthy, needs to rescue his quickly souring legacy.
There will not be peace and Ma’s support circle of loyal, idealistic, but too often incompetent followers will get smaller. What sensible person would join a team which will lose its leader in two years? To borrow an old Texas saying, they have been drinking their own bathwater and calling it champagne for too long. Who would want to share that beverage?
The time of reckoning and accountability has come. It is clear that Ma orchestrated this entire attack. In the past Ma had always been able to claim the moral high ground or deflect the blame for his actions, including onto his supporters.
Regardless of what one thinks of Wang and his capabilities, he did not deserve this treatment, but Ma has proved relentless in trying to make the mud stick.
Not even Ma’s traditional hatchet man, Representative to the US King Pu-tsung (金溥聰) — “King the knife” — has made any impact; this is Ma’s vendetta and over what seems to be a fabricated tempest.
The KMT has had many members found guilty of corruption recently and there has hardly been a word of party reprimand or shock. It blows the mind that Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) would quote Ma as saying that Wang had crossed the president’s “red line” even before any trial or defense.
Many far worse “red lines” have already been crossed that the alleged offense of Wang pales in comparison.
When he was mayor of Taipei, the president’s secretary took the blame for putting approximately US$500,000 into Ma’s personal bank account. His secretary was welcomed back to the party and given a job as soon as he got out of prison.
Ironically, Wang no doubt had even helped to protect Ma’s reputation during that incident. Yet the attempt to destroy Wang has been made before a trial and for alleged crimes that are questionable and only supported with perhaps illegally acquired evidence.
Wang case has not even started and the body count has begun to mount. Former minister of justice Tseng Yung-fu (曾勇夫) has apparently been forced to resign though Jiang claims that there was no pressure. Lo Chih-chiang (羅智強), deputy secretary of the Presidential Office, has also resigned citing the mounting pressures of his job and the need to “spend more time with his family.”
As this drags out, many more will fall, perhaps both inside and outside the KMT, before any resolution is achieved.
For many in the public, the veil that once cloaked Ma’s visage is finally being lifted and his true character is being revealed.
Despite whatever nostalgic reasons Ma may have in wanting to unify Taiwan with China, he is neither a Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) nor a Mao Zedong (毛澤東). Even if he were, he lives in different times, in a different place and with different circumstances. He is not in China; he is in Taiwan, a democracy where Maoist tactics will not work and Chiang’s militarism eventually failed.
To make a more contemporary comparison, Wang is not former Chinese Communist Party secretary of Chongqing Bo Xilai (薄熙來) and his guilt, if any, cannot be dispensed of in the same way as was that of Bo.
There will be plenty of metaphors and examples to illustrate Ma’s current position as this plays out and as he contemplates both what chances he has for a reputable legacy and what he can make of a “diminished thing.”
In William Shakespeare’s play Richard III, King Richard, after having dispatched several of his enemies, finds himself on the Bosworth battlefield bereft of allies. He then utters the well-known line: “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse.”
For Ma, that line seems not only ironic, but also ludicrous.
Jerome Keating is a writer based in Taipei.