Many people in Taiwan may be wondering what President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) principle motive was for the political struggle he launched within the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).
Actually, Ma’s actions revealed his purpose quite some time ago.
The telltale sign is that, while Ma has been manipulating the KMT and the judicial and executive branches of government to get rid of Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平), he has also been taking part in various promotional activities for the cross-strait service trade agreement, which has been signed, but has yet to be approved by the legislature.
In Ma’s view, the only way for Taiwan to get out of its economic difficulties and pursue growth is to get more deeply involved with China. He thinks that if Taiwan does not head over to China it will become marginalized.
The legislature’s new session opens today and Ma wants the service trade agreement to be approved come what may. Ma sees Wang as an obstacle to this, and that is why he wants him out of the way.
Ma got it all wrong. Wang made his position very clear at the press conference he held at the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport when he returned from Malaysia on Tuesday last week. Wang said that he would think of a way to do his duty with respect to any task given to him by the KMT chairman (Ma), no matter how much effort opposition lawmakers made to block it. Even if the job was delayed for a while, he would get it done in the end, he said.
Let us remember how much controversy there was about the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement. However, it was still passed in the end. Last week a well-known observer commented that Wang has to some extent been helping Ma to keep his government going. This observation fits the facts quite well. In the eyes of those who do not like the direction in which the KMT has been taking this country over the last five years, Wang has often acted as an accomplice in getting Ma’s policies implemented.
That being the case, why is Ma so determined to get rid of Wang?
It has to do with the plan hatched by the KMT and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) behind closed doors for Taiwan to get swallowed up by China. According to the two parties’ timetable for pushing through economic and trade integration, the service trade agreement should have been approved during the previous legislative session, but it will now have to be dealt with in the upcoming session.
Wang said it would be better for the legislature to delay its discussions on the agreement until November, after public hearings have been held, instead of trying to rush it through.
The KMT and the CCP are both very unhappy about Wang’s suggestion, because if the agreement does not get approved by the end of this year, it will get delayed until after the Lunar New Year holiday.
The problem is that seven-in-one local elections will be held toward the end of next year, by which time public discontent and arguments about the agreement will not have had time to die down and be forgotten.
If the KMT does not do well in those elections, it will be hard for Ma to stay on as party chairman. He will at least be reduced to a lame duck. In that case, he would lose his authority to keep meddling in the party’s leadership succession. It would also be uncertain whether Ma can make a “soft landing” after he steps down as president in 2016.
Ma has been preparing for a long time to get rid of this imagined thorn in his side. His plans can be traced back at least to June 28 and June 29, when the Special Investigation Division of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office tapped into telephone conversations between Wang and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘). Late at night on Aug. 31, as heavy rains caused floods and landslides around Taiwan, Ma received the records of those phone conversations that prosecutors were using as evidence, which were delivered to him in person by Prosecutor-General Huang Shih-ming (黃世銘).
The outcome of this was that Ma picked Sept. 6, the very day on which Wang went abroad to host his daughter’s wedding, to make a string of moves aimed at getting rid of Wang. In the few short days since then, Taiwan has begun to look as if it has gone back to the repressive days of former presidents Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國).
When Chiang Kai-shek was president, he could go over the head of the courts and sign anybody’s death warrant. Taiwan has become a lot more democratic since then, but now Ma thinks he can get the legislative speaker removed from office in just a few hours. He feels completely unconstrained by public opinion, the Constitution and the rule of law. All the principles of procedural justice are simply rubbish as far as Ma is concerned.
If Ma can get away with that, then perhaps if at some point he wants to raise China’s five-star red flag over the Presidential Office, he will also be able to get it done in just a few seconds.
Ma could not have become the autocrat he is without help from of a network of accomplices and supporting frameworks. Chief among these is the KMT. One member of the party’s Central Standing Committee said during the KMT’s Central Evaluation and Discipline Committee meeting on Wednesday last week that it was the most shameful day in that committee’s history. To make matters worse, the KMT’s legislative caucus started stumping for Deputy Speaker Legislative Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱) to take Wang’s place on Thursday last week, without even waiting for the procedure required to revoke Wang’s status to be completed. Of course KMT legislators did not say a word about the prosecutors’ use of phone taps.
Over the last few days, many academics and civic groups said that a party’s disciplinary proceedings alone cannot decide whether the legislative speaker goes or stays. These observers have been saying that the legislature should commence impeachment proceedings against Ma. They say that the legislature should refuse to annul Wang’s status as a lawmaker, and it should instead let its Discipline Committee hold an independent investigation into Wang’s case.
However, considering the reality of where power lies, all these suggestions will probably come to nothing.
Next in the list of Ma’s collaborators is the Central Election Commission. Although it is supposed to be an independent entity in charge of holding elections, the commission jumped into action as soon as it received a letter from the KMT confirming that Wang was no longer a member of the party. Although dusk was approaching, the commission did not leave the matter to be dealt with the next day, as one might expect. Instead, in an unprecedented display of administrative efficiency, it sent an electronic document to the legislature at a little past 7pm, instructing it to cancel Wang’s status as a legislator. It is already common enough for people to say that Taiwan’s law courts are run by the KMT, but now it looks as though the commission is run by the KMT too.
How did we reach a state of affairs in which neither Ma nor the officials in all these departments give a damn about any criticism leveled against them?
The KMT, the legislature and even supposedly independent bodies have all sunk to the level of merely doing Ma’s bidding, even though his approval rate is now down to a miserable 11 percent, if not lower. These institutions’ members should have a good look at what has happened to Wang. Perhaps they have skeletons in their cupboards and are worried that they may be next in line to have their phones tapped and their dirty linen hung out in public.
If Taiwan has reached the point where its democracy can hardly function anymore, it is a sad day indeed, and that is why society needs to have a serious discussion about what the core issues in the struggle between Ma and Wang really are.
Translated by Julian Clegg