In Taiwan, politicians are expected to represent the public will; to be the mouthpiece of their electorate. Whenever someone is elected to an official position, the expectation is that they will work in the interest of the general public, while subjecting the government to checks and balances.
Contrary to these expectations, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is intent on re-establishing the party-state system. He does not want there to be any checks and balances because they might get in his way. Now that he has won two successive elections for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and secured a majority in the legislature, he wants to make sure KMT legislators act as his mouthpieces and do his bidding.
Ma controls the KMT’s party assets with his left hand and maintains party discipline with his right; he has the judiciary under the boot of his left foot and the legislature under the one on his right; and sees the media as a tool of state control. His behavior is doing serious harm to the nation’s democracy and the integrity of KMT politicians, as well as displaying his tendency toward factionalism and utter lack of core ideals and principles.
From the higher echelons of the KMT down to the bottom, there exists a spiritual divide that partitions its politicians into the not-so -iberal “liberal” faction and the localization faction, which is not really interested in localization.
In the middle of this month, former US president Dwight Eisenhower’s granddaughter, Mary Jean Eisenhower, gave a speech in Taiwan in which she heaped praise on Ma, saying that her grandfather had stood with Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) in staunch and unremitting opposition to the Chinese communists to protect the free world. She lauded Ma for picking up that baton and running with it. Her adulation made it seem as if she were treating Ma as some kind of prodigal son.
Ma and Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) have both studied in the US and use this to try and pass themselves off as intellectual liberals. Jiang did start his career as a liberal academic, but ever since he jumped aboard the Good Ship KMT he appears to have forgotten what democracy means, as evidenced by in his constant tinkering with the independence of the legislature.
Ma, on the other hand, has two hats — one as KMT chairman, the other as Republic of China president — which he seems to wear interchangeably as and when the mood suits him. He is neither averse to using KMT discipline to orchestrate the purging of individuals within the party to root out anyone who disagrees with him nor to getting personally involved in these processes to make sure everything is carried out as he expects.
Even after he was pushed around by chairman Ma, Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) still said he was a lifelong member of the KMT, but he did not explain why. Because of his ideals? Because it was in his own interests? Wang is known to be a member of the localization faction and the word on the street is that he was persecuted because he did not want to tow Ma’s line. However, the party’s localization faction was once the mainstream group within the KMT, while Ma belonged to a relatively minor group within the party. Given that the party’s localization faction has come to this point, one wonders what the future holds for it.
During the Martial Law era, several brave people dared to stand up against the KMT and form their own political party. In the present era of free elections, the localization faction seems to have forgotten that it should be the mouthpiece of the public and is now happy to be Ma’s instead. The public needs to give some serious thought to what it wants and what the president wants.
James Wang is a media commentator.
Translated by Paul Cooper