The Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) 19th national congress was conducted in a peculiar manner. To evade the ever-present shoe-throwing protesters, the venue was changed to Greater Taichung’s remote Wuci District (梧棲) and Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) — a political enemy to some in the party — was warmly welcomed and supported by the media and party delegates, receiving more attention than President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).
Were it not for the passage of a proposal to change the KMT’s charter so that “the [nation’s] president shall, as a matter of course, double as party chairman,” Ma, who is also the KMT chairman, would have had a rotten time at the congress.
Was this change good for Ma? Perhaps he is afraid that a big loss in the seven-in-one elections next year will make him a lame duck president and unless he holds on to the party chairmanship, he will lose all his power. With this change to the party’s charter, Ma will be able to remain chairman if the polls go badly.
However, everyone has seen through the president’s plan and polls show that more than 60 percent of the public oppose the change because it goes against the spirit of political accountability. The move means KMT members will bear the consequences of electoral defeat, instead of the chairman. How can a chairman who does not bear the responsibility for his party’s performance in elections continue to occupy his post with any dignity?
Having watched its leader make escape plans ahead of the elections, morale in the KMT is unlikely to improve and there is little doubt that the party will fare badly in next year’s polls. KMT members and supporters are not stupid — local strongmen will ignore the party leadership and consolidate their own nominations, campaigns and post-election situations.
Ma said the charter was changed to set up a new system of cooperation between the party and the government, not to serve individual interests or for personal gain. He also said it would not be appropriate to apply the new regulation to him, but he had to act for the good of future KMT heads of state. However, if a KMT president has no interest in doubling as party chairman — just like Ma did when he initially tried to avoid the chairmanship — the new rule will do the party a great disservice.
When he first became president, Ma felt the party should be kept separate from the state; it was only later that he started arguing that the KMT should assist the government. However, what contributions has the party made to government policy in the years Ma has doubled as party chairman? If he believes that it is so important to double as chairman, why is his administration responsible for such an underwhelming lack of achievements, and why are the Cabinet and the legislature going their separate ways? The issue is not how many leaders there are, but who the strongest is.
The irregularities in the Ma administration are the result of the preference for one strong leader. All major policies, such as the 12-year compulsory education system, abolishing conscription, instigating organizational reform and establishing “free economic pilot zones” were created by political appointees who were referencing the president’s election promises and statements. The problem is that, given Ma’s mediocrity and incompetence, any attempt to look to him for leadership is futile.
Judging from the urgency with which Ma had the KMT charter changed, it is clear that his power is waning. He clings to his presidential and party powers as if they were lifesavers, but he is clutching at straws. In the end, he will pay the price by seeing the KMT’s public approval rating drop further.