President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday renewed his pledge to reform the party and defended a controversial change to the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) charter to make a KMT head of state automatically party chairman to enhance party-state cooperation at the KMT’s 19th national congress in Greater Taichung.
“I ran for KMT chairman twice over the past four years to deepen party reform and unity… The new system will enhance close cooperation between the party and the government, and I will be cooperative even it means my chairmanship will be cut short in one-and-a-half years,” he told the convention.
Delegates later applauded the proposal in the discussion session, despite some opposition from those who said the measure would enable Ma to avoid his responsibility if the party suffered electoral defeat next year and it ensures Ma’s party chairmanship until 2016 regardless of the KMT’s performance in the municipal seven-in-one elections next year and the 2016 presidential election.
As Ma was formally sworn in as party chairman following his re-election in July, he called for party unity and vowed to lead the KMT forward, while defending his efforts to secure more success in future elections.
“The seven-in-old local elections will be a crucial moment for the people to examine the KMT. To obtain an electoral victory next year, we need unity and support from all party members,” he said.
The KMT congress, postponed since September due to fears of large-scale protests, was held at the Taichung Stadium in Greater Taichung’s Wuci District (梧棲).
Tight security at the congress did not stop protestors from gathering outside the venue starting at 6am, throwing shoes and chanting protests against Ma and the party.
Ma described the protests as a norm in the democratic society, and promised to address public discontent and enhance communication with Taiwanese.
“We need to communicate with the people and improve our performance… We did pay attention to the people who voiced their concerns [outside the venue], and we will address the issues they raised,” he said.
Presenting six promises to the public, Ma pledged to focus the government’s efforts to improve food safety, residential justice, establish a nursing system for the elderly and boost rural development, cultural creativity and regional economy.
Amid the latest food scare involving cooking oils, Ma said the government will establish a food safety fund to increase manpower and allocate funds to enhance food safety while handing down severe punishment to food producers who break the law.
“The penalties given to those who receive illicit gains will have no limits,” he said.
Party unity is a major issue for the KMT amid the unresolved disputes between Ma and Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng’s (王金平) over allegations that he was involved in improper lobbying, as party heavyweights and delegates called for reconciliation.
Speaking at the congress, former KMT chairman Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄) urged party leaders to handle issues with more kindness and wisdom given the public discontentment with the government.
He teared up as blamed the media for finding fault with the KMT, and called for party unity to meet public expectations.
“The public still has high expectations of the KMT. We are a kind and righteous party, and are not good at political wrangling… Taiwan needs us and we cannot let the public down,” he said.
Wu’s speech was received by loud applause from party delegates, and both Ma and Wang greeted him as he stepped down from the podium.
Wu later dismissed speculation that he was referring to the president in his speech, adding that maintaining party unity is a collective effort.
In an effort to create a sense of reconciliation, Ma, Wang and other party heavyweights, including Vice President Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) and Premier Jiang Yih-huah (江宜樺), were seated side by side at the event.
At the congress’ concluding session, Ma expressed his gratitude to Wu Poh-hsiung for boosting party morale with his speech and promised to consolidate the KMT.
“The KMT must push forward with its internal reform drive and only by standing united can we continue to be in power,” Ma said.
The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) said Ma’s remarks at the conference, about how he “has heard the people’s voice” were insufficient because what he needs to do is take action to solve the public’s grievances.
“Saying: ‘I’ve heard you’ and ‘I understand what you are saying’ is not good enough,” DPP spokesperson Wang Ming-shen (王閔生) said.
“The administration needs to face the issues at hand, such as the sluggish economy, rising commodity prices, the deteriorating human rights situation and the food safety crisis with honesty and present solutions to these problems,” he added.
Changing the time and location of the KMT congress and deploying thousands of police officers are not going to ease public discontent, the DPP spokesperson said.
Additional reporting by Chris Wang