Mon, May 24, 2004 - Page 3 News List

KMT's push for reform puts Ma in a pickle

By Huang Tai-lin  /  STAFF REPORTER

Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has been put on the spot as members of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) call for reform and urge him to make a bid for the party chairmanship.

Dissatisfied with leadership of habitual election loser KMT Chairman Lien Chan (連戰), frustrated KMT Taipei City councilors spoke out this week, saying they plan to launch a signature drive petitioning Ma to run for the chairmanship when the party convenes its national congress in July.

Ma, stressing that Lien is still the chairman, said that reform should follow party regulations and called on supporters "to rally behind Lien's chairmanship in campaigning for the year-end legislative election."

Lien's term as chairman is slated to end next March.

Although Ma has consistently voiced his support for Lien, Ma's recent demeanour suggests he is feeling the heat over party reform.

During the party's Central Standing Committee meeting on Wednesday at which Lien's proposed merger with the People First Party (PFP) was discussed, Ma, in his capacity as KMT vice chairman, rose three times to suggest that any decision on the merger come "from the bottom up" and that the party hold open debates on its platform.

Ma's comments reportedly angered Lien, who replied: "faith unites, reason divides."

The apparent row between the two has sparked debate about whether the 54-year-old Ma, one of the nation's most popular politicians and regarded by many pan-blue members as the key to returning the KMT to power, would take a page from Lien, who following the presidential election in 2000 pushed then KMT chairman Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) from his post.

In the book The President in the Tiger's Mouth (虎口的總統), released in 2001, the author, Japanese writer Fuyuko Kamisada, wrote that Lien, then vice president and vice chairman of the KMT, told Lee to step down from his job as KMT chairman after the party was defeated in the 2000 election, saying the sooner he did so the better.

But political observers said Ma's personality makes it unlikely he will take such a bold step and demand that Lien step down before his term as chairman is up.

"Ma is not bold enough nor is he adventurous or willing enough to take such actions," said veteran media figure Yang Hsien-hung (楊憲宏).

Together with the KMT's emphasis on seniority, Yang said, "Ma, having been trained and raised in such a culture, is unlikely to rise in revolt against Lien, his superior and former teacher."

The Taipei mayor, however, has a history of feigning a lack of interest and then jumping in when the time suits him.

The 1998 Taipei mayoral race is one such example.

After repeating over 200 times that he wasn't interested in becoming mayor of Taipei, Ma eventually decided to stand against then-mayor Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and won.

"On the issue of running for the party chairmanship, because [Lien's] term is not up, I have no way at this point in time to come forward and take up the challenge." Ma told the media on Friday.

Some viewed Ma's remark as one that left room for a run at the chairmanship.

Putting aside the issue of party regulations, some political watchers said a look at reality suggests the timing isn't right for Ma to assume the chairmanship.

The year-end legislative election is approaching and, given the party's poor showing in the March 20 presidential election, the pan-blue camp has a tough fight ahead, said Chiu Hei-yuan (瞿海源), a sociology professor at National Taiwan University.

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