Mon, Jun 21, 2004 - Page 2 News List

Ma tries to burnish his credentials as a strong leader, with Lien looking weak

IN THE WINGS Everyone knows that the mayor of Taipei is a major political star, but still he's finding it a good idea to position himself for the KMT's chairmanship

By Jewel Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER

In order to contend for the chairmanship of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the 2008 presidential candidacy, Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has intensified the not-so-new dispute over national health insurance subsides during the past week. Analysts see this is as Ma trying to display his leadership qualities -- if he is tough and fearless about taking on the central government, this will strengthen his credentials as the blue camp's leader in waiting.

Since the Ministry of Justice announced last Monday that it intended to seize 30 properties belonging to the Taipei City Government as security for its health insurance debts, Ma has turned the issue into a major political drama, using every means at his disposal to accuse the central government of extortion in trying to recoup the NT$10.8 billion of unpaid health insurance subsides the city government has racked up since 1999.

Ma first commissioned his deputy mayor Ou Chin-der (歐晉德) to openly denounce the central government as "illegitimate" and "unjust" at the city government meeting on Tuesday.

On Friday he followed this up by dispatched city officials to negotiate with the Bureau of National Health Insurance (BNHI) officials on the city's outstanding debts, while using a pan-blue rent-a-mob to demonstrate noisily outside the venue where negotiations were taking place.

City government officials and city councilors chorused that the city government did not owe the BNHI a dime according to Article 27 of the National Health Insurance Law (全民健保法) and Constitutional Interpretation 550 made by the Council of Grand Justices, stressing the city did not have to pay the bills for 3.58 million people who are "employed" in Taipei when only 2.63 million people live in the city.

Chang Hong-jen (張鴻仁), general manager at the BNHI rebutted the city's contention as "one-sided information" and a "distorted interpretation of the law," saying it is "a matter of course for debtors to pay back liabilities to creditors."

After a week's wrangle over the money issue, Ma has escalated the issue by trying to enlist public opinion on his side.

The dispute is a long running one which should be resolved by the pan-blue controlled legislature revising various tax laws.

That Ma has sought not to get his political allies to do this but to engineer a standoff with the central government is part of his strategy to demonstrate his suitability to take the reins of the pan-blue camp

"It is obvious that Ma's administration and the pan-blue camp's city councilors were playing supporting actors in a dram designed to highlight that Ma was suppressed by the central government headed by President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), said Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) City Councilor Lo Chung-shen (羅宗勝).

By refusing to accept the central government's demands, Ma can create a hard-line image in the blue camp while many KMT and PFP supporters are looking to a strong political star to save them from the current chaotic situation, Lo said.

"Ma was being provocative and controversial about the issue just to create a hard-line image in the KMT so that he could contend for KMT's chairmanship with Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平)," Lo said. "Otherwise I can't figure out what earth Ma wanted to fight for now given that the city government has owed this money since 1999."

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