As the curtain dropped on yesterday's "gentlemanly competition" for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairmanship between Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou's (馬英九) and Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平), Ma's supporters hailed his resounding victory yesterday as a turning point in the history of the nation's oldest party.
But how much leverage will Ma's victory give him over the KMT, the pan-blue camp and the KMT's chances of winning back administrative power in 2008?
"By winning with such a large margin, the position of the KMT will be very strong, especially in the north. Ma's success will help the party's chances for the year-end Taipei County commissioner's election," said Academia Sinica political analyst Hsu Yung-ming (徐永明) yesterday.
PHOTO: LIN CHENG-KUN, TAIPEI TIMES
Within the wider pan-blue camp, analysts yesterday said Ma's success will have certain consequences for future pan-blue unity and cooperation since relations between Ma and People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) are not good.
Soong has criticized Ma on numerous occasions this year for not taking a more active role in the post-presidential election protests and has blamed Ma for possibly costing the pan-blue camp the presidential election last year by deciding to cancel its originally scheduled March 19, 2004 rallies.
It was no surprise that the pan-blue unity card played by Wang enjoyed support from Soong.
Highlighting the importance of pan-blue unity to supporters in yesterday's election, the Wang camp's front-page, election-day ads featured a black-and-white photo of him from last year's sit-down protests with pan-blue leaders. Besides attempting to remind voters of the previous criticisms of Ma for not being an active participant in the presidential election protests, the ads also refered to Wang's campaign slogan that only he would be able to effectively unite the pan-blue camp.
In the last moments before the election Friday night, Soong appeared in a videotaped message to Wang supporters while a number of PFP legislators appeared at the rally to urge supporters to vote for Wang.
Despite the cross-party support enjoyed by Wang, however, academic Chou Yu-jen (周育仁) said yesterday that it was doubtful that Ma's success would have a negative influence on pan-blue unity.
"While everyone knows that Soong does not like Ma, he will have to acknowledge Ma as chairman," said Chou yesterday, adding that while Soong may not like it, the KMT is still the country's largest opposition party.
In contrast, Hsu said that it will be difficult for Ma to unite the pan-blue camp given the personal enmity Soong has toward him and that a struggle for power may continue with Wang.
"Without Wang's help in the legislature, pan-blue unity is virtually impossible," Hsu said.
Ma's victory yesterday bodes ill for the PFP, said PFP Legislator Supo Kao (
Kao said that pan-blue cooperation has been and is an unavoidable reality. Given that the basic policy directions of the KMT and PFP are similar, it is natural for the parties to work together.
However, the truth is, Kao said, that it is likely that Ma's success would further consolidate the PFP's decline and highlight the KMT's dominance of the pan-blue camp.
Another major factor in the election result was the looming pressure of the upcoming 2008 presidential election, as seen from both Wang's and Ma's campaign focus on sticky national issues such as Taiwanese independence and cross-strait relations.
In the face of Ma's popularity, Wang wooed pan-blue supporters with the claim that a Wang victory in the chairmanship race would not mean a Wang nomination for 2008. In contrast, Ma refrained from making any such statements, brushing off the question when posed to him by Wang in their second televised political forum on July 9 with the statement that should his views not be affirmed by supporters in this chairmanship election, then there would be no point in running in 2008.
With his clear success, however, analysts said that Ma's place on the pan-blue nomination ticket for president is virtually a sure thing, given the resources he will have within the party and the clear support he has from its members.
"It is almost guaranteed that he will be the pan-blue camp's candidate in 2008," Kao said.
Besides consolidating his voter base to make a 2008 run for the presidency, the most urgent problems Ma must resolve upon becoming chairman are forming an administrative team to serve him within the party and in answering to the DPP administration's challenges, said Hsu yesterday.
Ma has long been isolated from the party's central administration, said analysts, pointing out that many of the party's upper-level officials, from over 60 of its legislators to high-level administrative officers such as the party's Central Executive Committee head Chang Che-shen (張哲琛), expressed support for Wang during his campaign.
"The most important thing is for Ma to form a group of supporters that he can bring into the party with him. Given the circumstances, it is unlikely that he will seek talent from within the party's inner circles," said Hsu yesterday.
"The DPP will now focus on Ma and will demand that he give answers on issues such as whether or not he supports holding an emergency session in the legislature, or if he plans to participate in the political forum planned for August between the KMT and the Chinese Communist Party or not," Hsu said.
Furthermore, Hsu said, Ma should consider what actions to take, given that the PFP and the DPP may be considering a closer cooperative relationship in the future.
While Wang hinted during his campaign run-up that he might not choose to work with Ma should Ma win the election, yesterday's results reduce Wang's bargaining chips within the party, analysts said.
Given Wang's dismal performance in even southern and central Taiwan, he has little choice but to cooperate with Ma in the future.
"If Wang still wants a chance at 2008, all he can do is perform his role as legislative speaker as well as possible in the next two years and have the grace to cooperate with Ma," Chou said.
While Ma will cause changes in the political scene, Hsu and Chou yesterday differed on what mainstream KMT voter trends resulted in his success.
"The feeling of the entire election was that there is a change in the party's culture. Although Wang had the support of his regional networks, of the KMT's old guard and the legislature, Ma still won by a landslide. From this, we can see that a candidate can no longer expect to win by just appealing to the elders in the party. If the person is a good enough candidate, he can appeal directly to the people," Chou said.
Many among the old guard, including Lien himself, may have voted for Wang because they appreciate his sense of loyalty and obedience to the party's pecking order, as demonstrated by his refusal to register his candidacy until Lien convinced him to run in the election, Chou said.
"However, I think that many voters were moved by Ma's conviction to the end to run for the chairmanship, regardless of the odds," he said.
Hsu was less optimistic about the implications of yesterday's vote turnout, however.
The voting rate was not very high, Hsu said.
"As a result, I would say that while Ma's efforts to rouse a sense of urgency in his voters were very successful, the majority of his voter base is still the older, deep-blue party members," said Hsu.
The makeup of the KMT's party support base, and of Ma's support base, as a result, is still not typical of the larger voting population, Hsu said, which may pose a problem in the 2008 presidential election.
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