Mon, Aug 28, 2006 - Page 3 News List

Analysis: Assets, party relations dog Ma in first year as chair

By Mo Yan-chih  /  STAFF REPORTER

When Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) took the helm of the party on Aug. 17 last year, he vowed to reform the 100-year old party and retake the reins of government in 2008.

One year later, however, the party's asset problem remains a burden. In addition, Ma's problematic relations with party heavyweights and his inability to present solid policies to solve the country's problems challenge his leadership in the pan-blue camp and threaten his bid to win the 2008 presidential election, analysts said.

"Ma should have revealed [the party's] assets in a transparent manner earlier. It doesn't matter whether or not the assets were acquired legally. It's about how the public feels about a wealthy party with so many investments," Soochow University political science professor Emile Sheng (盛治仁) said.

Instead of arguing about the legitimacy of the party's assets, Sheng said that Ma should stop operating for-profit corporations and donate income from asset sales to welfare services in order to completely rid the party of the "asset shadow."

The KMT released a report on its assets last Wednesday, detailing the total value of the party's assets and how they had been handled under different chairmen.

Under Ma's chairmanship, the KMT has sold five of the party's assets for a total of NT$11.4 billion (US$346.5 million), with most of the income used to pay pensions amounting to NT$1.6 billion and other personnel fees, according to the report.

Ma vowed to clean up the KMT's assets by 2008 and promised to put its remaining assets into trusts and move away from running businesses, but failed to make clear which of the party's assets he would return to the government.

Wang Yeh-li (王業立), a political science professor at Tunghai University, said that while it was understandable that Ma had sped up the sale of assets to ease the party's financial burdens, the chairman should address the issue with more delicacy.

"The KMT's financial situation should not be the only concern. Addressing the issue with more sincerity and transparency is more important," he said.

Ma's handling of the party's assets met with challenges even from some of the KMT's Central Standing Committee members, including Legislator Lu Shiow-yen (盧秀燕) and Taichung Mayor Jason Hu (胡志強), who suggested that the party should not maintain any assets.

"The KMT should be a party with zero assets. It's a difficult goal to achieve, but think about it: Are party assets a benefit or a burden to the KMT?" Hu told the Taipei Times.

Describing the asset report as a "fly in the ointment," Hu said that Ma should "make up his mind" to turn the KMT into a zero-asset party, no matter how long it takes.

"I didn't make any comments during the committee meeting because I know many members won't accept my idea ? But do you want money or votes? Think about it," said Hu, who attended the committee meeting last week when the report was delivered.

Beyond the asset issue, Hu's criticism, and his complaint about Ma's lack of respect for the committee at a recent meeting, highlight Ma's lack of support among party members and some of its top figures.

Ma has faced continuous speculation that his relationships with former chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平), as well as People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) are problematic. His dependence on the opinions of the so-called "Ma troop," which refers to the chairman's top aides and followers, including Taipei Deputy Mayor King Pu-tsung (金溥聰), KMT Legislator Wu Yu-sheng (吳育昇) and Lai Shyh-bao (賴士葆), have sparked resentment among some party members.

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