The outcome of the investigation into Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou's (
Observers, however, said that the damage caused by the investigation on Ma's reputation has been contained, and Ma would still be the pan-blue alliance's best bet for the presidential election next year even if he were indicted.
"The KMT has turned the scandal from a judicial investigation into a case of political oppression by spreading rumors that Ma might not seek the presidency, thus creating a sense of crisis among his supporters," said Ku Chung-hwa (顧忠華), a political analyst and sociology professor at National Chengchi University.
Although the scandal seemed to have seriously dented Ma's image and popularity at first, rumors that Ma may quit politics if indicted have turned the former mayor into a victim of political oppression by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in the eyes of his supporters, Ku said.
This succeeded in consolidating grassroots support for Ma from pan-blue loyalists who were afraid that Ma's exit could diminish the KMT's chances of regaining power next year, Ku said.
The investigation into Ma's alleged misuse of his allowance began when DPP Legislator Hsieh Hsin-ni (謝欣霓) filed a lawsuit with the Black Gold Investigation Center last August, accusing Ma of embezzling half of his special monthly mayoral allowance or NT$170,000.
Ma, who was still serving as Taipei mayor then, argued that he had used the fund in accordance with the law, which grants more than 6,500 local government chiefs a discretionary budget, half of which can be reimbursed for public expenditures even without providing supporting receipts.
But as the probe into Ma's use of his special allowance nears completion and expectations mount that he may be indicted before the Lunar New Year holidays, Ma has stepped up his appeals to the public to protest his innocence. He even visited the Black Gold Investigation Center on Wednesday to explain that he had acted within the law when he wired half of his mayoral allowance to his personal bank account.
Ma has also pledged to obey the KMT's black gold exclusion clause and resign as party chairman if indicted.
"Hopefully, the judicial system will prove my innocence. But the KMT's regulations require that I resign if indicted ... Regulations are important," Ma said during a recent meeting with party members in Hsinchu.
Some KMT lawmakers have proposed relaxing party regulations to allow the chairman to run in the election even if he were indicted, but Ma's aides said that no action should be taken until the outcome of the investigation was announced.
The party's original clause called for suspension of party membership if a person was convicted of a crime. But to improve the party's image, the clause was changed under Ma's chairmanship to cover indictments.
As pan-blue supporters continue to view Ma as the best presidential contender and surveys have shown only a slight drop in his support rate since the investigation started, changing the KMT's regulation on membership is merely a technical issue and will not hinder Ma's potential presidential bid, said Shih Cheng-feng (施正鋒), a public administration professor at Tamkang University.
"I don't think Ma will give up pursuing the presidency ... What's lying in the way is not some regulation, but the high standard he has set for himself. It's unnecessary to make a pledge to step down if indicted in the first place," Shih said.
Wang Yeh-lih (王業立), a political scientist at Tunghai University, agreed that the KMT chairman would continue to run in the election even if indicted, and said it might not be a disadvantage for Ma to seek the presidency as an independent candidate.
Another option, proposed by the People First Party (PFP), would be to elect Ma through a KMT-PFP coalition, allowing him to represent the pan-blue camp if he resigned as KMT chairman.
While many pan-blue supporters regard Ma as the best candidate, it is imperative that he work on integrating different factions in the party to avoid a split, Shih said, adding that Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (
"The KMT could face a split if the party failed to negotiate and elect only one pair of candidates," Shih said.
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