President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) decision to register as the sole candidate for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairmanship late last month has raised concern among some political observers over the expansion of his power.
The melodrama began last year when speculation surfaced that Ma intended to take over the party leadership to tighten his control over KMT legislators and party affairs.
Although he and KMT Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄) were equally tight-lipped about his intention, Ma said during a TV interview earlier last month that it would be easier for him to push policies through if he were the party chairman. After speculation mounted over a power struggle between the two, Ma and Wu decided to hold a joint press conference to explain the issue days earlier than they had planned.
George Liu (劉志聰), a researcher at the Center for Peace and Strategic Studies, expressed concern over the possible conflict between Ma’s two roles, saying the president’s job was to serve public interest, while the party chairman’s job was to promote party interests.
Liu said Ma’s motive was clear: to expand his power. When Ma becomes a “super strongman” who has the final say on the affairs of the party, government, military and intelligence, the legislature will find it hard to keep him in check, he said.
The role of the legislature is bound to weaken and become no more than a rubber stamp for the administration, Liu said, adding that although former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) at one time also doubled as Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairman, the DPP was never a majority in the legislature.
As the KMT chairman, Ma could use the communication channel between the KMT and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to compel the party and the legislature to toe the line, especially in cross-strait policies, Liu said.
Some have speculated that Ma might attend the KMT-CCP forum and meet his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), in his capacity as KMT chairman. Liu, however, said the meeting would not happen any time soon.
It was more likely to happen in 2012 if Ma wins the presidential reelection and before Hu steps down, Liu said, because Beijing is watching whether Ma would continue “to behave.”
Ma must also make sure that his China-friendly policies do not drive away any potential voters in the next election, Liu observed.
Ma’s decision to double as party chairman, however, was not surprising, Liu added, because it was an overt attempt to remove the roadblocks on his way to a second term as he realized party infighting would only undermine his leadership.
Nanhua University professor Wang Szu-wei (王思為) said Ma’s taking over the helm of the KMT poses risks for the country.
First, Ma would seize control of the legislature and further undermine the power of Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平). Even People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) has sensed this threat, Wang Szu-wei said, noting Soong’s recent visit to former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), possibly to seek an alliance.
Second, Ma would reclaim control over cross-strait policies, especially from the hands of party heavyweights such as former KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰), outgoing KMT Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung and Straits Exchange Foundation Chairman Chiang Pin-kung (江丙坤), Wang Szu-wei said.
As party chairman, Wang Szu-wei said Ma would hold the right to nominate candidates for elections at all levels, especially after the redrawing of administrative zones following the mergers or upgrade of counties and cities.