The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus’ failure to pass a draft bill on Friday that would allow the import of US beef containing ractopamine residue was a blow to President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) leadership, as his repeated calls for the bill to clear the legislative floor were in vain.
Lifting the ban on US beef containing traces of the livestock feed additive has been a priority of Ma since his re-election in January.
In his capacity as KMT chairman, Ma demanded the full support of the KMT caucus on the bill and threatened to discipline those who did not vote along the party line.
While some KMT lawmakers took a hard line and tried to force a vote on the amendment to the Act Governing Food Sanitation (食品衛生管理法) during the opposition’s boycott of the vote last week, a substantial number of KMT lawmakers were clearly reluctant to force a vote.
“KMT lawmakers are unwilling to follow Ma’s orders because of pressure from voters, and Ma’s failure to control his party caucus will make him a lame duck president if he does not improve communication with party legislators,” National Sun Yat-sen University political science professor Liao Da-chi (廖達琪) said.
Although Ma repeatedly vowed to initiate bold reforms when he began a second term on May 20 and stressed the necessity of the bill on US beef imports being passed to improve the nation’s trade relations with the US and other nations, KMT lawmakers are reluctant to cooperate due to the government’s poor communication with the legislative branch, she said.
“Ma is facing a great challenge over his leadership early in his second term, and he must learn to communicate with legislators more effectively. Otherwise he won’t be able to get his orders out of the Presidential Office,” Liao said.
The bill on US beef imports is one of a number of controversial policies that have sparked growing public discontent and dissent from within the party. The unpopular policies, from hikes in fuel and electricity prices to the securities and futures tax, have caused Ma’s approval ratings to plummet and many KMT politicians to distance themselves from him.
Ma’s critics describe him as a stubborn and arrogant politician who lacks communication and negotiation skills, both as president and KMT chairman, and the traits have taken a toll on his leadership within the party at the beginning of his second term, as KMT lawmakers brush off the government’s attempts to seek unanimous support from the party caucus for reform proposals.
To call for party unity, Ma attended the KMT’s caucus meeting on June 7 and asked party legislators to ensure that the bill on US beef pass the legislature by the end of this legislative session.
However, the caucus meeting, held to strengthen communication between the executive branch and legislative caucus, lasted only an hour. Ma left the room immediately after making a speech, without listening to lawmakers’ responses.
The brief meeting on June 7 served as an example of Ma’s lack of effort at communicating with party members, a KMT Central Standing Committee member who wished to remain anonymous said.
The KMT caucus has suggested that Ma and the Cabinet should explain the government’s stance on the US beef issue to party members, but Ma insisted the government did not have any pre-established stance on the issue, leaving party lawmakers confused about the Ma administration’s position.