President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is to lead Cabinet members in his capacity as Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman on a tour of 22 cities and counties starting on Saturday to meet with local party representatives in what some say is a move to reinforce his status in the party in the run-up to the party’s chairperson election next year.
According to sources within the KMT who spoke on condition of anonymity, Ma is scheduled to start the tour with a forum at Taipei’s Chien Tan Overseas Youth Activity Center that will be attended by party representatives from Taipei and Keelung.
Officials with expertise in internal affairs and transportation are to accompany Ma during each party meeting, which serve as platforms for local party members to convey their opinions on various issues and are off-limits to the public, the source said.
Covering at least 22 cities and counties across Taiwan, the tour is likely to take four or five months, the source added.
The trip is interpreted by many as Ma’s effort to pave the way for his re-election as KMT chairman, the source said, especially at a time when his approval rating, as well as that of his administration, have hit rock bottom due to a number of unpopular policies implemented since his re-election in January.
The dive in Ma’s popularity, coupled with his controversial policies, such as the relaxation of the ban on imports of beef containing ractopamine residues, electricity and fuel price hikes, and levying a capital gains tax on securities transactions, have prompted some KMT members to openly criticize Ma and distance themselves from him.
Initially, Ma only hinted at the possibility that he might seek re-election as KMT chairman at his inauguration on May 20.
However, when reports started surfacing in early July that some KMT members wished Ma would step down as chairman, he responded by officially announcing his re-election bid at a meeting of the party’s Central Standing Committee on July 11.
Meanwhile, an insider within the pan-blue camp said that the KMT could be in danger of losing the 2014 seven-in-one elections and the 2016 presidential election if the Ma administration continues failing to make substantial achievements.
In a last-ditch attempt to save the party from losing its hold on power, the source said some pan-blue politicians had several lobbied senior KMT members to run against Ma for party chairmanship, but added that “the possibility [of this happening] was virtually zero.”
“Some pan-blue politicians had also pinned their hopes on reuniting the KMT around a highly prestigious ‘retired financial veteran,’” the source added.
However, Ma would most likely remain atop the party’s throne since no one has challenged him yet, the source said, because no other KMT members seemed willing to bear the risk of losing the seven-in-one elections, nor shoulder the heavy-lifting of reconstructing the party.
The seven-in-one elections will be held concurrently to fill for the posts of mayors and councilors of the five special municipalities, county commissioners and councilors, city mayors and councilors, township chiefs and councilors, borough wardens and village heads.