A power struggle over the top position in the post-President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) era may soon surface in the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), particularly after Premier Jiang Yi-huah’s (江宜樺) meteoric rise to power from political science professor to the head of the Cabinet on Monday.
While Jiang’s unexpected appointment as premier is seen by some political analysts as a desperate bid by Ma to buy more time for his fast-sinking administration, the professor-turned-politician could become a dark horse in an already fierce battle for power in the KMT that has seen four strong contenders — Vice President Wu Den-yih (吳敦義), New Taipei City (新北市) Mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫), Greater Taichung Mayor Jason Hu (胡志強) and Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) — political observers said.
Jiang only entered politics in 2008, when Ma was first elected as president and appointed him as minister of the Research, Development and Evaluation Commission.
Over the course of five years, the 52-year-old climbed the political ladder so fast that he is now the nation’s youngest premier in about 50 years, sparking wild speculation, including that he may be Ma’s favored candidate to represent the party in next year’s Taipei City mayoral election.
However, Ma, who doubles as KMT chairman, has remained tight-lipped on who would be his “favored successor,” saying that such a person should be chosen via the party’s pre-election mechanism, rather than being designated.
Ma is perceived to be very concerned about his power, to the extent that he gravely dreads being surpassed or replaced by up-and-coming talent in his party, as evidenced by his insistence on seeking a second re-election as KMT chairman, despite the two-term limit imposed on leaders of civil organizations and according to the party’s regulations.
Although Ma’s re-election bid has given rise to some voices of dissent within the KMT, these “non-mainstream” party members would not dare go too far in their opposition or openly turn against Ma, because they know only too well that Ma is bound to be re-elected as chairman in July this year and will continue to reign over the party, political watchers said.
At present, none of the likely successor candidates in the KMT with both the competence and potential to replace Ma suit the president’s tastes, analysts said, particularly on the heels of a closely watched graft case involving former Executive Yuan secretary-general Lin Yi-shih (林益世), one of Ma’s trusted aides.
Lin, who had served as the KMT’s youngest deputy caucus whip, was indicted on charges of corruption for allegedly receiving a bribe of NT$63 million (US$2.1 million) from a businessman in return for extending a contract with the state-controlled China Steel Corp in 2010, and for allegedly asking for a further NT$83 million last year.
Lin’s graft scandal was a slap in the face for Ma, who likes to boast about his integrity, and came close to crippling the Ma administration, which has long suffered dismal approval ratings.
Most political figures found the results of the investigation — that Lin was the only government official implicated in the case — far from convincing, speculating that the top management of the nation’s investigating agencies may have kept the “real truth” about the corruption allegations to themselves.
Lin’s case was a wake-up call to Ma that he should put less trust in politicians from grassroots levels, as well as those who have a history of disputes over money, political observers said.