Ma must keep eye on public opinion: legislator

Amid controversy over President Ma Ying-jeou’s bid for re-election as Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman, KMT Legislator Lo Shu-lei, who has been a vocal critic of the opposition camp as well as her own party, called on Ma to step down from his chairmanship post for the sake of himself and the party in a recent interview with reporter Tzou Jiing-wen of the Chinese-language ‘Liberty Times’ (sister paper of the ‘Taipei Times’)

Sun, Feb 03, 2013 - Page 3

Liberty Times (LT): Voices of dissent from within the KMT against Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) attempt to seek re-election as KMT chairman are growing louder. What’s your opinion on this?

Lo Shu-lei (羅淑蕾): As a specialist in accounting, I am all about practicality and know that no one could shoulder that many responsibilities at once. Taking next year’s seven-in-one elections as an example, if Ma continues to serve as KMT chairman, should he campaign for party candidates? If so, how would Ma, the president, find time to handle national affairs? The governance is at a mess as it is; [can we] afford to have a president who slacks off?

Over the past five years, Ma has clung to the concept of “the party leading the state (以黨領政)” [as his basis to serve concurrently as KMT chairman], yet it has not served him well. In theory, any national policies will have both pros and cons: One party might applaud certain policies, while the other side opposes them. However, rarely has there been a president whose policies displease almost all, as highlighted by Ma’s recent pension reform that not only galvanizes public servants, but also infuriates the nation’s private-sector employees.

Such an unpopular policy plan indicates that there is something wrong with Ma’s policymaking.

First of all, major national policies are supposed to receive support from at least one of the parties involved, provided that the government takes a firm stance from the onset of formulating them. However, letting policymaking processes drag on for too long only wears down those who are originally in favor of such policies.

Second, the majority of Ma’s current policies run counter to mainstream public opinion, such as the fuel and electricity price hikes and the year-end bonuses for retired government employees. Ma appears to be lacking the ability to sense the widespread public discontent triggered by his own policy plans.

Moreover, Ma’s constant failure to stick to his policy objectives is also alarming. He has trumpeted his goals to push through reforms and uphold the principles of fairness and justness, but most of the policies he has implemented — such as the capital gains tax on securities transactions and the second-generation National Health Insurance scheme — are neither fair, nor just. It seems as if our president only cares about the process of introducing reform, rather than its actual content and implementation.

This leads us to conclude that the notion of “the party leading the state” does not translate into better governance and performance. Besides, even if Ma does yield the party’s helm, no one would veto his policies as long as they are good ones.

Indeed, within the KMT there are many who oppose Ma’s re-election bid, but the opposition from grassroots party members is far more vehement. The party is in bad shape and its members are frequently forced to bear the brunt of severe criticism [from pan-blue supporters] when holding events in local areas. Ma doubling as KMT chairman has only put the party in more disorder, instead of the other way around. His latest bid for chairmanship is doomed to be challenged.

Ma recently held a series of symposia with grassroots party members across the country [under the pretext of soliciting opinions for his pension reform plan]. Yet almost every one of us felt that such gatherings were actually meant [to garner support] for his re-election effort, rather than him listening to what people had to say.

LT: What do you think of the KMT headquarters’ argument that Ma not doubling as the party chairman would make the situation more chaotic?

Lo: On what facts is such an illogical argument based? A more rational assumption would be that Ma only insists on seeking re-election because he wants to continue holding control over the party’s assets, using them to manipulate KMT legislators and party members.

I don’t see all KMT lawmakers acting at his beck and call, despite Ma’s heading the party now.

LT: Ma reportedly cited the US Constitution and Democratic Progressive Party charter as basis for his argument that a term as chairmanship is only counted when the elected person has served more than half of the full tenure. Do you think that is an appropriate approach?

Lo: If Ma had more guts, he should have just said: “Yes, I want to continue serving as KMT chairman,” and that there is something wrong with the current party charter and it should be fixed.

As a chairman of the ruling party and head of the state, Ma should adopt stricter standards than [leaders of] civil organizations in abiding by the laws. Currently, both the Constitution and the Local Government Act (地方制度法) stipulate that [leaders of civil organizations and political parties] can only be re-elected once.

The spirit of these laws is to prevent a post-holder from playing a dominant role in a civil organization for too long and becoming somewhat of a “leader for life.” If even such a far-fetched argument would help people get past the laws, does it mean those who wish to seek a second re-election can gain legitimacy to do so simply by resigning before their current tenures expire?

While there is a gray area in these regulations, Ma should nevertheless give serious thought to his conduct to quiet skeptical voices.

LT: You mentioned the issue of KMT assets, but has Ma not boasted in the past of his self-proclaimed integrity and rectitude?

Lo: Although the KMT has substantial assets, they are merely unattainable to most grassroots members, because only those at the party’s power center have real access to such resources.

When I spoke about Ma seeking to control the party’s assets, I was not referring to the criticism that these assets are the root cause of an uneven playing ground for political parties by offering more campaign funding to KMT candidates.

In fact, these contentious assets have proven to be more of a burden than a blessing for most party members, who, despite having not enjoyed a bit of these resources, are frequently accused of buying votes with money from the assets.

What I mentioned earlier is merely speculation that the party’s leader [Ma] hopes to administer these assets in a bid to decide who gets to enjoy them, twist the fingers of some lawmakers or draw high-profile individuals into his camp for elections. I could not think of any other reason why Ma would want to be re-elected as KMT chairman.

LT: You oppose the idea of Ma serving concurrently as KMT chairman, but what do you propose is the best operational model for the governing party?

Lo: While the KMT still has the Central Standing Committee as its highest policymaking body, the committee’s functions are hugely different from what they were during the periods of former leaders Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), his son Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) and Lee Teng-hui (李登輝).

At the time, being selected as a member into what was then deemed the nation’s power center was no easy task. That, in a way, helped the committee recruit a diverse group of people from all sectors of society and become a vital platform where different public opinions were exchanged and heard, and where the “party” and the “government” engaged in deliberations on, and made amendments to, major policies.

However, such a function of the committee has become history.

Another option is, as [Representative to the US] King Pu-tsung (金溥聰) has proposed, transforming the party into an “election machine” that only functions during elections, while it distances itself from government policymaking processes.

From my perspective, whether it is a party chairmanship post or a presidential position, they are full-time responsibilities and should therefore be held by two separate people. The party chairman could submit opinions from the party to the president for references, while the two could then exchange views and forge consensuses on different matters. Such an operational mode will not only be far better than having just one man who makes all the calls, but could also help the president be more in touch with public opinion.

LT: How serious has Ma’s one-man decisionmaking style been for the past few years?

Lo: The majority of Ma’s decisions are made within an extremely small group of his aides, from which we at the Legislative Yuan and public opinions are completely excluded. He does not solicit opinion from others or resort to party-government dialogues before introducing policy proposals, whose existence are only made known to lawmakers by print media outlets.

However, by the time these policy plans make the front page, it would be very hard to scrap them, regardless of how absurd we [legislators] may think they are. The worst part is that most of these proposals are either hastily formulated or are introduced for the sake of introducing reform [in keeping with Ma’s pledge of pushing reform].

Ma’s one-man decisionmaking style may have been the subject of public criticism for a long time now, but his failure to fairly dispense rewards and hand down discipline could be the most life-threatening symptom for the nation.

For instance, the fatal car accident near the hard-to-reach Smangus Village (司馬庫斯) in Hsinchu County in December last year, which resulted in 13 deaths, has yet to see any officials from the Ministry of Transportation and Communications be reprehended.

LT: With more than three years left in Ma’s [second] term as president, the coming three years could be a critical moment for the nation.Would party elites sit by and watch what you say could be the party’s “misfortune” (Ma being re-elected as chairman) happen?

Lo: Few party members, except for Ma’s spokespersons, stood up for Ma when KMT Legislator Alex Tsai (蔡正元) cited regulations to challenge his legal eligibility to be re-elected as KMT chairman. For the sake of the nation, I believe more party members will come forward in the future to prevail on Ma to bring about changes, including a Cabinet reshuffle and making necessary adjustments to certain policies.

The will of the party must not go against the voice of the people, just as the latter must not betray the will of God. There are bound to be calls on Ma to introduce reforms.

LT: The KMT has been saturated with people striving to safeguard the power of those at the helm. What’s your opinion on this?

Lo: For the interest of the KMT and the country, party members who eye the leadership roles and want to make a difference should really step out and have the courage to say no to Ma.

They should appeal to their political conscience and reject policy proposals that are simply wrong, as their blind adherence to Ma and his problematic plans will not only bring misfortune to the party, but also to the 23 million people of Taiwan.

LT: Is there anything you want to say to Ma?

Lo: I hope Ma can do well his job as a president and refrain from attaching an “anti-Ma label” on anyone who voice opposition to his re-election bid for chairmanship. I may vote against “Chairman Ma,” but I have never stopped supporting “President Ma.”

Nevertheless, in light of a series of contentious policies Ma has introduced since he won a presidential re-election on Jan. 14 last year, he should carry out an immediate Cabinet reshuffle to remove every incompetent government leaders and bring a breath of fresh air to this country.

Meanwhile, because the direction of the government’s ongoing pension reform [for private-sector workers and civil servants] is closely intertwined with the nation’s future, the financial security for various occupations and the economic burdens on the next generations, Ma should adopt a more cautious, thorough approach in handling the imperative issue.

Translated by staff writer Stacy Hsu