ANALYSIS: Bribery claims shake Ma administration to the core

By Mo Yan-chih  /  Staff reporter

Sun, Mar 31, 2013 - Page 3

The bribery allegations against Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Taipei City Councilor Lai Su-ju (賴素如) in the Taipei Twin Towers (台北雙子星) project have shaken the KMT and severely damaged the image of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration.

Lai, a close aide of Ma who had run his KMT chairman’s office, was ordered back into detention yesterday for allegedly accepting NT$1 million (US$33,500) as a down payment bribe from a project developer in the bidding process for the project.

The bribery allegations are especially ironic as she acted as the defense lawyer for former Executive Yuan secretary-general Lin Yi-shih (林益世) in his corruption trial last year.

When the scandal surrounding Lin broke last year, Ma, who doubles as KMT chairman, expressed regret over his close aide’s lack of integrity and immediately held a corruption prevention forum with government officials to demonstrate his determination to tackle the problem.

In the wake of the allegations against Lai, Ma offered his apologies twice and repeated his pledge to fight corruption.

However, his anti-corruption slogans have ceased to be persuasive and his image as a politician of integrity has been further damaged. A poll released in the Chinese-language Apple Daily yesterday showed that 60.75 percent of respondents said they do not have confidence in the integrity of the Ma administration. Only 31 percent still professed faith in Ma’s integrity.

“President Ma’s integrity was the biggest asset in his political career, and he is losing that asset in these corruption cases. He must recognize that maintaining his personal integrity is not enough. Action must be taken to eliminate corruption in his party,” Ming Chuan University professor Chen Chao-chien (陳朝建) said.

Ma defeated the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) in the 2008 presidential election and led the KMT back to power when the DPP was experiencing a loss of public confidence amid the corruption scandals involving former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and his family.

Chen Chao-chien said the corruption accusations against Lin and Lai, as well as other KMT politicians including Nantou County Commissioner Lee Chao-ching (李朝卿), have left the Ma administration unable to shift the media spotlight from its poor performance to the DPP’s perceived shortcomings.

Ma’s political strength as the leader of the pan-blue camp would be further compromised, Chen Chao-chien said.

Amid the latest allegations, concerns about Ma’s bid for re-election as party chairman emerged again after several KMT legislators questioned the president’s capability, and suggested that he shoulder the responsibility for Lai’s corruption case and reconsider his plans to seek another term as party chairman.

On the other hand, a number of KMT political heavyweights voiced their support for Ma’s re-election bid. Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平), Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺), Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) and New Taipei City Mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫) all said that Ma should continue to serve as KMT chairman to strengthen cooperation between the party and the government in implementing policies.

“Even with support from the party heavyweights, Ma would become a nominal chairman as he is in his second and final term as president. The KMT will face a power struggle among future leaders and local factions,” Chen Chao-chien said.

Shih Cheng-feng (施正鋒), a professor at National Dong Hwa University, said the bribery scandal behind the construction project, which was initiated by Ma during his term as Taipei mayor in 2004, also damaged the public’s confidence in the capabilities of both Ma and Hau, and Lai’s case was another wake-up call for Ma that he should put less trust in grassroots politicians.

National Sun Yat-sen University political science professor Liao Da-chi (廖達琪) said Ma should strengthen his communications with party members and develop a better understanding of the party’s structure especially at the grassroots level.