The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), more than 100 years old, and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), a youthful 23, have different cultures. The DPP is like an inverted whirlpool in which one must publicly demonstrate one’s abilities to reach the top.
The KMT, however, is a deep body of water with unpredictable currents: Everything looks calm on the surface, but under this perpetual cover of solidarity, scheming and power struggles are a constant.
After the May 17 anti-government demonstration, supporters of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) did not want to disperse, instead holding up placards and shouting slogans in a direct challenge to DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) leadership. Tsai said she would fight for Chen’s judicial rights and not abandon his supporters, but she ignored their other demands in announcing an end to the protest. It was a typical example of a DPP power play.
Meanwhile, in the tussle for the leadership of the KMT, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) refuses to say whether he wants to double as party chairman despite ongoing calls for him to do so.
Yet it is all but certain that he will become chairman. Incumbent Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄) has not withdrawn his bid for another term, but in the face of defeat, his focus is turning to the best alternative.
There is speculation, for example, that Wu will eventually replace Vice President Vincent Siew (蕭萬長), who recently had malignant tumors operated on, but Wu would additionally be expecting an honorary chairmanship of his party, like that awarded to former KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰).
Wu also needs to consider the political future of his son, Wu Chih-yang (吳志揚), whose failure to attract the support of KMT Deputy Chairman Chu Li-lun (朱立倫) — now organizing the nominees for his successor as Taoyuan County commissioner — has come as a setback.
The situation is such that a single misstep may irrevocably damage Wu Poh-hsiung’s agenda.
For Ma and Wu, the struggle for the chairmanship has added resonance. Wu has always supported Ma — as Taipei mayor, as KMT chairman and now as president. His great hopes for Ma over the years have now turned into a rivalry, and Wu can no longer expect Ma to repay his support in kind.
Ma is intent on securing the chairmanship to better control the party and the government, and to bring this about he must first “deal” with Wu Poh-hsiung in a way that neutralizes his influence while saving his face. Determining which political post would be appropriate for him and what conditions would satisfy him will be a test for Ma’s political acumen. The two men have always supported one another, but that they are seen to be haggling over the party chairmanship proves once again that there are no eternal friends or enemies in politics.
When politicians in a healthy democracy step down, they simply pack up and leave, and unless the government offers an overseas posting or other safety net, they are left to fend for themselves.
Not so in KMT political culture: With the KMT, politics is a lifetime occupation. Regardless of age or experience, senior politicians who step down must be given a prestigious-sounding position and be treated with pomp and fanfare to avoid the party-wide backlash that would result from the spurning of a colleague and his supporters.
Little wonder that KMT honorary chairmanships are growing in number — and with these the packing of more skeletons into the closet.
Although a new generation of leaders is emerging in the KMT, the older generation simply will not disappear.
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