President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) decision to register as the sole candidate for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairmanship late last month has raised concern among some political observers over the expansion of his power.
The melodrama began last year when speculation surfaced that Ma intended to take over the party leadership to tighten his control over KMT legislators and party affairs.
Although he and KMT Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄) were equally tight-lipped about his intention, Ma said during a TV interview earlier last month that it would be easier for him to push policies through if he were the party chairman. After speculation mounted over a power struggle between the two, Ma and Wu decided to hold a joint press conference to explain the issue days earlier than they had planned.
George Liu (劉志聰), a researcher at the Center for Peace and Strategic Studies, expressed concern over the possible conflict between Ma’s two roles, saying the president’s job was to serve public interest, while the party chairman’s job was to promote party interests.
Liu said Ma’s motive was clear: to expand his power. When Ma becomes a “super strongman” who has the final say on the affairs of the party, government, military and intelligence, the legislature will find it hard to keep him in check, he said.
The role of the legislature is bound to weaken and become no more than a rubber stamp for the administration, Liu said, adding that although former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) at one time also doubled as Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairman, the DPP was never a majority in the legislature.
As the KMT chairman, Ma could use the communication channel between the KMT and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to compel the party and the legislature to toe the line, especially in cross-strait policies, Liu said.
Some have speculated that Ma might attend the KMT-CCP forum and meet his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), in his capacity as KMT chairman. Liu, however, said the meeting would not happen any time soon.
It was more likely to happen in 2012 if Ma wins the presidential reelection and before Hu steps down, Liu said, because Beijing is watching whether Ma would continue “to behave.”
Ma must also make sure that his China-friendly policies do not drive away any potential voters in the next election, Liu observed.
Ma’s decision to double as party chairman, however, was not surprising, Liu added, because it was an overt attempt to remove the roadblocks on his way to a second term as he realized party infighting would only undermine his leadership.
Nanhua University professor Wang Szu-wei (王思為) said Ma’s taking over the helm of the KMT poses risks for the country.
First, Ma would seize control of the legislature and further undermine the power of Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平). Even People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) has sensed this threat, Wang Szu-wei said, noting Soong’s recent visit to former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), possibly to seek an alliance.
Second, Ma would reclaim control over cross-strait policies, especially from the hands of party heavyweights such as former KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰), outgoing KMT Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung and Straits Exchange Foundation Chairman Chiang Pin-kung (江丙坤), Wang Szu-wei said.
As party chairman, Wang Szu-wei said Ma would hold the right to nominate candidates for elections at all levels, especially after the redrawing of administrative zones following the mergers or upgrade of counties and cities.
With this power in hand, Ma could do a house cleaning to silence his opponents within the party, Wang Szu-wei said.
Ma is also likely to use the KMT’s legislative majority to amend the Constitution, which could take the country down an irreversible path, he said. If this becomes a reality, other things such as whether the KMT-CCP forum would continue or whether Ma would meet Hu would become secondary, he said.
Wang Szu-wei said Ma’s pledges should be taken with a grain of salt because most of them had not stood the test of time.
While registering as the candidate for party chairman, Ma promised to dispose of dubious party assets and rely on fund-raising to finance future campaigns. He also promised to nominate honest and clean party members for public offices.
However, Ma has broken his promise that he would not double as party chairman. He now insists that he would be taking on the party chairmanship not to expand his power but because he has to shoulder “a new historic responsibility.”
Ma has also defined the party’s decision-making body, the Central Standing Committee, as a communication platform, saying he would continue the KMT-CCP forum.
Antonio Chiang (江春男), former deputy secretary-general of the National Security Council and former editor-in-chief of the Taipei Times, said he welcomed Ma’s decision to take over the KMT chairmanship, as Ma would no longer have anyone to blame for his failures.
Chiang said he was not worried that Ma would become a political “strongman” because to be one, that person must possess great abilities and the courage to shoulder all responsibilities.
He said he doubted Ma had such abilities and backbone.
“He might have some potential, but before he does anything, we don’t know for sure,” he said.
Even if Ma were to become a “strongman,” Chiang said he would be held in check as long as there is a system of checks and balances in place.
Chiang said he did not think it was a big deal that Ma had broken his promise of not doubling as party chairman, because most politicians lie. Ma had said on numerous occasions that he would not stand in the Taipei mayoral election, but he eventually did, Chiang said.
Chen also doubled as DPP chairman, Chiang said, but he later found out that it was not what he had expected.
Ma might end up in the same situation, Chiang said.
“I don’t have any problem seeing him have more power,” Chiang said.
“Let him have it. He will discover that he cannot do more things simply because he has more power. Instead he will invite more trouble. It’s a great opportunity to test his ability,” he said.
The legislature would not be as easy to manage as Ma might think, Chiang added, because legislators have their own interests in mind.
Chiang said he would like to think that Ma’s goal was to reform the century-old party, an ambitious task not even former president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) and Lee dared to take on.
Ma’s biggest problem is that he was never closely connected with the party and his election victories were secured by distancing himself from the KMT, Chiang said.
The party might benefit more from Ma than the other way around, he said, but Ma seemed determined to undertake this challenge, so he must hand it to him.
Chiang, however, said that Ma would become an easier target for criticism because he is wading into water over his head.
Tainan City Councilor Lu Kun-fu (盧崑福) of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) yesterday sparked further controversy when he echoed remarks by KMT caucus whip Alex Fai (費鴻泰) that Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) should be executed for an increase in domestic COVID-19 cases. Chen heads the Central Epidemic Command Center. Lu at a question-and-answer session at the Tainan City Council said that a lapse in disease prevention measures at China Airlines, which has led to a cluster infection, could have been controlled. However, as the airline’s pilots were allowed a shortened quarantine period of three days and were placed
SUFFICIENT SUPPLY: Taiwan has an abundance of pandemic-related goods in storage, and protocols have been implemented to ensure that the supply chain is not broken Hordes of customers descended on hypermarkets and supermarkets in Taipei and New Taipei City after the government yesterday raised the COVID-19 alert level for the two municipalities to level 3 until May 28. Earlier in the day, the Central Epidemic Command Center reported 180 new domestically transmitted cases, most of them in Taipei and New Taipei City. Despite the government urging the public to stop hoarding daily necessities, shelves were stripped bare while cashiers were working as fast as they could. Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) at a news conference on Friday detailed the government’s inventory of masks, medical-grade isopropyl alcohol and protective clothing,
‘STAY CALM’: The nation has more than 800 million masks in stock and can produce up to 40 million a day, while hand sanitizer stocks are also sufficient The nation has an ample supply of masks to meet demand amid concerns over an increase in the number of domestically transmitted COVID-19 cases, the Ministry of Economic Affairs said on Tuesday. Taiwan has more than 800 million masks in stock, with daily production of 18.3 million units on average and maximum daily capacity of 40 million units, the ministry said on Facebook. The ministry’s assurance came after Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC), on Monday said that the nation has entered the community transmission stage after several new domestic
EYES AND EARS: The navy has commissioned the Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology to manufacture radars to upgrade the nation’s naval monitoring stations A military enthusiast yesterday posted photographs of Taiwanese F-16 jets taking off from Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu with two refueling aircraft, presumably returning to Taiwan from the US for upgrades. Asked about the matter, the Ministry of National Defense declined to comment. The jets had been part of training at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona and had briefly landed in Honolulu, where the photographer, Aeros808, had spotted them, a source said. The jets did not land in Guam, which had been done in 1996 when the US Air Force delivered F-16s to Taiwan, the source said, adding that the