Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Ma's Challenge: To Lead and Reform

Ma's Challenge: To Lead and Reform
China Times News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
June 17, 2009

"The people's expectations are higher than ever. Any mistakes are intolerable!" President Ma Ying-jeou explained that he ran for party chairman so that the party could help the administration and contribute to more effective governance. He said that electoral district considerations were forcing some legislators to maintain certain positions involving the allocation of resources. He said sometimes there is no absolute right and wrong. He said no one should conclude that Ma Ying-jeou, with his Teflon coating, was preparing to compromise in the interest of electoral advantage. When interviewed by Commonwealth Magazine he said "No such thing!" He came straight out and said that "Nominees must maintain certain standards, and winners must not engage in corruption."

Ma Ying-jeou's remarks suggest that he is psychologically prepared to do a good job. In fact, just before and after he declared his candidacy for party chairman, the KMT nominated Fu Kuen-chi for Hualien County Executive. Fu was defeated. Yunlin County Party Chairman Hsu Shu-po withdrew his candidacy and resigned his position. Rumors emerged that Hsu would be appointed chairman of the Taipei 101 building. But within 24 hours someone else had been appointed. Hsu Shu-po's father Hsu Wen-chi once served as Director of the KMT Organization Department. He came forward and pleaded on behalf of his son. He asked KMT Secretary General Wu Den-yih to provide him with a satisfactory explanation. Ma faces many challenges. They are hardly limited to "a small number of individual cases" concerning candidate nominations for the year end county and municipal elections. The challenges he faces are deep-rooted. Despite eight years in the political wilderness, the KMT has not changed its less than savory "quid pro quo" mentality.

The Hsu Shu-po case is merely the tip of the iceberg. Hsu Wen-chi accused the KMT of tolerating manipulation by factions. He was right on the mark. The faction Hsu accused was of course the family of former County Executive Chang Yung-wei, whose political machine controls large and small elections in Yunlin County. But what about the Hsu Wen-chi family? Isn't it a political faction as well? Not to mention current Yunlin County Executive Su Feng-chi's family, which has been in operation for years. It constitutes a faction of its own as well. Amidst this local ecology, factional interests invariably trump partisan interests. Can Ma Ying-jeou really change this? Can he convince the Chang family to put the interests of the people as a whole ahead of family considerations? If the Chang family is prohibited from running for both legislator and county executive, can it still control the county legislature, even assuming it wins the county executive election?

Magnify the ecology of local elections, and you have the ecology of the Legislative Yuan. Ma Ying-jeou has expressed a desire to bridge the gap between factions, to "tighten any screws connecting the Presidential Office, the Executive Yuan and the party to the Legislative Yuan." The KMT holds an absolute majority of seats in the Legislative Yuan. Yet its performance is little better than it was during the DPP's eight years in office. Ma Ying-jeou's most pressing concern is the Sunshine Laws. They were sent to the Legislative Yuan, but watered down by ruling and opposition party legislators after bipartisan consultation. What can one do? No legislator, Blue or Green, truly wants any rays of sun shining into the national legislature. Ma Ying-jeou's list of priorities included nine bills. The legislature has convened its second session since he assumed office. Half the bills he wanted have been stalled. Only four have been passed.

Think back to the last election. Candidates for the legislature crowded around him, glommed onto him, were elected because of his endorsement. Today, not one them remembers that Ma Ying-jeou bet his personal reputation on them when he endorsed their candidacies. Now that they are unable to wet their beaks, this has become their biggest complaint. Premier Liu, who has a public and private friendship with Ma Ying-jeou, backs Ma Ying-jeou 100%. But because he refuses to tolerate corruption, legislators refuse even to accompany him on inspection tours. Since Ma Ying-jeou is unwilling to tolerate corruption, how can he possibly pacify them?

When Lee Teng-hui was president and party chairman, he sponsored a constitutional amendment abolishing the Legislative Yuan's right to approve the Premier. During the approval process legislators wanted every variety of quid pro quo. To allow the Premier to take office without resistance, he handed out all sorts of favors. Chen Shui-bian himself was once a legislator. He fully understood how the system works. When he became President and wanted his nominees for the Examination Yuan and Control Yuan approved, he used everything to pacify independent legislators, and even some Blue Camp legislators. This included everything from the carrot of government resources to the stick of judicial persecution. This showed him that the source of power was the ability to distribute spoils. In the end, even the heads of financial holding companies were appointed by Ah-Bian, leading to a major scandal that could no longer be swept under the rug.

President Ma is assuming the party chairmanship but refuses to engage in the distribution of spoils. How can he pacify party members? Take the controversy over the Parade and Public Assembly Act. He proposed changing the requirement for permits to a requirement for reports, and eliminating criminal penalties for social movement members. The result? Multiple penalties were eliminated, but the intial penalty was not. Most importantly the bill was unable to pass its third reading in the Legislative Yuan. The affairs of state are not decided by the presidential office following a coordination meeting. They are not decided by the KMT Central Standing Committee after passing a resolution. All policies, bills, and budgets must go through the Legislative Yuan before they can be implemented, before they can become "political accomplishments."

The Legislative Yuan is ineffectual. Before Ma assumed the party chairmanship, the KMT Central Standing Committee and the KMT Legislative Caucus could could still block some of the attacks against him. But once he assumes the party chairmanship, the affairs that Ma Ying-jeou must manage may be more numerous than he imagines. Among them will be affairs he should not manage, affairs involving fighting over political spoils.

Time waits for no man. The Ma Liu administration has undergone its one year trial period. It sees the problems, but it must be quicker to solve the problems. Ma Ying-jeou sees himself as the key to problem solving. He must persuade the Presidential Office, the Executive Yuan, and the party to accept his reforms. He must convince them to make clean government their core value. Merely listening to him is not enough. Ma touts himself as a consensus-based leader. He must learn to accept and promote the views of others, particularly views that differ from his own. Only then does he stand a chance of leaving behind the authoritarian era of the party/government complex.

中時電子報 新聞
中國時報  2009.06.17










No comments: