Ma Ying-jeou's Accomplishments and Failures, the KMT's Life or Death
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
July 13, 2012
Summary: The KMT reclaimed political power in 2008. It held on to political power in 2012. This was due primarily to voter support for Ma Ying-jeou as an individual, for his personal integrity. If Ma Ying-jeou is perceived as a political failure, it means the Kuomintang as a whole can no longer be trusted. Ma Ying-jeou's failure means the KMT can no longer win the presidential election in 2016 on the basis of personal charisma. Therefore the KMT can single out Ma Ying-jeou for blame. But if the party leaves the impression it is in chaos and rotten, it will not survive.
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Ma Ying-jeou has announced that he is seeking another term as KMT Chairman. He said the KMT must unite and reform. It has no alternative. It cannot afford internal divisions and internal bickering.
His announcement is seen as a response to rumors he has been forced to step down. The fact is the KMT is on verge of breaking apart. This is happening on Ma Ying-jeou's watch, as both president of the nation and chairman of the party. Clearly his chairmanship was no guarantee of either party unity or party reform. The situation has been deteriorating. Had Ma Ying-jeou not been party chairman, the situation might have been even worse. Nevertheless, his chairmanship was no guarantee of good governance. The current chaos is proof of that.
Just exactly how did Ma Ying-jeou wind up in his current predicament? The main reason was his failure to effectively lead the KMT ruling administration. The ruling KMT administration failed to build the Ma Ying-jeou brand name. It failed to become a political asset. Instead it became a political liability. It became Ma Ying-jeou's worst political enemy. Ma Ying-jeou must accept the lion's share of responsibility for his administration's failure of leadership. But the ruling KMT administration can hardly escape blame.
The KMT's current challenge is not merely to address Ma's crisis of governance. It is to ensure the KMT's survival. Public opinion may one-sidedly blast Ma Ying-jeou. But the KMT cannot pretend that Ma Ying-jeou is the only one with a problem. The KMT must realize this means life or death for the KMT in 2014 and 2016.
Following the presidential election, three controversies raged. These controversies concerned U.S. beef imports, the capital gains tax, and gasoline and electricity rate hikes. These left Ma Ying-jeou with an "incompetent" label stuck to his forehead. Soon afterward, the Lin Yi-shi corruption scandal left Ma Ying-jeou with a "poor judge of character" and even "covering up corruption" label as well. Ma Ying-jeou must of course assume responsibility for this. But the KMT can hardly escape blame.
Consider these three post-election controversies from a variety of perspectives. Remain objective and rational. Clearly the administration was not wrong in principle. But these three cases were turned upside down by the controversy that raged without end. The administration dragged its feet. The public became angry. The main reason was internal KMT divisions and infighting. This provided the opposition Green parties an opportunity that they seized with relish. As a result society paid a high price. The public concluded that the Ma administration was incompetent, and treated it with contempt and hostility. Actually, the "incompetent" label on the Ma administration's forehead was put there by the "five member team" in the Executive Yuan and the KMT legislative caucus. Insinuations of "incompetence" appeared in the Ma Ying-jeou administration's internal proceedings. The sole objective of these administration proceedings was to use "internal rebellion" to depict Ma Ying-jeou as "incompetent." Ma Ying-jeou lost his "civil war." How can he possibly win any "foreign wars?"
Now take the Lin Yi-shi corruption scandal. The Lin corruption scandal has dealt a serious blow to Ma Ying-jeou. It has dealt what may be a fatal blow to the KMT. One must never judge a book by its cover. We have no shortage of Monday morning quarterbacks. But no one imagined Lin Yi-shi capable of corruption. He had such a down to earth, honest face. He had such a radiant golden boy political image. He was a model for a new generation of "native Taiwanese" political leaders. People could not imagine him in bed with corrupt embezzlers. But the roof fell in. The public learned of his arrogant folly, in both words and deeds. For the KMT, this may mean a rupture in generational succession. It may be a death knell for the KMT. Lin Yi-shi was the darling of the party. Why did he feel no sense of mission or sense of responsibility? Why was he indifferent to the KMT's good name and survival? This is a giant question mark for the Kuomintang. What the public wants to know is whether the next generation of Kuomintang leaders will be Lin Yi-shi clones.
Ma Ying-jeou's "incompetence" was confined mainly to incompetence in his leadership of the Kuomintang. The ruling Kuomintang administration spun Ma as "incompetent." The fact that they were successful proves that in this limited sense, they were right. The KMT's lifeblood has been opposition to corruption. Lin Yi-shi is a bad apple who has ruined the bunch. The KMT has succeeded in making Ma Ying-jeou look "incompetent." But that hardly makes it look "competent." Ma Ying-jeou has long relied on his image for integrity. But his image cannot withstand the negative impact of a single Lin Yi-shi. In other words, the problem originates with Ma Ying-jeou. But the problem rests with the ruling Kuomintang administration as a whole.
The KMT reclaimed political power in 2008. It held on to political power in 2012. This was due primarily to voter support for Ma Ying-jeou as an individual, for his personal integrity. If Ma Ying-jeou is perceived as a political failure, it means the Kuomintang as a whole can no longer be trusted. Ma Ying-jeou's failure means the KMT can no longer win the presidential election in 2016 on the basis of personal charisma. Therefore the KMT can single out Ma Ying-jeou for blame. But if the party leaves the impression it is in chaos and rotten, it will not survive.
If the KMT sees the issue as "Saving Private Ma," it is barking up the wrong tree. The KMT's problem is to restore order out of chaos. Ma Ying-jeou's historical legacy, his successes and failures, will determine whether the KMT survives in 2016.