Must President Ma Double as Party Chairman?
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
June 23, 2013
Summary: Does "President Ma" need "Chairman Ma" as his wingman? That is a matter of opinion. But the more desperate Chairman Ma's appeals are for party support, the more President Ma will be revealed as politically weak. For Ma Ying-jeou to be re-elected party chairman is a simple matter. The real question is whether he is able to offer the government and the ruling party a bright new future.
Full Text below:
Kao Yu-jen blasted Ma Ying-jeou, calling him incompetent. Nevertheless Ma Ying-jeou has registered as a candidate in the upcoming election for KMT chairman. In response to the charge of incompetence, he angrily declared "If one says we have not worked hard enough, and need to redouble our efforts, we humbly agree. But some are accusing us of ulterior motives. That is totally unacceptable!"
The "lame duck effect" has taken effect surprisingly soon after the president's re-election. It has taken effect even sooner than it did for Chen Shui-bian, whom the public rejected for corruption. This is something Ma Ying-jeou probably did not expect. His abysmal 18% approval rating follows him around like a black cloud. Externally the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has urged him to rescue a sluggish economy. Internally implacable party elders are blasting him mercilessly. Policies he promoted, such as 12 year compulsory education, the capital gains tax, cross-Strait negotiations on service industries, have all stalled. President Ma has been feeling pressure from without and within. One thing is especially puzzling, President Ma has failed to implement administration policy. Why then is he so attached to the party chairmanship? Why is he clinging to the post of party chairman?
A Chinese expression "chicken rib theory," describes how someone chewing on chicken ribs may discover that they are not worth the effort, but he may nevertheless be unwilling to spit them out because he is embarrassed. The expression may not apply to Ma Ying-jeou's situation. The "lame duck effect" is beginning to kick in. Therefore Ma Ying-jeou probably needs the party more than ever. President Ma is aggressively seeking the party chairmanship. This can be viewed from two angles. One. Consider the state of the nation. Party discipline within the KMT has long been lax. Suppose President Ma relinquishes control of the party machinery? Popularly-elected KMT officials will be more difficult to control than wild horses. The Ma administration's ability to govern will be crippled, It will find it difficult for it to get anything done. Therefore, he must remain in command of the party. He must maintain control of both the government and the party.
Two. Consider Ma Ying-jeou's political status. The KMT chairmanship has a four year term. Suppose Ma Ying-jeou is elected? He will remain party chairman for more than one year, even after stepping down as president. That is to say, after he steps down as president, in 2016, he can continue using his status as KMT Chairman to influence events, both inside and outside the party. This will extend the president's influence beyond his term as president, particularly in cross-Strait relations. High-level political exchanges may still involve many sensitive issues. If Ma Ying-jeou remains party chairman, it may help him conduct leadership-level exchanges with the other side on international issues such as APEC. The importance of his role as party chairman can clearly be imagined.
Ma Ying-jeou issued two statements before the KMT Central Standing Committee. One. He said running for the post was "not merely a responsibility, but a mission." Two. He said, "We must do much more to promote reform. We need the government and the party to work closely together." His statements sounded reasonable. But they could not overcome the doubts in many people's minds. Ma Ying-jeou assumed the KMT leadership in 2005. Subtract the two years during which he resigned over Discretionary Fund allegations. He has been party chairman for six years. At the zenith of his popularity he failed to break the deadlock within the KMT and transform the party's character. Now he is a lame duck. He may be president as well as party chairman. But has he governed any better? Has he yielded better results?
Such doubts are far from unwarrranted. Ma Ying-jeou is still holding forth on "using the party to address the government's shortcomings." This alone shows that he remains clueless about where the problem in his own governance lies. Those elected President of the Republic of China, from Lee Teng-hui to Chen Shui-bian, have exercised both governmental and party authority. They did not need to double as party chairman to exercise effective leadership. Providing one properly masters presidential power, party comrades will naturally follow one's lead. The problem with Ma Ying-jeou lies in his irresolute decision-making. This is a direct consequence of his lack of core convictions. He constantly flip-flops. He allows the enemy camp to take advantage of him. He even inspires widespread discontent inside the Blue camp. He must arrive at decisions more boldly. He must rehabilitate his image as a leader. Otherwise, even if he is re-elected party chairman, it will do nothing to bolster either his ability to govern or his approval ratings.
Party elder Kao Yu-jen blasted Ma Ying-jeou. In terms of political ethics, such criticism may have been inappropriate. But his sentiments are shared by many inside the party. President Ma may find allegations of "ulterior motives" unacceptable. But he cannot deny that the public is dissatisfied with his governance. May 20 was the anniversary of President Ma's re-election. On that day, this newspaper pointed out that President Ma's historical legacy depends upon a 2016 election victory. He must ensure continued Kuomintang rule. If yet another change in ruling parties takes place, he will forfeit his historical legacy. Consider his situation today. President Ma's approval ratings have hit rock bottom. The ruling party lacks fighting ability and solidarity. Yet Ma is seeking the party chairmanship, for the next four years. Suppose he succeeds? Without soul-searching and innovation, the administration and the party will labor in vain.
Does "President Ma" need "Chairman Ma" as his wingman? That is a matter of opinion. But the more desperate Chairman Ma's appeals are for party support, the more President Ma will be revealed as politically weak. For Ma Ying-jeou to be re-elected party chairman is a simple matter. The real question is whether he is able to offer the government and the ruling party a bright new future.
2013.06.23 10:12 am