Thursday, April 9, 2009

President Ma Ying-jeou Should Assume Chairmanship of the Ruling Party

President Ma Ying-jeou Should Assume Chairmanship of the Ruling Party
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
April 9, 2009

Yesterday this newspaper conducted a poll. We asked people how they felt about Ma Ying-jeou assuming the role of KMT party chairman. The result showed 46.7% of the public opposed, and 47.2% in favor. Another 26.0% expressed no opinion. An astonishing 38.7% of the respondents thought the KMT would not be able to implement President Ma's policies, much higher than the number who answered "the party will be able to implement President Ma's policies." The answers to these two questions reveal a number of contradictions. On the one hand, the public thinks the KMT is engaging in obstructionism, making it impossible for the president to act. On the other hand, the public is skeptical and fearful of the Party/Government/Military Complex of old. Therefore, it opposes the president simultaneously assuming the role of party chairman. We feel compelled to clarify a few concepts in order to gain a better understanding of the problem.

First, let's look at the KMT's performance over the past year. Instead of asking whether the KMT is able to implement President Ma's policies, we ought to ask whether the party's performance conforms with public expectations. Frankly we have to give the KMT a C minus. Take Legislative Yuan approval of Presidential appointments. Last year, amidst internal KMT power struggles, the Legislative Yuan vetoed Shen Fu-hsiung's appointment as Vice President of the Control Yuan. Never mind the fact that Shen Fu-hsiung had a sound reputation. This newspaper published an editorial denouncing the Legislative Yuan as "contemptible." Take Legislative Yuan review of bills. Last year a small number of KMT legislators boycotted the Public Servants' Unaccounted For Assets Act. This year the Legislative Yuan has diluted the bill three or four different ways. Its motive for obstructing such legislation is clear to see. Take the County Executive and City Mayor By-election candidates. The list of nominees included wives running in place of their husbands, candidates who are implicated in a long list of crimes, and candidates who are unqualifed but who were born to the right parents. Yet the party adopted a "What can we do?" attitude. It ignored public perception. Take the handling of party assets. The KMT has been in power almost a year. The manager of the KMT's party-owned enterprises has already been promoted to President of the Examination Yuan. The Bureau of Administration no longer exists. Yet the party assets remain. The KMT appears determined to drag its feet until the next general election, providing the DPP with a ready-made campaign issue. Such a political party is not merely disappointing the public, it is holding back society.

Ma Ying-jeou's image is fresh. The KMT's image is stale. That is why President Ma should assume the role of party chairman. Only then can he implement his policies. Only then can he live up to the expectations of the 58% majority who voted for him. Legislative elections are conducted in accordance with the single-member district, two-vote system. But the presidential election links the candidate to the party. Every vote cast for a candidate is a vote cast for the candidate's party. Voters expect both the candidate and his party to implement reform. In advanced democracies, political parties are neutral campaign organizations. ROC political parties should head in that direction. But the KMT is burdened by its decades long past. It is soiled, diseased, and defective. An entity so corrupt cannot cure or transform itself. The KMT's transformation must rely on external forces. And the most effective external force, is a Chief Executive who commands public support.

If President Ma does not assume the role of party chairman, then all he can do is to fix the barn door after the horse has been stolen. Often such remedies will be to no avail. Take the County Executive and City Mayor By-election nominations for example. Once the KMT juggernaut nominates a list of scandal-ridden candidates, how can President Ma refuse to support them? How can he refuse to endorse them? This hijacking of the President by the party machine plays out again and again because the intent of the party machine is miles apart from the intent of the president.

Finally, we need to address a number of outsider doubts. Some people are afraid that if the President assumes the role of party chairman, that will mean a "return to authoritarianism." But that is a fallacy. The reason the two Chiangs were criticized as authoritarian, was that the President lacked popular support, as well as legislative and administrative checks and balances. But the situation today is different. Today the Republic of China president is installed in office one vote at a time. The Temporary Provisions Effective during the Period of Communist Rebellion no longer apply. Government policy is under the supervision of the Legislative Yuan. Nor is there any possibility of favoritism. Even if the President assumes the role of party chairman, his impact on political patronage will remain marginal. He cannot possibly enjoy the same powers the two Chiangs wielded during the authoritarian era. Quite the contrary. President Ma insists on avoiding party affairs. He watches idly as competing political forces rule the roost, entrenched in perpetuity. At the end of the day, public dissatisfaction will be vented on President Ma during the next election. In any event, assuming the party chairmanship has no relationship with authoritarism.

Does President Ma intend to transform the ROC and reform the KMT or not? Since the 1980's, many nations have engaged in economic reform. The Soviet Union, Mainland China, India and other nations each have their own model. Not every kind of reform is correct. The public on Taiwan wants to move toward democracy. It wants party politics to work. It has never established a rule saying "no president may be a party chairman." The KMT party machine is so antiquated that if the president does not assume the role of party chairman, transformation will be impossible. Rather than allow this albatross to remain around his neck, President Ma should cast it off, roll up his sleeves, and get down to work.

中國時報  2009.04.09







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