KMT Chops Heads, Boldly Moves Forward
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
December 30, 2010
"Voting for rival candidates is tantamount to betraying the party!" The KMT Disciplinary Committee has established an historic precedent. All ten KMT city council members who voted for rival candidates during the Tainan City Government Speaker and Deputy Speaker elections will have their party membership revoked. Party Secretary-General King Pu-tsung delivered a solemn speech. The KMT chopped heads even though it was left with only three seats. It was virtually starting from scratch. But the KMT showed its determination, and administered discipline. It changed the image of the party. For this it has earned our respect.
Local politics on Taiwan is complex. Unless one resorts to extraordinary, virtually revolutionary measures, the problems that dog local politics cannot be corrected. During the Chiang Ching-kuo era, when the government encountered deeply entrenched local interests, its attitude was "out of sight, out of mind." But after all, it was an authoritarian era. The central government could impose draconian punishments. Local factions dared not engage in official/triad collusion. During Lee Teng-hui's reign, he wooed local factions. This enabled him to retain power for 12 years. He left behind him a legacy of Black Gold, and contributed to the KMT's loss of power.
Pandering to local factions is the most expedient means of clinging to power. But it is also the costliest means of clinging to power. During the 20 years since martial law was lifted, local politics has undergone rapid degeneration. City and county council members carry illegal firearms, engage in illicit sexual conduct, and control local gambling. Those who shield the local sex industry from prosecution are given carte blanche. Prosecutors and police are all on the same page. Violators can neither be apprehended nor prosecuted.
The Democratic Progressive Party ruled for eight years. Chen Shui-bian paid lip service to higher standards of conduct. But in practice he played the same old game as Lee Teng-hui. If anything, he was worse. Every time an election rolled around, Chen Shui-bian made a personal appearance. He paid secret visits to local triad leaders and party bosses. When the president himself is busy glad-handing triad bosses, who is going to have the guts to prosecute these people?
Each time a city or county council election rolled around, bribery was rampant. Votes sold for several million NT. Candidates paid huge bribes for city or county council speaker positions. What did the winners do upon being elected? Collect their salaries and go on vacation? Hardly. Council members sell their votes. As they move about the council chambers, they can hardly defy orders handed down by Black Gold council speakers. City and county councils have become the biggest gangs of all. They can exert pressure on officials through both the government and through triads. Can any local official hoping to avoid trouble defy them? Eventually city and county governments, overtly or covertly, will be compelled to award local elective officials infrastructure contracts, and even lobbying commissions.
When political parties surrender to local factions for the sake of votes, local politics is plunged into darkness. Even more frightening, once these local factions grow in strength, they swiftly infiltrate the central government. Standards for legislators have declined precipitously over the past 20 years. Democracy on Taiwan has become mired in a vicious cycle, unable to extricate itself.
For these local elected officials, selfish interest trumps all. In their eyes, political parties do not exist. To them, "party discipline" is a joke. Never mind party spirit and party ethics. Under democracy, the concept of "draconian party discipline" may come across as something out of ancient history. But respect for discipline is a fundamental truth. Today, an individual might sell his vote for selfish gain. Tomorrow he might sell out the dignity of his party for even larger gains. Personal integrity for such individuals is a foreign concept.
In Tainan, the KMT has been in the opposition for some time. This time, it has sharpened its axes. It has, in one fell swoop, revoked the party membership of over 10 city council members. This has left the KMT even weaker in Tainan than before. But as the saying goes, "three's a crowd." As long as the three remaining KMT members are sufficiently professional, and have enough heart, they can still play a role in the municipal government. At least when factional disputes arise in the future, they will have nothing to with the KMT. The DPP has implemented "total government" in Tainan. Whether the DPP can rid itself of its negative image depends on its determination.
The KMT has severely punished 10 city council members. King Pu-tsung explained. Tainan City clearly stipulates that when city council members cast their votes, "their political allegiances must be clear, if their party has disciplinary measures, they must be imposed." Among the 10 KMT city council members, seven voted for independents. Only three voted for the DPP. But it was impossible to determine which three voted for the DPP. Although the other seven did not betray the party to the same degree, they had to be treated equally. Those who voted for the DPP betrayed the party. Those who voted for a controversial independent, may have done so for personal financial motives. Did vote-buying figure in the recent five cities elections? Why have prosecutors remained silent?
The KMT is the most inclusive political party on Taiwan. But being inclusive does not mean condoning betrayal. In particular, one cannot condone displaying the party colors even while engaging in illicit quid pro quo. Some city council members also voted for political opponents in the Taipei City Government Deputy Speaker election. But because the KMT failed to take action in advance, verifying the facts afterward was difficult. Strict party discipline must not lead to miscarriages of justice. King Pu-tsung asked the KMT leadership, the KMT council caucus, and the party, to "engage in soul searching." In fact, the KMT leadership, the KMT council caucus, and even the party, know perfectly well which council members voted for rival candidates. If the guilty parties remain unrepentant, and fail to engage in soul-searching, such rotten apples should not remain in the barrel.
A nation has its national laws. A party has its party discipline. The purpose of political parties is not merely to win elections. It is to serve the public after winning elections. How can those who seek selfish advantage or engage in wrongdoing represent the people? During the five cities elections, the KMT received fewer votes than the DPP. For the KMT, there is no turning back. It has taken a bold step. It has gotten a fresh start and seized the initiative. It has taken the first step in partisan competition, not just during election season, but in the day to day performance of its duties. Only by emancipating itself from election pressures, can it stand tall, and win respect. Otherwise, even if it wins elections, and attains high office, it will still be ashamed to face the nation.