Ma and Wu: A Winning Ticket?
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
June 20, 2011
No one was surprised when President Ma Ying-jeou formally announced that Premier Wu Den-yih would be his vice presidential running mate. Vice President Vincent Siew attended the press conference. The implication was that he was passing on the torch, and that the watchword was party unity. A Ma/Wu ticket comes neither as a shock, nor as a revelation. It is a sound and logical choice. As Ma Ying-jeou's deputy, Wu Den-yih has joined the campaign while still burdened with his responsibilities as premier. He will have to make an all out effort. Ma defended the government's record, attempting to consolidate voter support.
Most people know that Premier Wu has a way with words, When he was still in college he wrote an essay entitled "The Cross National Taiwan University Graduates Must Bear." It attracted the attention of none less than Chiang Ching-kuo. Before graduating, he wrote an "Open Letter to President Yan Cheng-hsing," entitled "Resign Your Position, Sort Out the Problems at National Taiwan University," welcoming the newly arrived NTU president. At the time, Yan Cheng-hsing was simultaneously holding down positions as Atomic Energy Commissioner and as President of the Executive Yuan Zhongshan Academy of Sciences. Yan called Wu into his office, and listened to what Wu had to say. Two weeks later, he resigned his part-time positions. He devoted his full attention to the National Taiwan University graduation ceremony. Such an exchange was unheard of back then. Even today it strikes one as improbable.
Wu Den-yih's parents were victims of the White Terror. In response to the article he wrote, Chiang Ching-kuo received Wu, humbly and graciously. This left Wu with a highly favorable impression of the Kuomintang. Wu Den-yih once worked at the China Times. But he did not remain a reporter very long. Chiang Ching-kuo hoped to inject new blood into the Taipei City KMT. Then Director of the Youth Corps Lee Huan dropped in on Wu. He wanted to recruit him. Wu Den-yih was taken aback. First of all, he was not from Taipei. Secondly, he had no money and no contacts. Lee Huan told him "If you have no money, all you need is ambition. If you have no contacts, all you need is character. If you are not from Taipei, all you need is to be from Taiwan."
Lee Huan's response was classic. How long has it been since anyone in the KMT has recruited a young person of courage, but without money or contacts? Lee Huan's words inspired Wu Den-yih to take up politics. Henceforth Wu would be known by his nickname, "Wu Kuo-yu," or "Tilapia Wu," after the fish. The implication was that Wu, like a Tilapia, was a hardy. He was always able to adopt to different environments, and make a soft landing, despite always being "parachuted in."
During his term as Taipei City Councilor, Wu Den-yih revealed that the Taipei Yanping branch bank was missing 250 million NT. Back then, that was a huge sum. Most serious of all, the branch manager was a "member of the royal family." He was Chiang Ching-kuo's cousin. That made no difference to Wu Den-yih. The branch manager was sacked and punished just the same. The general manager of the Taipei Bank was punished for inadequate oversight. Other national amd provincial banks were also investigated. Soon afterwards, Lee Huan and Song Shi-hsuan told him, "Well done. You eliminated a public menace. No need to be afraid that you offended anyone."
Upon expiration of his eight year term as Taipei City Councilor, Wu was drafted as Nantou County Chief. Locals mocked him as an "air dropped candidate." The election was hard fought. Among those running for local office at that time was Ilan County Chief Chen Ding-nan. Four years later, both won by landslides. Wu Den-yih spent the same amount on his campaign as before, but won 96 percent of the vote. As one can see, the people of Nantou County held him in the highest esteem. Eight years later, Wu and Chen were named the two best local government heads, by two separate opinion polls.
Many people know that Chen Ding-nan challenged the system of authoritarian rule, He declared war against the Star Chamber. But in fact, so did Wu Den-yi. A civil servant with the Nantou County Government was accused of corresponding with his mother on the Chinese mainland. Wu Den-yih read the accusation. He took time to understand the situation. Without a word, he burned both letters. He established a repuation as someone who listened to the people of the county. A young mother recalled how roads in Nantou County were difficult to navigate. They lacked street lights. She petitioned the county government. To her surprise, she received a personal response from the county chief himself, updating her on the construction progress. This left a deep impression on her. It showed her Wu Den-yih cared.
Soon afterwards, as mayor of a directly administered municipality, Wu Den-yih traveled south to Kaohsiung. Politically, he was a lone wolf. He had nothing to offer local political bosses, That hurt him badly in Kaohsiung. When he was Mayor of Kaohsiung, he liberalized the voting process, His opponent, Frank Hsieh, fabricated audio tapes, creating an election scandal. By the time the tapes were exposed as fakes, it was too late. Wu Den-yih's political fortune had reached its nadir. The KMT also had to confront the pain of ruling party change. Wu Den-yih immediately returned home, and ran for the legislature. He boldly entered the Legislative Yuan, becoming one of the staunchest fighters for the KMT during its time in the opposition.
Years of successes and failures at the county and municipal level, have made Wu Den-yih sensitive to the public mood. Now he has stepped up to the front lines. Now Wu Den-yih's political record, including his time as premier, will be put under the microscope, He may be the most important factor in Ma Ying-jeou's bid for re-election. He will inevitably be caught up in the contest. He need not worry about transition or succession. The Ma/Wu ticket is set. This ticket may give the KMT a new lease on life. The decision is up to the voters.