Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Reform or Infighting: Ma Ying-jeou as Party Chairman

Reform or Infighting: Ma Ying-jeou as Party Chairman
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
January 23, 2013

Summary: Everywhere storm clouds are gathering. The KMT leadership has declared that it will increase the number of votes that Ma Ying-jeou receives during the July party chairman election. KMT legislator Tsai Cheng-yuan, on the other hand, has questioned the legality of a Ma Ying-jeou third term.

Full text below:

Everywhere storm clouds are gathering. The KMT leadership has declared that it will increase the number of votes that Ma Ying-jeou receives during the July party chairman election. KMT legislator Tsai Cheng-yuan, on the other hand, has questioned the legality of a Ma Ying-jeou third term.

This question has a bearing on both KMT infighting and Blue vs. Green partisan wrangling. It may be difficult to resolve, especially since it has legal implications. If Ma remains in the running until the bitter end, dissent will remain vocal. If Ma is re-elected, legal actions could follow. If Ma withdraws his candidacy, his supporters will lament his failure to live up to his potential. His political enemies will pile on. Each of these scenarios have already been scripted. The outcomes are predictable. Suppose they result in party insiders blocking Ma's reelection as party chairman. Suppose the DPP attempts to impeach the president? What will happen then?

The Ma administration finds itself in a pickle. To say that he is an inept leader of the Kuomintang may be an overstatement. Essentially Ma Ying-jeou has never been an effective leader of the KMT legislative caucus. His communicates with the KMT legislative caucus primarily as party chairman. Ma Ying-jeou is currently KMT party chairman. But suppose Ma Ying-jeou steps down? What will happen then?

The divisions between Ma Ying-jeou and the KMT legislative caucus first appeared in 2008. The legislature refused to approve his personnel appointments for the Control Yuan an the Examination Yuan. His Sunshine Bill was seriously compromised, and led to outside criticism. This forced Ma Ying-jeou to renege on his promise, and personally assume the party chairmanship. The most important task during President Ma's first term was cross-Strait relations, including issues such as ECFA. As a result, Blue vs. Green partisan wrangling overshadowed KMT infighting. But during Ma's second term, U.S. beef imports, capital gains taxes, gasoline price hikes and electricity rate hikes, year-end condolence payments for veterans, retired civil servants, retired public school teachers, and the issue of pensions, led to both KMT infighting and Blue vs. Green partisan wrangling. Ma Ying-jeou found himself faced with crises within and without. He found himself surrounded by enemies, both front and back. This and his inability to communicate and express himself, resulted in his losing the bully pulpit.

Tsai Cheng-yuan's challenge comes in "legal issue" guise. It appears to be "strictly a matter of the law." In fact, it is a plain and simple political struggle. It is KMT infighting that is certain to lead to Blue vs. Green partisan wrangling. Legal issues can be settled in court. But the KMT must clarify what this wave of anti-Ma, depose Ma sentiment is really about. At the very least, it must make clear whether the agenda is reform, or merely a pretext for infighting.

The first distinction between reform and infighting pertains to one's philosophy of governance. The Ma administration's policy theme has four parts. The first is cross-Strait relations. The second is opposition to corruption. The third is support for an independent judiciary. The fourth is responding to the pressures of history. For example, capital gains taxes, gasoline price hikes, electricity rate hikes, 12 year compulsory education, nuclear power generation, and government pensions. On the first three items, the Ma administration has demonstrated decisiveness and made visible progress. As for responding to the pressures of history, its execution may have been inadequate. Its countermeasures may have been misdirected. These errors led to chaos. But these were errors in execution, not errors in policy. KMT insiders may oppose Ma Ying-jeou. But they must not repudiate the Ma administration's basic policy.

The second distinction between reform and infighting differences is whether they divide or integrate. Divisive tactics will drag down Ma Ying-jeou. They will turn him into a lame duck. They may pave the way for "post-Ma administration." But creating a lame duck Ma administration will undermine policy. If the KMT is defeated in 2014 and 2016, how can there possibly be a "post-Ma adiminstration?" On the other hand, integration tactics would mean that Ma Ying-jeou no longer needs to be party chairman. He would only need to maintain a relationship with the party chairman. The day to day running of the party and the Legislative Yuan would be left to the party chairman. The situation would be different. When Wu Poh-hsiung was party chairman, he had credentials, respect. flexibility, and sophistication. Yet he and President Ma still had difficulty coordinating their moves. If another person is made party chairman, what will happen? Will they complement each other, or become clash with each other?

To describe this as a "divided KMT" may be overstating the problem. But alienation and confrontation between Ma Ying-jeou and a small number of legislators is the main reason the Ma administration is in chaos. Several KMT legislators are naysayers, in word and deed. Sometimes their objections are valid. But often they sing a different tune out of sheer cussedness. Tsai Cheng-yuan is doing this right now. This is trouble from within. President Ma's second term has been characterized by repeated policy flip-flops, on gasoline prices, electricity rates, U.S. beef imports, and pensions. It is damned if it does, and damned if it doesn't. This is in part due to the Ma administration's own lack of leadership. But it is also due to a lack of transparency in the Legislative Yuan.

Ma Ying-jeou may or may not be re-elected party chairman. Either way, it means another crisis. The objections to a Ma third term have been a legal veneer. Therefore the problem is not amenable to a purely political solution. If Ma Ying-jeou withdraws his candidacy, politically it will be perceived as a KMT vote of non-confidence. Therefore the KMT and Ma Ying-jeou must think hard. Reform and infighting are essentially different. Reform integrates. In-fighting divides. Reform focuses on policy formulation. Infighting focuses on political survival.

Consider the public perspective. Should Ma Ying-jeou continue as party chairman? The key consideration is the Ma presidency still has three more years to go. Can the KMT lead the nation out of chaos and despair? The question provokes deep concern.

2013.01.23 02:55 am











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