Tuesday, February 22, 2005

KMT Party Chair Maneuvers

"In this regard, Ma, 55, obviously has an advantage over his potential competitor Speaker Wang. Ma during his five years as Taipei mayor has continued to enjoy extraordinarily high popularity. More significant, his supporters transcend party lines and ethnic groups. However, Ma's support bases are mainly concentrated in northern Taiwan.
On the other hand, Wang, 64 and a 10th term legislator elected from southern Taiwan, has seen his power base extend to the north. His political strength was demonstrated again in his recent election to a third term as legislative speaker. He won the support of 123 fellow legislators, while the KMT holds only 79 seats in the 225-member Legislature. This indicated that Wang continues to enjoy bipartisan support."

Watching the maneuvering in advance of the KMT Party Chair election provides a fascinating study in contrasts with the DPP. For someone whose frame of reference is the party primaries in the US, the elaborate dance going on now between Lien Chan, Ma Ying-jeou and Wang Jin Ping is bizarre. Lien has announced that he will step down this summer, but Ma is still being criticized for daring to announce his candidacy. My own humble opinion is that the lack of fair and transparent internal party elections in the KMT is closely linked to the tendency in the party toward bitter factional splits. Lee Teng Hui, ironically, while he was ushering the era of democracy for Taiwan, continued the tradition of autocratic KMT party leaders. Although James Soong was clearly the most popular of the next generation of leaders, Lee simply put his protege Lien in the position by fiat. Soong split off from the party with his followers and finished a close second in the 2000 presidential race. Lien, with the resources of the world's richest political party behind him, finished a distant third.

Compare this to the DPP. The first chairman of the party was Shi Ming De,"Taiwan's Mandela," who had spent twenty-five years in jail under KMT military rule. Chen Shui Bian was his defense attorney. Chen had spent time in jail, as well, and his wife is paralyzed for life, having been run over by a KMT tractor, but originally their credentials fell far short of Shi's. What happened was that, over time, the DPP rank and file tired of Shi's relaxed administrative style and lack of political savvy. When Chen defeated him in party primaries, Shi left the party in anger, but few followed him, because the process was perceived to have been fair. Current Premier Hsieh Chang Ting also vied with Chen for the top DPP post. A recent article related a moving moment when Hsieh conceded the race and told his supporters to take off their Hsieh vests and don Chen vests. Can such a thing be imagined in the KMT?

What is wrong with having an open primary, in which all comers- including the incumbent, if he wishes- can present their cases to the rank and file? Lien is the scion of one of the island's richest families, but he clearly wouldn't have become head of the party in fair elections, and he has performed dismally in two general elections. Yet, the whole discussion is framed in terms of whether Ma's running would be disrespectful to Lien. What about paying the members of the party the respect of an open and fair election? Friday's Taiwan News contains a poll (20% of respondents KMT members) of Taiwanese on the issue: if Lien doesn't run, 52% would support Ma, and 25% support Wang; if Lien did run, the breakdown would be 45 Ma, 18 Wang and 9 Lien. Yet, Lien seems to be seriously contemplating trying to engineer a succession to Wang. Incredible.