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Jun 11, 2009

What's all the fuss about?

The Taipei Times is reporting that KMT chairman Wu Po-hsiung is bowing out to let Ma run for party chairmanship, though rumors have been flying that Wu was less than happy with Ma's decision to run and even questioned why he wanted the office.

Taiwan Echo has already covered Ma Ying-jeou's complete reversal on this matter, as before the election he promised not to ever run for party chair while president. But I am reminded that this is not the first time we've seen this debate play out.

Former president Chen Shui-bian promised too, before his first term, to avoid all political party activities including taking the chairmanship; that decision was reversed on July 14, 2002. At that time, the green media was sympathetic to the DPP that this move would help the party govern better and consolidate policy. The DPP even altered its rules at that time to ensure the president would be an automatic party chairman during times the DPP had executive power. Chen left the post after the failure to secure a pan-green majority in the 2004 Legislative Yuan election.

Just as the green media supported Chen's decision to become party chair in 2002 and is now spreading ominous warnings about Ma will bring back the party-state (just check out Liberty Times editorials from earlier this week), you would not be surprised to learn that blue media today is 100% supportive of Ma's decision to take over the party chairmanship, while in 2002 they attacked Chen's reversal as "a new path a-kin to the Chinese Communist Party," an inability to separate party and government and a move toward dictatorship. (the links above, by the way, show the double standards used by blue papers then and now; unfortunately it is tougher to find comparable archives online from green-leaning papers from July 2002).

Knowing the media is too infatuated with their own party identity to give us a reasonable analysis of this issue, what are we to make of it? Does having a president who is also his party's chairman help or hurt the country? Does it help or hurt his party? Does it even matter?

I myself am theoretically in that last camp, and believe the president has tremendous influence even when he is not head of his party. At the same time, in a "hard party" based on the Leninist organizational model like the KMT, I can see why President Ma would want to control the chairmanship to give him power to suppress or diffuse dissent from within his own ranks -- and I can see why that is so scary to so many of us that don't trust the KMT.

But at the end of the day, I still feel this uproar is much ado about nothing. I don't see Ma's taking this office as consequential to party or domestic affairs.

The real different will be that in the future, Ma Ying-jeou and not Wu Po-hsiung will meet with CCP leader Hu Jintao. That will probably not actually change any of the practical outcomes of KMT-CCP discussions, but it will provide a different level of symbolism for those meetings.

Cross-posted to Taiwan Matters!

3 comments:

Thomas said...

The way I look at it is this. With Wu in the position, you get two official talking heads for the unificationist agenda of the KMT. With Wu out of the picture, that number is reduced to one. Of course, Wu will still find some way to be annoying, just as sore-loser Lien has. But he will be annoying on a lower level officially.

Meanwhile, Ma will no longer have anyone to blame for his follies.

And if things go well for don't-call-me-president Ma, then his reelection will be assured, barring some calamity. Of course, the way things are going with the DPP now, it doesn't look like they will have anyone strong to pit against him anyways.

Thomas said...

Oh, and one more thing. While you can definitely say that Chen went back on his word, I don't think that the situation he and the DPP were in was as potentially damaging as the one that Ma and the KMT are in.

While Ma and the KMT bigwigs may have their disagreements, you now have a presidential system where the president is will be in charge of a party that has 3/4 control of the legislature. Whereas Chen was never able to exercise much control over a legislature that the DPP did not control, Ma does, nominally have such control.

Those in the KMT who dislike Ma won't stop disliking him because he is in charge, and he will certainly not get the docile party that he hopes to have, but the potential for him to misuse power in this situation is terribly large.

About the only thing that could make the situation worse, on paper, would be if he had total control over the military too. Thankfully, I don't see him ever becoming Generalissimo Ma. Hmm... I wonder if his military would have a don't-ask, don't tell policy.

Carlos said...

I'm not sure I trust Ma, but I KNOW I don't trust Wu. So as far as I'm concerned, nothing's getting worse here.