KMT assets need to be removed as a factor in elections

With less than a hundred days to go until the 7-in-1 elections, the formidable assets of the KMT are still the biggest variable in many campaigns being waged across the island. In particular, budgets in many counties are strained, and in places where there is relatively little difference between the number of ballots favoring Blue and Green candidates, KMT largess could be a critical factor in elections.

As DPP Central Election Measures Committee convener Su Jia-chuan noted recently, "Rumor has it the KMT has set a goal of NT$1 billion in Taichung for fund-raising to buy votes." Su said no evidence exists for such a move, otherwise the DPP would have launched an investigation long ago, but the party will remain vigilant and has requested judicial authorities to watch for possible vote fraud.

Naturally the KMT denies it has any such plans and threatens to sue Su for libel. In fact, the KMT has huge coffers and has used them to great effect in past election campaigns. And there is little doubt the same thing will happen this year.

The KMT is widely regarded as the world's richest political party, and rarely hesitates to wield its wealth to win elections at the expense of democracy. Meanwhile, KMT party chairman Ma Ying-jeou has pledged repeatedly to “reduce the party’s assets to zero” – yet more than two years into his second term, the party’s holdings continue to grow rather than shrink.

The Special Investigation Division (SID) has also played along, announcing recently that after eight years of investigation it had closed six cases involving KMT assets, having found "no evidence of any unlawful activity."

The SID announcement ‘just happened’ to come on the heels of the Penghu plane crash and the gas explosions in Kaohsiung, two events that have riveted the attention of the nation for a month. In the midst of a national crisis the SID suddenly announces the conclusion of major corruption cases involving the KMT that date back to when Ma Ying-jeou was mayor of Taipei.

Convenient timing is nothing new for the KMT. The Ma administration senses its lame-duck status and has started winding things down, angling for a safe landing when Ma’s second term ends. In the future similar moves to write off investigations can be expected.

Taiwan’s legal system needs to examine cases like these clearly and cleanly, and it must be accountable to the people of the nation.

More to the point, the Legislative Yuan must enact laws and amendments including the Law Governing Political Parties and the Ordinance Governing the Disposal of Illegally-acquired Assets so that political parties can – and will – operate as they are supposed to operate in a clean environment.

In a news conference the evening before he stepped down last month, Control Yuan member Huang Huang-hsiung recalled Ma’s promises he would whittle the KMT’s assets down to zero, a pledge first made in 2005. It is now 2014 and Ma has yet to take one step toward fulfilling that pledge. "This is dereliction of duty," says Huang.

Clearly, the phrase "reducing the party assets to zero" is merely a propaganda slogan. If the KMT ever got really serious about achieving "zero party assets" it would soon find itself facing the problem of “zero party members,” with factions crawling all over each other to get out the door of party headquarters. Ma is well aware of that fact, thus for a decade he has paid lip service to paring down party holdings while watching them pile up even more.

Last year's Financial Report on Political Parties from the Ministry of the Interior showed the KMT with assets worth NT$26.8 billion. The report also confirms that the party’s assets are increasing yearly rather than decreasing. Thus when Sean Lien says he will hold spending in the Taipei mayoral election to “no more than NT$80 million,” anyone within hearing has to stifle a laugh.

When Ma Ying-jeou took the controls as chairman of the KMT in August 2005 he said the party would shed its assets before 2008. In 2006 he further fine-tuned his pledge by saying the question would be resolved by June 2007. When named to another term as party chair in 2009 Ma again sang about “zero party assets,” this time with a target date of June 2010. By that time hardly anyone was listening; now no one even mentions zero assets any more.

Ma seems to feel voters have short memories and elections can be won through deception and bribes. But no matter how many times you repeat it, a lie is still a lie. The KMT’s party assets have wormed their way into Taiwan’s democratic system and warped it, and the people are paying the price.

In addition to vote buying, a whole kitbag of tricks has been used to skew election results. These include everything from deliberate miscounts to ballots counted so rapidly that double checking was impossible. In some polling stations police blocked people from entering to observe the count for a few minutes. It all adds up.

Some people remain vigilant, as the Sunflowers showed earlier this year in occupying the Legislative Yuan. More such action is needed.

The KMT has exercised a monopoly over the government for most of its history in Taiwan and has used its assets to consolidate its position in elections. If Ma continues ignoring his pledges to reduce the KMT’s assets, he will find it increasingly harder to get a pass from the electorate.

Meanwhile the ability of the people to speak up through democratic processes such as referendums remains severely restricted, arousing strong resentment among younger citizens. Impossibly high thresholds under present laws have hamstrung activists for years.

Lawyer Chen Chang-wen points out that Chen Shui-bian was elected president even though the DPP has comparatively negligible party assets, a fact that should give the KMT pause for thought. Chen believes the KMT should give up depending on its assets to win elections and turn instead to recruiting political talent who can win the support and respect of the people.

Reducing the party assets to zero is the key to true reform in the KMT. If Ma really wants to show his courage, he will do justice to the party and the people by returning the KMT’s illegally-acquired assets, proving that he is as good as his word. Should the KMT ever divulge itself of its enormous assets, it could discover that doing so is a blessing in disguise for the party.