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The KMT needs to move beyond the Ma era

The KMT needs to move beyond the Ma era

When Eric Liluan Chu took office as chairman of the ruling Kuomintang last January 19, he faced several tasks that needed his immediate attention.
His most important challenge was of course to pull the KMT back out of the deep morass it had sunk into on November 29, when voters in 13 out of Taiwan’s 22 cities and counties picked candidates from the opposition Democratic Progressive Party and only six preferred to have the KMT in charge.
One of many factors that were blamed for the disaster was the internal party divisions which surfaced more than a year earlier, in September 2013. As soon as prosecutors alleged that Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng had overstepped the boundaries of the law by contacting the Ministry of Justice over a legal case against top DPP lawmaker Ker Chien-ming, Ma, who was chairman of the KMT, threw his full weight behind a campaign to oust Wang.
As a result, the party’s Evaluation and Discipline Committee stripped Wang of his party membership, a move which if left unchallenged would also have led to his complete removal from the Legislative Yuan.
The courts however sided with him, giving him victory after victory in his efforts to be confirmed as a KMT member and see the party’s disciplinary decision be condemned.
As the local elections loomed last year, Ma still predicted he would take the case to its ultimate point, an appeal at the Supreme Court, despite calls from within the party to play down the issue in the run-up to the polls.
Once the size of the KMT defeat became clear, calls for reconciliation arose again, and Ma was forced to resign as chairman of the party. Time was lost because of the procedure to pick his successor, with Chu winning more than 99 percent of the vote in a clear show that KMT members wanted a new beginning.
He also realized that the party should not continue torturing itself by keeping up his predecessor’s civil war with Wang. He first gave in to court remarks that the party’s internal disciplinary procedure should be revised and made more transparent.
At Wednesday’s regular weekly Central Standing Committee meeting, the new chairman finally announced what had been expected for a long time: the KMT would not file an appeal against Wang and welcomed his continued stay as a member of the ruling party.
Sighs of relief might have sounded around the halls of the KMT, but not for long. Barely hours after Chu told the CSC about his decision, Ma issued a scathing 1,400-character attack on his successor.
The president, releasing the statement in the capacity of a private citizen rather than as head of state, said he regretted Chu’s decision and strongly disapproved of it. He pictured the KMT as a morally virtuous party which should stick by the difference between right and wrong and keep emphasizing its core values.
Ma also predicted that the new line would wreak havoc with the KMT’s nomination process for next year’s legislative elections, since prospective candidates would no longer care to respect the party’s regulations and disciplinary procedures.
The unprecedented outburst by the previous chairman against his successor might damage the spirit of reconciliation the party so badly needs amid electoral disasters.
There is only one year left to see whether the KMT can reverse its poor reputation and maintain its hold on the presidency and the Legislature in elections planned for the same day, most likely next January.
The party cannot afford inflicting more injuries on itself as it is already reeling under attacks from outside and from the public at large. While it is unlikely to root out all internal dissent, any image that cohesion has been restored by Chu’s move has now been torn to shreds by Ma’s attack.
Both politicians hold a different interpretation about how the case against Wang will affect the KMT’s electoral chances.
Ma sees a lack of discipline causing chaos when the time comes to select the party’s legislative candidates while Chu is concerned with restoring party unity. He wants to refrain from offending the supporters of Wang, who are many thanks to his more than 15 years of leadership at the Legislative Yuan.
Chu is working to revamp the KMT and wants to let its new structures deal with any problems surrounding Wang, while Ma wants to stick to the line he has been following since the case blew into the open about 18 months ago.
The president’s outburst revealed that unity is still far from real inside the KMT. While his statement was destined to reinforce his views and could undermine the authority of the new chairman, another interpretation might also be given.
Ma might have done himself a disservice, but Chu a service. The high-profile clash could be seen as helping Chu establish himself as his own man and cast off the image of a “Ma Ying-jeou 2.0” as pictured by critics.
Making a decision so different from Ma’s opinion can show voters that Chu is truly working on a “reboot” of the ruling party and is brave enough to incur the wrath of the president while forging ahead.
Ma’s powerlessness to stop Chu from dropping the legal action against Wang only serves to underline the president’s precarious status as a “lame duck” in the year leading up to his departure from office scheduled for May 20, 2016.
More and more, even KMT supporters are seeing him as a lost cause, a lonely occupant at the Presidential Office Building, far removed from public opinion and now even from his own political party.
After concluding a deeply divisive chapter of KMT history, Chu needs to move on to other pressing issues, including constitutional reform but even more important, the historic burden of the KMT assets. As long as he does not tackle that problem, any harmony within the party will not bear any fruit.
While Chu faces a virtually impossible task in making his party ready to win in 2016, he can at least do what should be done and give it back some level of credibility.
If the new KMT chairman does not move fast in putting the Ma era behind him, he will be unable to save the party from heading for at least four years of opposition as the DPP returns to power.


Updated : 2021-09-19 19:39 GMT+08:00