Constitutional change and independence

This is a reference post I’ve been meaning to write for some while.
Taiwan’s Constitution is a mess. As someone who strongly supports the idea of further reform, I get frustrated by the knee-jerk “Constitutional reform equals a move towards independence” reaction which usually drowns out any serious discussion. Clearly though, there are areas of the constitution which, if changed, would signal a move towards independence – so it’s worthwhile to have a proper look, and identify what the constitution actually says about China and Taiwan.
For reference, the original Constitution is available here, while the amendments are here.

What’s not in the Constitution

An important first point: The national boundaries of the Republic of China are not defined by the constitution.

The constitution defines how to change the boundaries – but not what those boundaries are. In fact, these rules were changed in last year’s constitutional reform with hardly a comment from China, pro-Independence or pro-Unification advocates, which shows how uncontencious this is.

It should also be mentioned that the territory of the ROC has never been altered – which leads to the slightly embarassing fact that Taiwan is officially not part of ROC territory, while Mongolia (and bits of Russia and Burma) are.
Other issues which aren’t covered by the constitution include the national anthem and the capital (which is still officially Nanjing).

Symbolic Changes

The biggest possible issues in the Constitution relating to independence are purely symbolic. In particular:

  1. The name of the country. Changing the name from “The Republic of China” would of course be a major step, which I’ve written about before. Note that the ‘Republic of China’ is mentioned a total of 17 times in the original constitution, and another 11 times in the ammendments – making it a messy thing to change with ammendments (as opposed to a completely new constitution). Anyone intent on expunging anything Chinese from the constitution would also have to take care of the three references to ‘overseas Chinese’ in the original constitution.
  2. Article 6 defines what the national flag is. This is another (less explicit) link to the past – and so to China. It’s also a link to the KMT, which causes some angst in democratic circles.
  3. Sun Yat Sen’s ‘three principles of the people’ are defined in Article 1 of the Constitution as the basis for the ROC. Clearly the link to the ‘Father of modern China’ has important symbolism. The actual content of the three principles is less important (aside from the fact that the details are a load of discredited junk, they don’t really touch on the Taiwan-China question).
  4. The Constitution itself. A heavily ammended constitution still has links to the original document written in China in 1946 – a completely new constitution wouldn’t have that link.

Clearly, a change to any one of these four issues would upset China enormously, without changing the way Taiwan is governed one iota. However, given the strict rules on constitutional ammendment there is zero chance of any of these happening – whoever controls the Legislature.

Practical changes

There are also some substansive areas of the constitution whose change would be controversial:

  • The preamble to the ammendments reads “To meet the requisites of the nation prior to national unification, the following articles of the ROC Constitution are added or amended to the ROC Constitution…”. Obviously, this implies that unification is a goal of the ROC. Changing this to be conditional (i.e. ‘If unification occurs, these ammendments cease to apply’) or removing it completely would be a step away from unification.
  • The ammendments introduce the concept of the “free area of the Republic of China” to describe the area of effective control of the ROC. All national elections refer to electors in the free area. However, there is no mention as to how or where this ‘free area’ is defined. Given that this is a pretty practical way of allowing democratic elections in Taiwan it’s unlikely that anyone could change this.
  • Article 11 of the ammendments: “Rights and obligations between the people of the Chinese mainland area and those of the free area, and the disposition of other related affairs may be specified by law.” This is the only area of the constitution which explicitly talks about mainland China.
  • Although the two remainging provincial governments (Taiwan and Fujian) are virtually powerless, the amended constitution still has several articles defining their powers. There have been calls to completely remove the provincial government – from both sides of the political spectrum in Taiwan.
  • Article 9 of the ammendments explicitly mentions Taiwan’s provincial government: “The modifications of the functions, operations, and organization of the Taiwan Provincial Government may be specified by law.” This is the only place where Taiwan is mentioned in the whole constitution.
  • Bizarelly, two articles from the original constitution which haven’t been removed are these:

    Article 119
    The local self-government system of the Mongolian Leagues and Banners shall be prescribed by law.
    Article 120
    The system of self-government in Tibet shall be safeguarded.

  • Another two Articles which, against all logic, are still on the books are articles 168 & 169 – which deal with legal protection for ‘the various ethnic groups in the frontier regions’. Removing explicit protection for the Uyghurs in Xinjiang would have little effect on day-to-day government in Taiwan, but could (at a stretch) be considered another step away from China.

Summary

In the above paragraphs, I’ve listed every element of the constitution which could conceivable be taken to identify the constitution as a Chinese (rather than Taiwanese) one. You can see that there isn’t really that much which is related to independence: a set of symbolic issues, one comment about unification, a couple of pragmatic laws to handle the difference between official and actual boundaries, and a set of redundent articles about places like Tibet. In a document containing 175 articles (plus 12 ammendments) that’s not a lot.

Of course, this shouldn’t be surprising: A Consitution is simply a set of laws to define how a country should be run – not what that country is. So, the more interesting question is what the real problems are with the current constitution, and how they might be changed. In a future post, I plan to cover this.

Leaving Taiwan

Sunset on TaipeiSo, after five and a half happy years living in Taipei, I’m moving back to England next month. I’ve got quite settled here in Taiwan, so wasn’t really thinking of moving for a few years yet – but a really cool job offer has come up which is just too good to miss.

What will happen to ‘One whole jujuflop situation’? Well, I’m not too sure yet. I hope to keep it going – but whether I’ll be able to keep on top of what’s going on in Taiwan remains to be seen. One thing is for certain: I’m not going to suddenly switch to writing about British politics – that’s just boring!

The DPP: Now one big happy family

The DPP held their annual conference over the weekend, and the big news was that they have voted to abolish their factions:

The decision [to abolish factions] was adopted at the party’s 12th national congress that opened the previous day, with 153 of the 279 delegates present at the session giving a thumps-up to the resolution. Most members of the party’s decision-making Central Standing Committee, including Vice President Annette Lu, Presidential Office Secretary-General Tan Sun Chen and acting Kaohsiung Mayor Yeh Chu-lan, lent their support to the resolution,initiated by Legislator Wang Hsing-nan.

The DPP has always been a horribly divided party – with internal battles between the different factions an on-going issue. The idea of abolishing them was a major issue during the DPP Chairmanship elections last December, and it seems it gained enough support to be pushed through.

I doubt that this will have any major short-term effect, as the people who used to be in the same faction are still likely to group themselves together informally. However, over the long-term, there is the possibility that DPP members might actually start thinking for themselves a bit more, without waiting to be told by their faction head what they should be thinking. As an outsider, I’ve always been amazed at the power the different factions exercised – so I think this is a positive move.
There’s another perspective on this over at Mutantfrog travelogues.

Incidentally, I had better things to do over the weekend than follow the DPP conference, but the snippets I saw on TV all seemed to be people giving speeches in Taiwanese. I found myself wondering whether I would join the DPP if I was a Hakka or 48′er who fully supported all their policies …

Final note: It’s a cheap shot by the China Post, but still amusing:

Another DPP lawmaker described the decision is similar to “driving the legal prostitution houses” underground.

The remarks immediately drew strong protest from a group of sex workers, who claimed that they have much higher moral standards than both the DPP and President Chen Shui-bian.

The NCC: The Non-Constitutional Commission

One of the little political soap-operas that’s been going on in Taiwan is the battle over who should run the national media watchdog. Up until the end of last year, this job was handled by the GIO (Government Information Office), but it has now been passed over to the NCC (National Communication Commission). Unfortunately, we now find out that the NCC is unconstitutional:

The Council of Grand Justices yesterday declared clauses of the regulation that determines the makeup of the National Communication Commission unconstitutional on grounds that they deprive the Cabinet of personnel appointment power protected by the Constitution.The Cabinet, which asked the council in January this year to rule on the legality of the NCC organic law, hailed the decision and called on NCC members to quit on their own to end the constitutional mess.

There are two problems here: a constitutional problem and a practical problem

The Constitutional problem

The NCC is an independent body which runs under the Executive Yuan. Unfortunately, the laws which have been ruled on state that the members of the NCC should be recommended by political parties in approximate proportion to the number of seats they hold in the Legislature (the selection panel is also selected in this way). So according to the ruling, the Legislature is impinging on the authority of the Executive – which is a constitutional no-no.

Is this a fair ruling? As I’m not a legal expert, all I can say is that it seems to be. It’s clear that the legislature should have no say in such a body, and the counter-argument (that they don’t, and that the proportions of the parties is just a way of guaranteeing impartiality) seems pretty weak. Of course, all the pan-Blues are busy criticizing the ruling – but none of them have come out with a good argument against it. The prize for most stupid comment goes to PFP spokesman Hsieh Kung-ping who criticized the ruling and said that it ‘should respect public opinion on the issue’. Who needs a constitution when you’ve got a dodgy opinion pollster, eh?

The practical problem

The reason for this mess, is that Taiwan’s political atmosphere makes it virtually impossible to nominate an impartial set of experts on any politically sensitive topic. When the media watchdog job was handled by the GIO, we had the famously idiotic Pasuya Yao – who I wouldn’t trust to regulate a baby’s beauty contest. Yet when the legislature is given the job of coming up with a new body, they’re so obsessed with who will control it that they produce an unconstitutional mess.

So, what happens next? The ruling has given the legislature until the end of next year to change the rules on the NCC, and decided that the current members can stay on until the end of 2008. While this seems a bit dodgy from a constitutional viewpoint (they were appointed in an unconstitutional manner, but they’re allowed to continue working), it seems to be a pragmatic attempt to avoid having no regulatory body for a year or so.

Of course, if the existing NCC members make good on their threat to resign en masse, then we’ll have yet another body (along with the Control Yuan and Examination Yuan) sitting empty thanks to the sterling work of the Legislature.

A toothless wonder?

It should be pointed out that in the last few years, the GIO has been a remarkably powerless organisation. Whenever it’s picked a fight with a media organisation, it’s been the GIO that’s come off the worse (whether refusing to renew broadcasting licenses, or trying to regulate TVBS). Maybe this was just down to how incompetently it was run, but more likely it’s a sign that the media has more effective power than the regulators nowadays.

Given Taiwan’s (fairly recent) history of government censorship, this is a good thing – but it does have rather unpleasant side effects: the media can usually get away with almost anything, there’s noone to enforce basic quality standards, and of course TV journalists are the only group who behave worse in public than Taiwanese legislators.

In fact, I can think of only one person who has stood up to the media recently: 80+ year old Wang Hsia (Chen Shui-bian’s mother-in-law). Wang is my new hero, after she calmly filled up a bucket of water, then tried to empty it over the pack of hyenasTV reporters who were bugging her. I was thinking of starting a ‘soak a journalist’ campaign in her honour, but perhaps I should start a ‘Wang Hsia for the NCC Chair’ campaign instead. [Incidentally, has anyone got a good photo of Wang emptying her bucket?]

Anyway, whatever fallout there is from this constitutional ruling, the media in Taiwan is likely to continue to be effectively unregulated. Oh well, too little regulation is much better than too much regulation I suppose …

Does Chen Shui-bian want to change the country’s name?

A common theme in news reports about Chen Shui-bian recently has been his plans to change the country’s name to ‘Taiwan’ (from the current official name ‘Republic of China’). [See here for a recent example, translated by ESWN - and Michael Turton's rebuttal]

So, does he really plan to change the name? Or are the journalists just making stuff up?

Promises, Promises

The first point to make is that Chen has repeatedly promised not to change the country’s name. On his inauguration in 2000, he said:

Therefore, as long as the CCP regime has no intention to use military force against Taiwan, I pledge that during my term in office, I will not declare independence, I will not change the national title, I will not push forth the inclusion of the so-called “state-to-state” description in the Constitution, and I will not promote a referendum to change the status quo in regard to the question of independence or unification. Furthermore, there is no question of abolishing the Guidelines for National Unification and the National Unification Council.

He also reaffirmed these promises in his 2004 inauguration. However, his move to effectively abolish the NUC called into question these promises. Since then he has reaffirmed the remaining promises – here is what he said on June 20th in his ‘report to the people’:

On June 8, I told Raymond Burghardt, Chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan, that the “four noes” I mentioned in 2000 would remain unchanged as long as China has no intention to use force against Taiwan. I reiterated the “four noes,” and the United States welcomed my statement. That is all.

In addition to this, he said this about constitutional reform in a Japanese newspaper interview in March:

We also affirm that any sovereignty issue that strays from constitutional proceedings not only fails to contribute to maintaining the status quo, but also should be disregarded.

So, it looks like he’s promised not to change the name.

A man with ideals

Unfortunately, very little is black and white with Chen. In the same (June 20th) speech where he promised not to change the name he also spoke of his goal to rename the country Taiwan:

Taiwan of course is our best possible name, most forceful name, most beautiful name. I have not changed my opinion about this in the least. In our dealings with countries with which we have formal diplomatic relations, we use the Republic of China, followed by Taiwan in parentheses. All of our joint communiques denote our country in that way; otherwise, people would really get mixed up.

Therefore, we hope that these issues can be considered. What could be wrong with that? We need a timely relevant, and viable new Constitution for Taiwan. The differing views people have on this matter are all open to discussion. But this is a goal, an ideal. What can be wrong with that?

Of course, I know that changing the name of the nation is a very difficult matter. But inasmuch as some of our people advocate doing so, we should respect their views. Until such time as a change is made, we are still the Republic of China, and we must display the ROC flag internationally. Wherever I go, I take the ROC flag with me and sing the ROC national anthem.

So, he’s promised not to change the name, he doesn’t think that sovereignty issues should be part of constitutional reform … but he’s happy for the issue of Taiwan’s name to be considered in any new ‘Constitution of Taiwan’.

The President’s power

At this point, there’s an important procedural point that should be made:

The president has absolutely no control over constitutional reform.

Any constitutional amendment must be proposed by the Legislature, voted on by the Legislature, and put to a referendum. The president has zero involvement in this process. Chen Shui-bian has as much control over this process as any of the other ~16 Million Taiwanese voters.

So, as President, Chen can do nothing but talk about consitutional reform and name changes. Of course, his position of influence inside the DPP gives him some control – but it’s debatable whether he’s got any more influence than other senior DPP figures, and he’s definitely got less power in this regard than KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou.

So, in summary:

  • He would clearly like to change the name (and has publicly said so), but
  • He’s promised not to, and
  • He has no power to do so anyway, and
  • Even if he could convince the DPP legislators to propose a name change it would be trivial for the KMT/PFP to block it

Human trafficking in Taiwan

I’ve written before about the exploitation of overseas workers in Taiwan (here and here), so I was interested to see this report in the Taipei Times:

Early last month, the US State Department downgraded Taiwan to its “tier two” watch list in its latest Trafficking in Persons Report.

This was the second time the country has been downgraded since the annual report was first released two years ago. Other countries listed in the watch list include China, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Mexico and Israel.

In 2004, Taiwan was rated ‘Tier 1′ (“fully comply with minimum standards.”), last year it was rated ‘Tier 2′ (“do not fully comply with minimum standards but are making significant efforts”), and this year are now rated ‘Tier 2 watch list’ (“do not fully comply with minimum standards but are making significant efforts” and it’s a serious or growing problem). Bad news for Taiwan, you would think.

A very fair assessment

Firstly, this year’s report on Taiwan is excellent – read the relevant bits here, it’s well worth reading. It identifies the many problems (fake marriages of ‘overseas brides’, exploitation of overseas blue-collar workers, the plight of foreign maids), the main causes (corrupt recruitment agencies, lack of protection under the law), and the ineffective regulation and legislative efforts which are exasperating the issue. The report is clearly written by someone who carefully researched the problem, interviewed all the right people and gave as clear an analysis as is possible for such a murky underworld. Taiwan clearly deserves the poor rating it received. This makes the initial response from Taiwan’s government even more laughable:

Responding to the criticism in the US report, the director of the council’s Foreign Labor Section, Tsai Meng-liang (蔡孟良), on Friday said: “There must be some misunderstanding.”

A comparison with previous years

So, if the report is accurate, and the rating has dropped on two consecutive years, is Taiwan descending into anarchy with alarming speed, or is something else going on? To look at this we need to look at the previous reports.

In 2004 (‘Tier 1 rating’) the report said:

Taiwan authorities fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. Taiwan recognizes the problem of trafficking in persons and has made concerted efforts to prevent the exploitation of minors and to investigate trafficking cases. The government supports prevention programs, has comprehensive laws that criminalize trafficking, and provides access to protective services for trafficking victims.

In 2005 (‘Tier 2 rating’):

Taiwan authorities do not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, they are making significant efforts to do so. Taiwan authorities have increased efforts to provide protection for trafficking victims. Despite prosecutions of traffickers, there is insufficient protection for trafficking victims, particularly for women and girls from the P.R.C. While illegal immigrants from other countries are generally quickly repatriated, the P.R.C. often delays Taiwan efforts to assist P.R.C. victims to return home.

In 2006 (‘Tier 2 watch list rating’):

Taiwan authorities do not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, they are making significant efforts to do so. Taiwan is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for its failure to show evidence of increasing efforts over the past year to address trafficking, despite ample resources to do so, particularly to address the serious level of forced labor and sexual servitude among legally migrating Southeast Asian contract workers and brides. Taiwan authorities need to demonstrate political will in tackling the trafficking in persons problem on the island. Taiwan should also develop a clear policy and action plan that adequately covers sex trafficking and involuntary servitude among foreign workers and brides. Comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation that criminalizes all forms of trafficking is critical to punishing traffickers who currently operate with relative impunity.

In three years, the tone of the report on Taiwan has changed from “There don’t seem to be any major problems” to “Hmm, there are problems, but the government has assured us they’re working on them” to “There are serious problems, and the government is making the right noises but is totally ineffective in dealing with them”. None of the issues being raised are particularly new so the main thing you can deduce from this is:

Taiwan has always been this bad, it’s just the US Government hasn’t realised it in previous years.

The silver lining

There is some good news hidden in all this: the improved analysis by the US Government is partly due to improved openness and publicity of the issues in Taiwan over the last couple of years. The first step in addressing issues like this has to be public awareness – and the front page news stories in Taiwan over the last year have played a part in improving this.

The next step is to get some political will to improve the situation. As the quote from the CLA above implies, this is still some way off – but pressure from the US with the release of this report can only help.

Panic! Legislature under cyber-attack by China

The Taipei Times report that hackers from the PLA has successfully infiltrated the bastion of Taiwanese democracy:

INFILTRATION: An investigation bureau source said Fujian-based hackers had attacked computers in the offices of several legislators, but others denied that this was the case

A note on a piece of paper indicating that China-based hackers, presumed to belong to a special unit under China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), had broken into the legislature’s computer system, has rattled cyber security personnel over the past two weeks.

Sounds serious? Well, when you actually read the article you find:

  • The legislature’s IT department found out that several computers had a virus
  • It quarantined the computers, and is in the process of removing the virii
  • It denies that the China or the PLA was behind any ‘attack’
  • The whole basis of this article is an anonymous note sent to a few legislative assistants

So, perhaps this article should be renamed “Assistant clicks on something he shouldn’t, get’s a virus, blames it on China.” . Doesn’t make such a good headline though.

Of course, one reason for the Taipei Times to run a non-story like this is that the only other news at the moment is the terminally boring (and politically inconvenient for the TT) “group of ‘important’ people urge Chen to resign. Chen says he isn’t going to.”. At least the cyber-attack story is original.

Blues shooting themselves in the feet?

The DPP may be down in the dumps (and the polls) recently, but it seems that the pan-blues are doing everything in their power to reinvigorate their enemies. Three news items have come up in the last day which make me wonder what’s going on in the land of the blues:

  1. James Soong is continuing his crusade to split the blues, force unpopular policies onto the KMT and elect a DPP mayor of Taipei. If you’re looking for confirmation that the ‘recall the president’ movement was nothing more than a naked political power-play by James Soong you need look no further than this article. Soong’s lust for power is driving him to run for mayor, the recall was the start of his campaign, and a promised no-confidence vote in the Executive Yuan will consume the majority of his time while campaigning. DPP candidate Frank Hsieh must be pissing himself with laughter when reading this.

    Chairman James Soong of the People First Party is expected to declare candidacy for mayor of Taipei soon as his popularity received a lift for his relentless drive to oust President Chen Shui-bian for incompetency and scams involving his family and senior aides, according to a PFP lawmaker close to Soong.

  2. A few days ago, I mentioned two PFP politicians moving back to the KMT. It now seems that the local chapter of the KMT is blocking Shen Chih-hwei’s application to rejoin the party. Although her move fits in perfectly with the KMT’s plan to hollow out the PFP until there’s noone left, local rivalries are spoiling their plans. Shen ran against Jason Hu for mayor of Taichung, and the local members aren’t ready to forgive her for that. The tensions under the surface between returning PFP politicians and their KMT counterparts are only going to get worse as we get closer to legislative election where the contest for nominations by your party will be fierce.
  3. The most unbelievable news of the day: it seems there’s a campaign to get Lien Chan to run for president in 2008. Remember Lien? The uncharismatic, unelectable loser who led the KMT from disaster to disaster. The man who was humiliated in the 2000 election, and then lost an unlosable election in 2004. And what’s the reason for wanting Lien to run?
  4. Part of the argument was that Lien’s presence on a Lien-Ma ticket would produce a “localized,” or Taiwan-centric, image and attract voters who identify with Taiwan but have been disappointed with the current Democratic Progressive Party government formed mostly of native Taiwanese figures.

    That’s right. Ma Ying-jeou (born in Hong Kong, moved to Taiwan aged 1) needs Lien Chan (born in Xian, moved to Taiwan as a teenager) to attract the ‘native Taiwanese’ voters. Surreal.

Fighting for corruption

Is President Chen implicated in any of the scandals that have surrounded him lately? Who knows. However, it’s encouraging to see that there are real investigations going on into these cases – which will hold a lot more weight than the rantings of a random legislator.

Officials from the Ministry of Audit (MOA) went to the Presidential Office yesterday to audit the expense accounts and determine if there were any irregularities as alleged by opposition lawmakers.

Spokesman Wang Yung-hsing at the MOA under the Control Yuan said two officials holding the position as section chiefs at the ministry spent two hours at the Presidential Office in the afternoon to exchange views on how the audit operations will proceed.

He said the two will return today to look into the invoices, receipts, and accounting books related to the distribution of gift vouchers of department stores and other expenses made by President Chen Shui-bian, his family and other officials. The audit operations are focused on if “government employees” had engaged in “disloyal and illegal actions” when using the fund, he explained.

Hold on. The corruption charges are being investigated by a ministry under the control of the Control Yuan? That’s the branch of government that hasn’t had any members for 18 months due to the Legislature’s obstruction. A little bit worrying that the people tasked with rooting out corruption have noone to report to or to tell them what to investigate.

Luckily, the news article points out we don’t have to rely solely on the Control Yuan to hunt down corruption:

Meanwhile, prosecutor Lin Pang-liang at the Taipei Prosecutors Office said prosecutors have almost finished checking a batch of gift vouchers issued by Pacific Sogo Department Store Co.

Err … there’s a problem here too. The role of public prosecutor-general (i.e. the most senior prosecutor, which presumably the Taipei Prosecutors Office is answerable to) is also vacant. 2 months ago, the nomination for this post was blocked by (you guessed it) the Legislature. President Chen has since nominated someone different, but the pan-Blues are also threatening to block him too. In a bizare twist, the PFP have promised to block any nomination to this post, on the basis that the DPP is too corrupt.

So, the two major bodies investigating (pan-Blue) allegations of corruption against the President both have no leadership because of (pan-Blue) obstruction. The MOA and the prosecutors can still do a job – but it hardly helps them that the people whose allegations they’re investigating are also actively hindering their work.

The pan-Blue struggle

One of the more interesting subtexts of the recent recall saga was the battle for influence between the leaders of the two pan-Blue parties – Ma Ying-jeou (head of the KMT) and James Soong (head of the PFP). If you accept that the recall process was a purely political power play (as I believe it was), then the roles of its leaders can be analysed like this:

  • Soong the crusader. Soong knows that his party is close to death – and he needs something dramatic to reinvigorate his career. Hence his crusade to remove Chen Shui-bian from office. Whether it succeeds or not (or had any chance of succeeding) is secondary to Soong’s main purpose, which is to get into the public eye again with his noble-minded fight for truth, justice and democracy.
  • Ma: the leader is led. When Soong first championed the recall, Ma didn’t immediately follow. It was only when he saw Soong gaining some momentum that he jumped in too. Was he just following the polls? Or was he worried about a split in the pan-Blue alliance? I believe that Ma calculated that the risk of supporting Soong and the recall was much less than the risk of opposing it.

Ma’s alternate path

If Ma had stood by his principles and opposed the recall, it could have got very messy for him indeed. The PFP would have gone ahead with the recall proposal anyway leaving the KMT legislators with two options: disobey their chairman and support the recall, or obey him and vote to protect Chen Shui-bian. Either way, Ma and the KMT would quickly haemmorage support of hardliners to the PFP – and a near-dead party would be well on the road to recovery.

A resurgent PFP is probably as much of a headache for Ma as a resurgent DPP would be, so Ma took the easy option: support the recall and hope it doesn’t damage his image too much.

The aftermath

Soong got the attention he craved, and Ma’s standing as a leader took a hit. Recent poll results have showed Ma’s rating is steadily dropping – his honeymoon period after becoming KMT Chairman is definitely over. However, Ma will console himself with the fact that he has (so far) kept the pan-Blue alliance together, and didn’t give anyone a reason to switch to the PFP. Indeed, he has consolidated his power on the pan-Blue side:

Two People First Party (PFP) legislators yesterday said they would leave the party and join the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) for the next legislative session, which starts in September.

They said they had decided to do so in a bid to meet their supporters’ expectations.

The news broke yesterday as the KMT and PFP, which jointly pushed for a motion to recall the president in the legislature, seemed to take different lines in the aftermath of the recall vote.

Of course, they both said that the move had nothing to do with the recall vote – but would they have completed their move if Ma had blocked a recall? I doubt it. Overnight, James Soong has lost another 10% of his power in the legislature.

So, perhaps this recall can be seen as just another step in the Jimmy Soong roadshow: each time he makes a grab for power he ends up damaging his own side while slowly watching his support and influence drain away.