Monthly Archives: July 2005

Why the KMT needs reform

In the recent KMT election the key issue (apart from who could win the next election) was reform of the KMT. Here’s an example of why reform is necessary:

Six young newly-elected Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) national delegates yesterday appealed to party chairman-elect and Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to let delegates directly elect Central Standing Committee members during the upcoming National Congress. Currently, the 31 members are elected by the Central Committee members. During the party’s National Congress, scheduled for Aug. 19 and 20, Ma is to take the oath of office and the more than 1,000 newly-elected party delegates will elect 210 Central Committee members, who will then elect 31 Central Standing Committee members. In addition to saving time and money as well as narrowing the gap between management and grass-roots supporters, the young delegates yesterday said that the direct election would inject younger blood to the committee.

So, the ~1 million KMT members vote for party delegates who vote for the Central Committee members who then vote for the Standing Committee, who then try to agree with the chairman (separately voted for by the KMT members) on policy which they pass on to KMT legislators (voted for in national elections) and try and convince them to implement it. Does this sound like an efficient process, or a hangover from one-party rule?

Of course, for Ma Ying-jeou to be able to change this he will have to hope that the delegates vote for reform minded committee members, so that they vote for reform minded standing committee members …

Corruption scandal hits baseball (again)

A sad day for baseball fans in Taiwan:

Professional baseball in Taiwan was hit by a new scandal following a police crackdown the night before on a criminal ring in which 10 people were arrested on fraud and gambling charges.

Among those arrested were La New Bears player Chen Chao-ying and Tsai Sheng-feng, a coach for the farm team of the Macoto Cobras. Both confessed to having “made a mistake” by playing a role in the gambling fraud scheme. Tsai, 42, was fired by his team yesterday.

The scheme was devised by Li Chuan-lin, a local gangster, who together with six other gangsters and bookies was arrested in central Taiwan on charges of blackmailing and terrorizing baseball coaches and players, and of organizing illegal gambling.

This is the 2nd time that professional baseball has been hit by a major match-rigging scandal – the previous time was back in 1996. The fallout from that scandal all but destroyed the league for several years (many teams folded, and those that survived played in front of tiny crowds), and it’s only in the last few years that support has returned to former levels. Whether there will be a similar reaction this time remains to be seen.

It seems this is the culmination of a years work by the police – they were able to document over a season the not-so-subtle ways that games were fixed:

“The crimes committed by the gangsters are obvious. Films provided by CPBL showed some gangsters shouting at players in the games asking them to play as directed,” police officer Chi Ming-mo, director of the CIB’s anti-crime center in central Taiwan, told reporters.

Corruption and Gambling

This is another high profile example of the corruption that has been endemic in Taiwan over the last few decades – although recent governments have made anti-corruption drives a priority, there has been painfully slow progress. That we seem to be in almost exactly the same situation as we were nearly 10 years ago with corruption in baseball is an uncomfortable reflection on corruption in the rest of society.

Apart from the match-fixing, it’s worth noting that gambling is illegal in Taiwan. Of course this doesn’t mean that it isn’t widespread – the police estimate that this match-fixing ring made about NT$100 million over one year which shows it was quite a lucrative venture. The fact that gambling is illegal obviously has little effect on the enthusiasm with which people gamble – but it does have an effect on how the bookmakers operate, in particular their strong links with organised crime.

Last year, when President Chen Shui-bian was shot, just about the only believable conspiracy theory that came forward was that it was an illegal gambling syndicate who organised the whole thing to profit from the bets already placed on the election outcome. Although this was later found to be false (unsurprisingly, it turned out to be a lone disillusioned nutter who blamed CSB for losing his job who shot him), it is indicative of the power of the gambling gangs that many believed they were capable of something like that.

There must now be a very strong case for legalising gambling in Taiwan. It wouldn’t cut the links that gangsters have with gambling, but it should weaken those links, and would stop criminalising the millions of people who will gamble anyway.

Scared of kung fu

While the focus of most has been on some nutty Chinese general’s attempts to start World War III, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council has been focusing on an altogether more concrete threat … Kung Fu fighters:

The Mainland Affairs Council’s rejection of an application for Chinese Shaolin monks to teach Shaolin Kung Fu in summer camps has prompted complaints that the government is trying to restrain cross-strait exchange activities.

Although there is debate about exactly why the monks aren’t being allowed to visit Taiwan, the man who invited them has his suspicions:

Shiau-shinn Lin (林孝信), chairman of Taiwan Secom, blasted the government’s decision in an interview in a Chinese-language newspaper yesterday.

“We invited some other Chinese Shaolin monks to Taiwan in early June. I don’t understand why the government now has a different position on the issue,” Lin said.

The association told the newspaper that the application was rejected by the council on the grounds of “national security.”

So, is the MAC afraid that these kung fu monks will storm the presidential palace as part of China’s “decapitation strategy”? Or is it just the case that the association knows they’ll get more media coverage if they imply that?

Wang Jin-Pyng still sulking

In any Western analysis of Asian affairs, I’m always a bit suspicious of over-emphasis on cultural differences. People are people, and concentrating on stereotyped differences can often confuse the issue. In that light, I am not going to claim that the behaviour of the losers of the KMT election has anything to do with Confucian respect for seniority, nor that it is to do with any loss of ‘face’ – however the phrases ‘bad losers’, ‘immature whiners’ and ‘spoilt brats’ do come to mind.

While KMT chairman-elect Ma Ying-jeou has been the model of grace and magnanimity over the last few days, Wang Jin-pyng has been acting like a 12-year-old who’s been told he has to finish his homework before he can watch TV. First came the refusal to even acknowledge Ma’s existence, let alone wind down the window and shake hands, on the night of the election:
Driver - see if you can run over his foot!
Next came the sulky refusal to cooperate:

Wang, the legislative speaker, said he repeatedly told Ma “to leave me out” of his personnel arrangements and said he would follow the example of outgoing KMT leader Lien Chan and serve as a lifelong party volunteer.

Ma, behaving like a grown-up, has repeatedly tried to calm things down, clocking up six separate apologies for anything that might have upset Wang … which hasn’t achieved much since Wang has stuck his fingers in his ears while singing “LaLaLaLa, I’m not listening!”:

Ma said he had apologized to Lien, Wang and party members for confrontations during the election campaign six times — twice before his election win and four times afterwards.

Wang, apparently offended by Ma’s campaign allegations of bribery and other irregularities, denied any knowledge of an apology from Ma and refused another offer from the Taipei mayor to remain as the party’s second-in-command.

As with your average sulky teenager, the reasons for this behaviour are clear: he’s been deprived of something he thought was his right … and he knows he can get away with it. Unfortunately for Ma, his position as head of the household isn’t yet strong enough to do anything much apart from to wait for Wang’s hissy fit to blow over. For the health of the KMT I hope that he does quietly remind Wang that over-indulgent Grandpa Lien won’t be around forever, and that this sort of behaviour won’t be tolerated in the future.

A sign of things to come for the KMT?

The KMT is not a normal political party. Normally, if a candidate wins 72% of the vote in an election, then everyone rushes to congratulate him, and ingratiate themselves with him. Not so in the KMT where it seems that new KMT chairman Ma Jing-yeou is trying to ingratiate himself with the loser while getting snubbed from all directions. First, outgoing chairman Lien Chan (who, in a classy move, ‘accidentally’ let the TV cameras see that he’d voted for Wang) decided to publically admonish Ma about the pre-election complaints on vote-buying:

“The inflammatory language has to stop,” Lien was quoted as saying in yesterday’s United Evening News. “It is most important to heal the wounds and ..unite.”

Aside from the fact that Lien clearly doesn’t care whether vote-buying happened or not (but cares that it was made public), his decision to slap-down the winner at the moment you’d expect congratulations is pretty divisive in itself.

The there is Ma’s relationship with the loser: Wang Jin-pyng. After Wang phoned Ma to concede defeat, Ma went round to Wang’s headquarters to have a personal word …

After winning the election, Ma was seen on television Saturday night rushing to Wang’s car as it was departing, apparently trying to say something. But Wang, who would have seen Ma, refused to wind down the window and the car drove off swiftly, raising eyebrows in the local media.

Undeterred by this snub, Ma has said he is still keen to talk to Wang in the next few days to clear the air and discuss future cooperation. However, it seems that Wang has already turned down the offer of vice-chair of the KMT, and his aides are making their views on Ma clear:

“Ma’s camp’s accusations of so-called corruption, bribery, inflated KMT membership numbers and that Wang was following the so-called ‘Lee Teng-hui line'” are just too much to take.”

The aide was referring to former President Lee Teng-hui, who became a radical Taiwan independence activist once he quit the party.

“If Ma wanted to cooperate with Wang after the election, he shouldn’t have made all the nasty comments beforehand, ruining the party’s image,” another Wang aide said.

“If Ma says Wang represents ‘black gold’, then why does he want to cooperate with him?”

Finally, there is the issue of cooperation with the KMT’s main ally, the PFP. PFP chairman James Soong promised not to get involved in the KMT election – only to appear on videotape at Wang’s final pre-election rally, and it seems he’s none too enthusiastic about working with Ma:

Still, Wang was the preferred candidate of the PFP’s, with Wang’s aides saying Soong likened the behavior of Ma’s campaign aides to China’s red guards during the Cultural Revolution.

In fact, just about the only words of comfort for Ma after his victory came from two of the most unlikely directions: President Chen Shui-bian and that other President Hu Jintao.

It’s looking like Ma’s new job is going to be hard work; he’s probably relieved to be back at his dayjob today monitoring how his city is handling typhoon Haitang.

Ma Ying-jeou scores a landslide

So much for it being a close race. Ma Ying-jeou has become the next chairman of the Koumintang(KMT) by scoring a resounding victory in his race against Wang Jin-pyng – with over 70% of the vote. Landslide is actually much too weak a word. While he had a lead in the polls, noone was predicting such a one-sided result. It will take a while for the ramifications of this to become clear, but here are some initial thoughts:

  • With such huge support, Ma has a great opportunity to reform the KMT. The KMT ‘old guard’ (headed by Lien Chan) were always going to resist change (I had posted before questioning how much freedom the new leader would really have), but this should give Ma the power to push through reforms despite their resistance.
  • Even for the KMT it’s not who supports you that matters, it’s how many support you. Wang had the overwhelming support of senior KMT members (and a videotaped message from James Soong, the head of the PFP), but it meant very little in the final analysis. Democracy has truly arrived for the KMT.
  • There must be big question marks over the future for Wang (and his allies) now. In 2008, the legislature will be halved in size, and you can be sure it’ll be Wang’s supporters who will be most nervous about losing their jobs.
  • This will answer a lot of questions about how popular Ma is outside of Taipei (his powerbase). Of course, a poll of KMT members is different to a presidential election, but the fact that he even beat Wang on his home turf of Kaohsiung means Ma can claim to be the most popular KMT member in all regions of Taiwan.
  • Why did noone predict this result? The polls in Taiwan are usually fairly accurate in predicting results – but everyone was surprised by this one.

It will be very interesting to see what the fallout is from this one, but from my perspective (that the KMT is in serious need of reform) this is a big and unexpected step forward for the KMT. I’ll post more when the dust settles a bit.

The day before the election

With the Koumintang election due tomorrow, the KMT are busy with last minute preperations for the vote – with all the ballot papers sent out to the relevant authorities. Although the Taiwanese have a pretty well organised voting process[*], the problem that observers are worried about in this election is the question over who is eligible to vote. Since the KMT central committee decided that people who hadn’t paid their membership fee recently were still allowed to vote, they opened up the possibility of all sorts of lapsed members appearing to vote. There have already been arguments over the membership lists in some counties, and noone quite knows what will happen if large numbers of voters with moth-eaten old KMT membership cards turn up to find their names aren’t on the list.

The other danger for the election is a bit more uncontrollable … the first typhoon of the year is heading in the direction of Taiwan, and could make itself felt on Saturday – which may make voting interesting.

The polls still seem to show Ma with a slender lead – but each day seems to see more senior KMT members coming out in support of Wang, which could swing things decisively:

Meanwhile, the KMT’s old guard — top officials in the time of the rule of former President Chiang Ching-kuo — came out in support of Legislative speaker Wang.

Wang met with more than 100 retired generals in the Legislative Yuan, supported by KMT lawmaker John Chiang, a foreign relations expert and Chiang Ching-kuo’s illegitimate child along with lawmakers Hung Hsiu-chu and Tseng Yung-chuan. Lee Huan, a former premier who is almost 90 years old, Chen Chien-chung, a former Justice Minister who is 93, Soong Shih-hsuan, a former provincial party director who is in his mid-80s and Yu Chung-chi, a former Taipei City secretary general all gave the thumbs up for Wang.

To shore up the support of these senior members, Wang promised that he would “strictly toe Chiang Ching-kuo’s line.” in regard to the continuous debate about independence/reunification. Perhaps he was thinking of this quote by the former president from 1982:

“To talk peace with the Chinese Communists is to invite death. This is an agonizing, blood-stained lesson that we and many other Asian countries have learned”

* The one positive to come out of last years post-election mayhem was a ringing endorsement of the voting system in Taiwan. I don’t know how many countries have had a complete recount of every vote, and such an inquisition into every detail of the process, but I doubt many would stand up to it as well as Taiwan’s system.

Caught by a computer game

The seedy side of Taiwan: Murder, kidnapping and … online computer games

Police injured and captured yesterday heavily armed fugitive Chang Hsi-ming whom they had been tracking for more than a year after he exposed his whereabouts by sending messages on the Internet and playing online computer games. One of his followers was also picked up following a shootout in central Taiwan.

Chang, wanted for murder, multiple kidnappings, and illegal possession of weapons, was found via his Internet protocol address after police found out he often played games online.

After pinpointing the latest hideout of the elusive Chang at Shalu of Taichung County three days earlier, Commissioner Hou Yu-ih of the Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB) personally led the siege against Chang’s newly rented apartment in central Taiwan, with more than 130 police and two armored vehicles as he was known to be armed with assault rifles and hand grenades.

In the West, there is an ongoing debate about whether playing violent online games turns kids into future criminals. In Taiwan, the debate is how to catch the violent criminals playing online games.

The KMT election nears

Ma and Wang play "scissor, stone, paper" to decide the next leaderThe KMT will be choosing their next chairman on July 16th. It’s a notable event because it will be the first time that there has been a real contest (which all KMT members – 1 million of them – can vote on), and because the next KMT chairman is very likely to become their presidential candidate for 2008.
I’ve written before about the problems with this election (Who gets to vote?, Will Lien run?, and the KMT generation game), but not yet said much about the two candidates.

Ma Ying-jeou

Ma (here’s a brief biography) is best known as the mayor of Taipei (an important position: the last two presidents of Taiwan both held that position at some point) – a job which he has done pretty competently since 1998. He has kept a very high profile as mayor, and seems to be one of the few politicians in Taiwan who understands the importance of ‘public image’. As a result he is massively popular in Taipei, although there are question marks over his popularity in the rest of the island.

His other claim to fame was as Justice Minister from 1993 to 1996. His role was to clear up the ‘Black gold’ (corruption) that was endemic in the KMT then – a job he did with great success (so much so, the rumour goes, that he was sacked because his investigations were getting too close to senior politions).

Ma’s strengths are his image (in the North), his administration experience, his relative youth (he’s 55), and his strong anti-corruption position. However, many people have questioned whether he has enough experience or political nous for the job; although he’s got a large grass-roots following, there aren’t that many senior KMT politicians who favour him.

Wang Jin-pyng

Wang (biography) has been the speaker of the Legislature since 1999, having been a member of Taiwan’s main governmental body for close to 30 years now. In that time, he seems to have managed not only to avoid all the many fistfights & foodfights which the legislature is rightly famous for – but also to have built up a reputation as a politician which all sides respect. Anyone who can keep on good terms with Lee TengHui while at the same time remaining a loyal deputy of Lien Chan is clearly a pretty smooth operator.

The one major downside of all his experience in politics and the KMT is that he is very much a product of the KMT system. If the KMT is going to change and modernise to keep up with the changing realities of Taiwan, then it’s unlikely that it would be someone like Wang who would provide that change.

Support & policies

It looks like a close race, with the charismatic mainlander Ma possibly having a small lead in polls over the political savvy Taiwan-born Wang. Ma has support from a lot of the old mainlanders, as well as from many casual voters, while Wang is more popular in the south with the native Taiwanese, and crucially with a lot of the KMT senior members:

Polls for the July 16 primaries have given a slight edge to Ma, who is viewed as the more charismatic of the two candidates.

But Wang is the favorite of the party elite, and is believed to have the financial resources to hire vehicles and organize workers to move more people to the polls on election day — a key factor because relatively few polling places will be open, requiring many voters to travel to cast ballots.

As for policies – they’re both singing from the same hymn sheet (albeit in different keys). Reform the KMT, entice more young members to the party, sort out the problems with party assets, adhere it Lien Chan’s (reality defying) One-China principle, and prepare the party to lead the country in 3 years time. The only difference is in the emphasis they place: while Ma talks more about reforming the party, Wang talks more about how to win the next election.

A battle between ‘gentlemen’

When this race started, everyone was emphasising how this would be a race between two gentlemen, with no dirty tricks or bad behaviour spoiling the election. Since then, the ‘gentlemen’ phrase has been trotted out by the candidates and the KMT heirarchy so often that it’s become more of a plea rather than a statement, and I’m starting to get sick of it. As the election has got closer, the cracks have also started to appear: after some earlier differences over ‘black gold’ were papered over, yesterday Wang complained that Ma was obstructing him from staging a rally in Taipei, while today Ma is claiming that Wang has been buying votes. (Michael has been following the recent problems with the election here, and more recently here.)

Final thoughts

The KMT has serious problems, and needs change. While I think either candidate would do a decent job (and a much better job than the previous incumbent), Ma is much more likely to give the party the shake up it sorely needs. However, if you treat this as an election for the next KMT presidential candidate, then Wang (who appeals to moderate Taiwanese voters, and has no enemies) would probably be the better candidate.

Fighting Taiwan Independence

Xinhua can at times provide amusement:

BEIJING, July 12 — A senior mainland official yesterday urged Taiwan people to fight “Taiwan independence” activities as hard as they fought the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression.

Which raises the question: “How hard did the Taiwanese fight in the ‘War of Resistance’?” Given that Taiwan was part of Japan at the time, I’m guessing that the answer is ‘not at all’ (or possibly, for those Taiwanese who got drafted into the Japanese army ‘fight for the other side’) , which implies that this official is advocating Taiwan independence.

Maybe he’s just talking to the KMT members on Taiwan – in which case I guess he’s advocating doing as little as possible and waiting for American intervention …