The 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 (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 (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.)
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.