Monthly Archives: April 2006

President Ma on the web

Amusing story of the day:

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has not declared his intention to run in the 2008 presidential election, but a “President Ma” Web site has appeared on the Internet, chronicling his remarks and handicapping the election.

The interesting bit (for me at least) was the address of this website:

Now, you’ve got to admit that’s a good address: Simple, to the point, and easy to remember. (It’s also not cheap – costing around US$100 a year just for the name). Normally, a website would either be associated with a country (i.e. for Taiwan) or international ( or .org). To get ‘’, the owners of this website have actually registered a name which is reserved for Morocco (.ma is short for Maroc, which is what French-speaking Morocco calls itself).

Ma Ying-jeou as President of Morocco? Seems a bit unlikely to me. Luckily Morocco is a monarchy, with a prime minister but no president, so they’re unlikely to call demanding their name back.

P.S. While I found this news slightly amusing, you’ve got to wonder what it’s doing on the front page of the Taipei Times. Slow news day, or just getting really desperate to find something to embarrass Ma with? No, don’t answer that one …

P.P.S. It is actually quite common for people to register web addresses with odd countries because it sounds good – for example Tuvalu has a little industry selling off ‘.tv’ to television companies.


KMT legislators and their own party

Good things come in threes, so to follow my previous two posts, here’s a look at the relationship between KMT legislators and their own party and legislative caucus. The decision by the caucus to force all the legislators to vote the same way in a recent vote has not only highlighted a conflict with KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou, but also with some legislators:

The KMT caucus showed deep divisions recently during the decision-making process surrounding the confirmation of Hsieh Wen-ding (謝文定), the president’s nomination for state public prosecutor-general.

According to the Chinese-language media, Hsu [Hsu Shu-po (許舒博)] sent out invitations yesterday calling on his fellow legislators from southern Taiwan to “draw on their collective wisdom to find a correct direction for the party,” because the KMT needs to examine itself so the party can return to the middle course and grow stronger.

(Hat tip to The foreigner in Formosa for noticing this – although I’m a bit worried about how he makes the logical jump from sexy women to middle-aged KMT legislators …)

This group of 28 KMT Legislators met on Monday night to discuss their greivances – ostensibly about the direction of the KMT under Ma. But the most impressive part of the meeting was the huge number of internal contradictions it raised:

  • It was billed as a “Youth Forum” – and yet they invited the 65 year-old Wang Jin-pyng, but didn’t invite 55 year-old Ma Ying-jeou.
  • It was also a meeting of members from Southern Taiwan – so they met in Taipei (in the North)
  • A major complaint coming out of it was that Ma Ying-jeou doesn’t talk to them enough … and yet they didn’t invite Ma.
  • The event which caused this meeting (the vote on Hsieh Wen-ding) is one where they actually agree with Ma (but disagree with their own legislative caucus) – and yet they were complaining about Ma.
  • If their complaints were about the legislative caucus, why was the man who holds more sway over the caucus than anyone else (Wang Jin-pyng) involved in the meeting?
  • (There’s another big contradiction below too if you keep reading)

So, what do we make of it all? Well, a clue is in this China Post article:

The legislators in attendance, almost all of them Wang’s supporters, voiced their common angst that Ma’s new plan to list at-large parliamentarians would seriously compromise their chance of reelection.

Though only four of the 28 are members at large, all lawmakers at the Monday night meeting are convinced that many of them may be ruled out of the nomination for the 2007 election.

In other words: Self-interest. Are they really worried about the obstructionist attitude of the KMT? Debatable – after all they’ve all been active participants in that attitude for the last several years. Are they worried about losing their jobs? You bet.

The 2007 Legislative elections

The next round of legislative elections are over 18 months away, but what we’re seeing here are the early rumblings in the fight for KMT selections. The biggest issue is that the number of legislators is being halved – which means that every legislator knows he’s in real danger of being kicked out of his current (very cushy) job. It’s not a coincidence that the coordinator of this meeting (Hsu Shu-po) stood for election in the recent local elections in a failed attempt to find a life after the legislature.

Another big issue for the legislators at this meeting was that they had backed a loser – as Wang Jin-pyng supporters, their position became much more precarious when Wang lost the KMT chairmans election. If the choice for legislator in a particular district comes down to a battle between a Ma supporter and a Wang supporter, it’s obvious who has the upper hand.

The third issue is the change to the rules for selecting at-large legislators.

According to existing party rules, a nine-member review committee prepares a list of “recommended” legislator-at-large candidates that is then put to a vote by the 210-member Central Committee.

KMT Legislator Hsu Shu-po, who is regarded as a member of pro-Ma faction, raised the proposal and gained the backing of 20 KMT legislators who oppose the existing system.

According to the proposal, 1,600 representatives and some 14,000 KMT volunteers will be eligible to cast votes to decide the 34 legislator-at-large candidates and how they are ranked on the slate, Liao said.

Now either this news report is flat-out wrong or the organiser of this recent anti-Ma meeting (at which everyone bitched about the new rules for selection) is also the man behind the new selection scheme – and also a Ma supporter. I’m inclined to believe eTaiwanNews has just got this wrong. Nevertheless, these legislators are complaining that instead of 9 senior KMT members doing the selection, we now have a democratic process. Yet another contradiction: Anti-Ma legislators complaining about the KMT leadership’s power being watered down. Because:

In primaries, those who have a large war chest will win, one Kuomintang stalwart said yesterday. “That’s unfair,” he went on.

In other words: “The KMT is too corrupt for democracy.” An interesting admission.

What happens next?

Well, we clearly have a group of dissatisfied legislators. But the big question is “What will (or can) they do?” Michael Turton has also written on this and thinks it adds up to a crisis for the KMT, but I’m not convinced. Although there are plenty of people who dislike Ma high up in the KMT, there’s not a lot they can do about it. Ma is secure in his job – it’s the legislators who aren’t secure in theirs.

There is certain to be plenty of infighting over the next months, and there will be a large number of very dissatisfied ex-legislators when the next election comes around. But I’d put money on there being a higher proportion of pro-Ma legislators by the end of it – whether those legislators are considered moderate or extremists will be a whole separate issue.

P.S. Completely unrelated, but the man who chaired this recent meeting, Hsu Shu-po, is the man who informed the world that Lien Chan’s reaction to losing the 2004 presidential election included a rant about the people of Yunlin who had apparently “stripped me of everything, even my underwear”. I’ve always thought that Hsu did a great public service bringing that quote (and the associated mental image) out into the open.

KMT legislators and Ma Ying-jeou

In my previous post, I described the KMT decision to veto Hsieh Wen-ding as prosecutor-general. An interesting aspect of this has been the interaction between KMT legislators and their leader: Ma Ying-jeou. It is quite clear that the KMT legislators defied their chairman’s wishes in the vote:

“The policy coordination department said that the caucus would hold an open vote on the nomination, but [the caucus] later opposed it. I am surprised [by the decision],” Ma said yesterday morning after presiding over a municipal meeting at Taipei City Hall.

Ma met with executive director of the department Tseng Yung-chuan (曾永權) on Sunday night to discuss the party’s stance and asked the party caucus to hold an open vote on the issue in an attempt to prevent any delay of the nomination. The party caucus, however, decided during the caucus meeting that it would cast blank votes for the nomination.

There are two possibilities here:

  • Ma didn’t feel strongly enough to force the KMT party caucus to hold an open vote, or
  • Ma has little control over his legislators

This isn’t the first time that Ma has been at odds with his legislators. When Ma was interviewed by the BBC in February, he said this about the special arms budget:

You have to understand that the original price tag was 18 billion US dollars, and when the news came out, most people, according to the opinion polls, were opposed to it. The defense ministry now reduced the price tag from 18 billion to now, roughly, 11. So that’s why our party has decided to come up with our own version of the policy at the end of this month. It’s going be reasonable and it will maintain Taiwan’s adequate defense capabilities.

Clearly, Ma planned to have a KMT proposal on the arms budget before he visited the US. However, that didn’t happen:

The opposition Kuomintang is seeking a consensus on its weapons procurement policy even though many of its legislators think the issue should be shelved due to a rise in cross-strait tensions after President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) announced his decision to cease the application of national unification guidelines.

KMT Secretary-General Chan Chun-po (詹春柏) admitted that further communication is necessary before the KMT can come up with a policy on what weapons Taiwan should buy to defend itself.

Again, you can make arguments about whether this is because Ma just wanted to make the right noises (and didn’t care whether they were carried out) or because he hasn’t got control over his party.

A lack of control?

In both cases, I would argue that the main issue is that Ma just doesn’t have full control over KMT legislators. Although it’s a tried-and-trusted technique to say positive things in interviews and then conveniently forget about them, I don’t think that is happening here. Ma’s US trip was much more difficult for not having anything positive to say about arms sales – instead of having a proposal to wave, he was left defending the indefensible. Equally, he didn’t have to advise the KMT Caucus to have an open vote this week – he could simply have left the decision up to the caucus without any advice if he wanted to wash his hands of the whole affair.

So, we are left with the probability that the man who over 70% of KMT members support, who is in the middle of a honeymoon period as KMT Chairman doesn’t have the will or the power to control his party. There are several possible reasons for this. Since I think it’s a combination of all of them, I’ll just list them here in no particular order:

  • He just isn’t a strong leader. It’s always been a criticism of Ma that he’s all style, and no substance – and he hasn’t (yet) done much to refute that as KMT Chairman.
  • ‘The ghost of chairmen past’. Ex-KMT Chairman (serial loser, and king of all things negative and bitter) Lien Chan is still a very influental figure in the KMT. He is not a fan of Ma (he even flouted party rules to show that he voted for Wang in the KMT election), and has always been keen on the ‘block everything’ approach to opposition politics.
  • The KMT legislators are the only ones with any real power in the KMT. Of course, that will change dramatically if (when) Ma wins the 2008 presidential election. Until then Ma has limited effective power over them. Most legislators were supporters of Wang Jin-pyng for KMT Chairman, and so have a fairly distant relationship with Ma.
  • The PFP effect. Until the PFP is safely dead and buried, Ma has to tread very carefully in his relationship both with the PFP, and with the raft of legislators who recently returned from the PFP back into the KMT’s welcoming arms. The PFP (and ex-PFP) legislators are generally much more militant than the KMT, and Ma seems to be doing everything he can to keep them happy.
  • General divisions within the KMT. As with just about any political party anywhere in the world, the KMT is far from being one big happy family. The most obvious issues is the continual frosty relationship between Ma and Wang Jin-pyng, but there are no doubt all sorts of other little power struggles going on under the surface.

KMT legislators and the prosecutor-general

The big political news recently in Taiwan has been how the nomination for prosecutor-general of Hsieh Wen-ding (謝文定) has been blocked by the pan-Blue legislature. Why is the position of prosecutor-general important? Well, here’s one explanation:

Analysts said the role of the top public prosecutor-general has become especially important as the nation’s Control Yuan, the highest watchdog agency empowered to crack down on malfeasance by government officials and agencies, have been in limbo for more than one year.

This paragraph sums up the paralysis gripping Taiwan’s political landscape perfectly. Corruption is a major problem in Taiwan – and yet a whole branch of government (the Control Yuan) responsible for investigating corruption in government has been virtually shut down by the opposition for a year. Of course, the Control Yuan has been a pretty ineffective organisation for decades – but then the opposition also promises to block any constitutional reform to improve that situation. As a result the prosecutor-general becomes a more high-profile and politically significant postion … which results in the opposition blocking the nomination for it.

Of course, maybe the legislature had valid reasons for blocking the nomination. Here’s what Pan Wei-kang, a KMT whip, had to say about the nomination in the two China Post articles i’ve linked to above:

[6th April] Pan agreed that Hsieh’s qualifications are good, but added that whether he can resist partisan or political pressure remains to be seen.

[12th April] Pan Wei-kang, a Kuomintang caucus whip, said the opposition party would consider supporting Hsieh, if he were named again and promised to investigate important cases, including the mystery-shrouded shooting on the eve of the presidential election of 2004.

So, what the KMT want is someone who can resist political pressure, while giving in to KMT demands. Hmm …

Policing Taiwan

Michael Turton has an excellent overview of how the police operate in Taiwan. Michael took notes from a presentation by Jeff Martin – who spent several years studying and working with the police, and so has a real understanding of how things work. The whole article is worth a read, but given the focus of this blog on politics, a few bits stood out:

The policemen have several jobs. First, they have to update the census records. Second, they have to take care of the “Special Projects” invented by politicians, like crackdowns on drunk driving or street vendors in a certain area. How many of these special projects are there in force at the moment in Taipei county? Two hundred. “So there are two hundred things they are supposed to be doing especially intensely,” he said, laughing. On top of that the police have to deal with the stuff of citizen complaints — traffic accidents, crimes, etc.

Politicians getting in the way rather than helping. I’m shocked. Absolutely shocked.

“You have to recognize that the policeman himself is just a pawn in this much larger political game,” Jeff said. The policeman have no particular stake in the theft of your motorcycle, but somewhere above their heads is “some idiot who has said that if the crime rate goes up, I will resign.” There is no way to effectively decrease the scooter theft rate, and no way to increase the recovery rate. The only way to influence the crime rate short of a miracle, is to influence the crime statistics.

So does Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) count as just such an idiot, given his ‘war on crime’ from a few weeks ago? Well, the good news is that Su explicitly said he didn’t want to be judged on statistics, which is the problem described above. Unfortunately, the problems described by Jeff are so fundamental and deeply-seated that it would take a minor miracle to change things. I still think that focusing on social order is a good idea for Su – but it’s a question of how he tries to improve things. Perhaps he should hire Jeff Martin to help.