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.
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.