Thursday, June 15, 2006

More on the Chen Recall

David at jujuflop comments on the recent recall motion:

The recall motion has two hurdles to clear, and it would fail both of them. The first is to get 2/3rds of the Legislature supporting the motion. Party loyalty is strong in Taiwan, and even a currently unpopular figure like Chen can still rely on the support of all his DPP legislators in this - so there will only be a fraction over 50% who will vote for a recall.

The 2nd hurdle is a public referendum. Although this is less well reported, this would fail too even if the motion was passed in the legislature, and the reason has nothing to do with Chen’s (un)popularity. You can be pretty sure that more people would vote for him to be recalled than for him to stay, but the referendum also needs 50% of the electorate voting. Taking a leaf out of the KMTs ‘boycott the referendum’ strategy in 2004, the whole thing could be defeated by the DPP asking people to stay at home and not vote. At that point, only the KMT faithful and the ones with a really strong dislike of CSB would be voting - the apathetic, the ones pissed off with politicians in general, the ones who think this is all a political stunt, and the DPP faithful would be at home ensuring the whole thing fails.

A final point on this: anyone voting for a recall would be voting for Annette Lu for president - does anyone expect a huge turnout to vote for that?

David also argues that this might backfire on the KMT.

So, the whole thing is a gamble - it could pay dividends, but it could backfire. But here’s an important point: It is a gamble that Ma Ying-jeou has no need to play. Ma is so far ahead in the polls that all he has to do is keep smiling at the camera and he is virtually assured of legislative success in 2007, and presidential success in 2008.

At this point, it should be noted that the man leading the recall movement is James Soong, who is dragging along a rather less enthusiastic Ma Ying-jeou. As head of the PFP, Soong has nothing to lose - his party is slowly fading, and will be destroyed in the 2007 legislative elections. It seems that Ma is playing along because he doesn’t want to be seen as a weak leader (isn’t that ironic? Doing what Soong says so that he can appear in control and decisive). To paraphrase Tony Blair, Ma wants to be seen as being ‘Tough on CSB. Tough on the causes of CSB.’

When you consider this move as a gamble of a desperate man, and consider how Soong seems to have a 100% record in unintentionally helping the DPP with everything he does (thanks to Sun Bin for reminding me about this), my suspicion is that Ma Ying-jeou could end up regretting this recall motion far more than Chen Shui-bian.

I'm not sure that it will backfire as David argues is possible -- the public seems to be quite happy with the state of affairs where Chen takes the blame for the obstructionism of the KMT and its allies. The key bad timing issue here for the KMT is that it is quite clear the KMT has held up the flood control bill, and the recent flooding from the awesome rainy season we had this year has reminded the public of who is fouling up the works. Ma had to defend the party from just that accusation earlier this week.

Further, while in the US a beleaguered politician can often get a bounce in the polls when he appears to be an underdog, in Chinese society when you are down the world steps on you. Here, the victim is by definition a loser deserving of scorn. Too, in Chinese society everything is the Leader's fault, and Chen is the Leader. UPDATE: Finally, the possibility of backfire requires that the media turn on the Blues, which is not really in the cards, given their pro-Blue predelictions.

One wild card not yet played is the US government, which is very unhappy with the obstructionism of the KMT and its allies and needs a stable Taiwan government to fulfill its security role in East Asia. In addition to pushing Ma Ying-jeou on the recall motion, the PFP is also proving to be hardline on the arms deal from the US, refusing to let the KMT put the arms purchase on the legislative table. The result is that legislative speaker and KMT heavyweight Wang Jin-pyng was forced to cancel a recent trip to the US due to US displeasure over the string of broken KMT promises on the deal. The KMT is risking more than just its standing with the Taiwanese public here -- for many years the US government has been pro-KMT, and many officials within the US government remain privately so. The idea that the KMT is a stability-oriented party that the US ought to privately support is put at risk by this nonsense. Further, Ma Ying-jeou can hardly be seen abroad as the voice of moderation if he publicly supports this pointless recall motion. Sooner or later, if Ma keeps supporting this sort of fluff, even the dumbest foreigners are going to start seeing him for the ideologue he is.

And speaking of recalling Chen, anyone catch the comment of Lien Chan's son that if Chen doesn't step down, he's going to end up like Saddam Hussein? The constant flow of death threats from the Blues (Assassinate Ma?) indicate that what's driving this isn't reform ideals, but sheer insensate hatred of Chen and the DPP on the part of the mainlanders who are watching their hold on local society slowly being eroded.

UPDATE: The BBC reports:

It is the first time an attempt has been made to formally recall any Taiwanese president, the BBC's Caroline Gluck says.

The opposition is unlikely to achieve the majority it needs

The vote was followed by tears and chanting from opposition politicians, while members of the ruling party held banners against the motion.

Mr Chen now has a week to issue a statement in his defence, after which the legislature begins a week of debates on his future ahead of the final vote.

Chen has already said that he will not comment on the recall. The high road is the right road. Meanwhile the best quote is from the legislative whip and KMT Central Standing Committee member Tina Pan:

"We hope DPP legislators can wake up to the truth, push one of their own severely according to law in order to uphold justice and stand on the side of the people," Tina Pan of the Kuomintang told reporters.



Scott Sommers said...

Michael, can you fill me in on some of the polls that show Ma wildly popular. It's not that I don't believe you, but I've stopped paying attention to this. If my memory serves me correctly, Chen Sui-bian was wildly popular when he was defeated in his second bid for Taipei mayor. I'll need more details to believe that Ma can really win anywhere outside the north end of the island.

Michael Turton said...

Actually, I agree with you. I wish I had the poll data at hand too. Someone must.

David said...

On Ma's popularity, the latest figures I had were from here:

(Satisfaction with him was at 63% but 'plunged' to 56% when he didn't initially follow Soong's recall call - not that anyone would suggest Ma places opinion polls above ideology!). Also, the KMT Chairmanship election proved that he was more popular than Wang even in the South (only polling KMT members of course, but he did much better than I expected).

However, I do admit I take Ma's popularity almost as an article of faith at the moment - but the reason is this: if you compare him with his predecessor as KMT Chair (who very nearly won in 2004), you can *only* conclude that he is a Winston Churchill in Adonis' body, can't you?

I do think that Ma will have to screw up and the DPP will have to pull their collective fingers out for anything other than KMT victories in the next few years - hence my view that the recall is an unnecessary risk for him.

Michael Turton said...

I do think that Ma will have to screw up and the DPP will have to pull their collective fingers out for anything other than KMT victories in the next few years - hence my view that the recall is an unnecessary risk for him.

Does he have a choice? The disadvantage of being Party Chairman is that he has to have a public opinion on almost everything. Hence the constant risk of saying/doing something dumb. Fortunately he has the pro-Blue media to cover for him. Besides, the recall motion will come to naught, but it will give them time to come up with more vapor scandals, and more distractions so the public won't notice that it is not being governed. I think Ma is safe, as long as he is careful.


David said...

Does he have a choice? The disadvantage of being Party Chairman is that he has to have a public opinion on almost everything.

True - but he could decide not to push for a recall (in fact he did, but then did an about-face). It would be unpopular with the diehards (and the PFP), but acting as a leader rather than following public opinion/James Soong is an option.

That said, I think his thinking at the moment is that managing Soong is a much more important task than worrying about CSB/DPP, and that's one big reason for his position.

Michael Turton said...

Yeah, I agree that acting as a leader would be great for him here. After all, the major knock on him is his lack of spine.

How does going howling after Chen help him manage Soong? By stealing back some of the limelight Soong is using to breathe life back into his political career, the way Aslan awakened the statues at the White Witch's Castle? Why wouldn't Soong be better managed by taking the contrary position? Do think Ma is trying to preserve his popularity with the PFP rank and file? Or what?

I'm not disagreeing with you, I just don't entirely understand Ma's thinking here. I mean, surely someone must be giving him the same advice we are.....


Scott Sommers said...

David, could you mail me the link or post it again. This one is incomplete, so I have been unable to read the wonderful praise of Mayor Ma.

The presidential election is almost 2 years away. It is unimaginable what could happen in that time. Ma will not be running against Chen. Despite disappointment with the DPP, they can still field a whole slew of competitive candidates. My pick is Su Tseng Chang and Tsai Ying Wen.

Regardless, last year, I said that the DPP would have to screw up royally to miss out on 2008. They have. Ma and the KMT have just as much chance to mess up. Who knows what he might do before the elect? Attend the wedding banquet of a convicted criminal's son? Support outlaw candidates?

Scott Sommers said...

I finally found the article. You've got to be joking about this. This is a poll by the China Times. You can't get much more Blue than that. There's also no mention of how the poll was conducted. For all I know, it was a phone-in survey. I'll put it straight, I don't believe Ma can win in Tainan, Tainan, Pintung, Khaohsiung or any of their counties.

Michael Turton said...

I don't either Scott. And if Su runs, he'll do well in Taipei county too. I don't Ma is the shoo-in everyone believes.


David said...

I'm slow in responding here, but what the hell ...
Michael: "Why wouldn't Soong be better managed by taking the contrary position?"
And risk a KMT/PFP split? If Soong had a 'cause' to rally PFP support with, then they might return from the dead - and in particular they could be a force in the 2007 elections (I can see it now: "If you hate CSB then vote PFP!"). Of course, a split PFP/KMT vote would be a godsend for the DPP. I suspect this is far more worrying for Ma than the danger of a resurgent DPP at the moment. Keeping Soong 'onside' seems to have been one of Ma's guiding principles since he has become chairman. Ma wants to make sure that come 2007, the PFP have no platform to run on for legislative elections (i.e. there are no substansive differences between them and the KMT). Thus: agree with Soong whatever he says.

Scott: Yeah the survey is from a biased source - what were you expecting? An unbiased even-handed poll in Taiwan? I don't believe that Ma can *win* in the southern parts - but noone's talking about that. What I do believe is that Ma can do better than Lien did in 2004 or that any other KMT politician can do today in *every* part of Taiwan. And if he does that, then he's going to win the 2008 election.

That said, I agree with you that 2008 is a way off - and that plenty could happen between then and now, which is why I'm saying that *if he doesn't screw up* then Ma will win. Plenty of possibilities for him to screw up though ... slavishly following Soong's lead all the time springs to mind :)

(Oh, and I agree that Su would make a good DPP candidate)

Taiwan Echo said...

May I ask why you guys think that Su would make a good DPP candidate? As a pan-green supporter, I see no way that Su can do better than Chen. Or you guys say so only in termns of 'how much votes' he could possibly get ?

In my personal view, Su is much softer than Chen and could snap much easier than Chen. Besides, in my memory, he never said anything based on Taiwanese consciousness. Frankly, I am not sure what he has in mind, and I am a bit worried his real intention.

Michael Turton said...

I think you just listed the reasons right there, Echo. LOL.

Taiwan Echo said...

ok, I got it, lol ...

Some pan-green supporters have different view:



They don't think Su is good enough to be a president. Basically, what I listed in previous post are considered by them (me included actually) as negative but by you guys as positive.

Personally, I don't see a vision from him. Or, maybe, in such a chaotic situation "no vision" or "don't show any vision" might be the only way to survive ...

Well, I am not sure if I know what I am talking about... lol