Sunday, August 13, 2006

Why the KMT hates the Presidency

Why does the KMT want to bring down the President? Well, part of it, of course, is that the KMT just plain hates Chen Shui-bian for beating them twice and destroying the arrangement they had made with China prior to the 2004 election. But part of it also is relates to a combination of structural features of Taiwan's government and politics.

Flip the Taiwan government over on its back and brush away the tentacles. Is it a parliamentary or a Presidential system? Sexing the Taiwan government is no easy task, and yet answering that question has been one of the most urgent drivers of politics on the island for the better part of two decades.

In the early 1990s, after Lee Teng-hui became President in the wake of Chiang Ching-kuo's death, a power struggle within the KMT began over what kind of government Taiwan was going to have, a Presidential or Parliamentary system. President Lee, being President, fought for a Presidential system, while the KMT old guard, led by then-Premier Hau Pei-tsun, argued that Taiwan had a parliamentary system in which the government was run by the Premier, who was responsible to the legislature. This struggle over the nature of Taiwan's government is still going on today.

Under the Constitution the Premier was appointed by the President but confirmed by the legislature (as David reminded me in the comments below, it was Lee who did away with the confirmation and made the Premier solely the President's perogative). One reform the Old Guard KMT thus put forward was to make the Premier appointed out of the legislature, doing an end run around Presidential authority. Then-President Lee would have none of it. Lee shoved through several Constitutional changes during his tenure as President which were aimed at strengthening the Presidency. In the end Hau lost his bid, and in the 1996 Presidential election, ran for the Presidency on a futile third-party ticket against Lee and DPP challenger Peng Ming-min.

One of the key changes that Lee made was to make the Presidency a position directly elected by the people. He did this to prevent Hau from capturing the Presidency, though such a reform had long been goal of local democracy activists. Previously the Presidency had been elected by a "representative" body, the National Assembly, ostensibly elected by the people, but controlled by the ruling party. This mean that Party insiders controlled who would become President. Lee adumbrated their power by taking his position to the people.

A directly elected President who also appoints the Premier and the cabinet positions gives the President considerable authority over the operations of government. It also presents a problem for the KMT.

Recall that the KMT's real power is at the local level. By contrast, the DPP's real power is at the national level; it is still struggling to evolve a local-level apparatus. This means that in the national-level Presidential elections, the DPP has a solid structural advantage over the KMT -- the populace does not want to be part of China, and will tend to support the DPP candidate over the KMT candidate, all other things being equal. By the same token, in the local-level legislative elections, the KMT, with its control of the local level government organizations, good relations with organized crime, and longstanding links to local business and political families, the KMT has a profound structural advantage, all other things being equal. These structural features do not mean that the DPP cannot capture legislative seats (it was the single largest party in the legislature after the 2003 elections) or that the KMT cannot capture the Presidency, but they are one of the things that would-be winners must overcome.

If the KMT can make the Premier a position named by the legislature rather than by the President, and weaken the Presidency, it can negate the advantages the DPP enjoys in the national level election, and isolate and weaken the Presidency. Because the KMT-led Blue alliance will no doubt retain control of the legislature for some time to come, it will ensure that its man is always named premier. That is why regardless of who is President, and regardless of what the situation is, there will always be a tendency for the KMT to attack the office of the President. As long as the position is directly elected, it represents a threat to KMT control of the island. Thus KMT policy will always be to make the government a parliamentary system and make the Presidency a purely ceremonial position.

If Ma is elected President, look for the Party Machine to demand that one of its members, probably Wang Jyn-ping, currently Speaker of the Legislature, become Premier, and look for Ma to resist. Because one way the Party Machine can isolate Ma is to make him President and then hand the real power over to the Premier through "reform" of the Constitution. Hence, while the vitriol of the attacks on the Presidency may abate during Ma's tenure, the struggle will go on.

UPDATED in response to David's comments below.


David said...

Hmm ... I'm not sure I agree. I think it's much simpler: The KMT are trying to undermine the presidency simply because they hate Chen and they don't control the presidency.

If the situation were reversed (KMT President and DPP Legislature) you'd see the opposite behaviour.

Personally, I don't see much difference between KMT/DPP performance in the two different types of elections: The last two legislative elections have been OK for the DPP - better than 2000 presidency but worse than 2004 presidency. I'd agree that KMT are stronger in local elections - but that doesn't seem to extend to legislative elections.

KMT policy isn't as monolithic as you suggest - during LTH's tenure there was an internal battle between the two groups and there'll be a similar battle for Ma. That battle is/was purely for power not for presidential vs. parliamentary power

Also a few minor points:
- LTH did change how the premier was selected in the 90s. The Legislature used to have veto power, but Lee removed that.
- It wasn't Ma who made the KMT Chair directly elected. It was (gulp) Lien. In fact Ma battled (in vain) to restrict the number of voters.

Incidentally, if the KMT was pushing directly for a parliamentary system, then I'd be cheering them on. Taiwan needs to decide on a system, and personally I think a parliamentary one would be better.

You do raise an intersting possibility at the end though: Ma wins 2008 but Wang still has influence in the legislature - then the DPP & Wang's KMT legislators push through a parliamentary constitutional reform. The president has no influence/control over consitutional reform, so he'd have to watch his power being removed without being able to do anything! However, it's unlikely. Ma will have much too much influence in the KMT for that to be likely ...

Michael Turton said...

I didn't mean to suggest that the KMT is monolithic -- quite the opposite. The KMT is in the throes of its own internal problems.

You're right about the direct elections for KMT and Lien Chan. Scary. Must have learned a trick from LTH.


Anonymous said...


May I remind you, Chen has less than 15% of popularity. Please see the latest poll done by TVBS.
Popularity Polls on Big 10 Politicians

In case you don't understand Mandarin, please view it with your students.

So it is not just KMT. It's the general population that wants him to step down. We all hate his guts.

Living in Taiwan for several years doesn't make you an expert on politics. Try not to shit where you eat.

I strongly recommend you close down this blog. It stinks.

Aaron Lai said...

And Dr. Anonymous here is expecting others to respect his/her opinion by having no signature and using foul language?

Another hot-headed one who seems to believe that political parties can be manipulated by what "we" think, and not the other way around.

Michael Turton said...

May I remind you, Chen has less than 15% of popularity. Please see the latest poll done by TVBS.

Great. So when a President becomes unpopular, he should step down? What kind of system is that? Do you want a stable government, or what?

So it is not just KMT. It's the general population that wants him to step down. We all hate his guts.

TVBS is 100% Chinese-owned and hates Chen. Regrettably they are not a reliable source. Meanwhile I know lots of people who don't hate Chen. So I think I'll go with what I know, as well as sticking to the bounds of the law and good democratic practice.

Thank you for the kind comments on the blog. I've thought about shutting it down, but I've found that the fact that it annoys shallow, right-wing, authoritarian, anti-democracy types is sufficient reason to keep it going....

PL said...

>>What kind of system is that? Do you want a stable government, or what?

It is funny to see a whitie like you should talk like one of them DPP gangsters.

You sure don't sound like an American...more like a Chinese who is always faithful and obedient to his emperor....

So what's your opinion about Taiwanese people's overwhelming response to Shih's urge? They raised over $20 mil in 4 days. Talking about democracy!

If Chen were to make a counter move by pledging against Shih, I wonder how the numbers would look like....

Raj said...

"It is funny to see a whitie like you"

"Whitie"? Lol. When people resort to playground insults, you know they don't have a leg to stand on.

Anonymous said...

Why does the KMT oppose the president? They are supposed to. They are the opposition party, remember? You'd see the same in the US. I'd be surprised if the Democratic party started supporting the Bush administration. This is called democracy. Surely you've heard of it.

And, the other thing is, the KMT is entitled to do what they did. They are entitled to exercise their lawful rights to recall the president, and they did that but lacked the sufficient votes. Now the KMT has stepped away, and it is the people themselves who are asking A-bian to take a hike. You don't like it? Tough. Democracy works both ways...KMT stepped down before, and it seems that DPP's days are numbered too.

Anonymous said...

Michael, I can't believe they call you a whitie. Can't they come up with a better debate than talking smack. It's very typically of the Blue camp.
I'm not a big fan of CSB. Despite what my personal feelings are for the man, he is the president and he won a democratically election process. The opposition had tried to unseat him and has failed. And now being sore looser they want to take it to the street. Taiwan should ship these people to China and where the communists will run them over with their tanks. OK, that's not fair, but you get what I'm trying to say. Democracy is not free and people will abuse their freedom (such as taking it to the streets). People like Michael is exposing all the hypocracies within a young democracy, Taiwan.

BTW, the only thing a whitie can't do is jump.