Sunday, November 22, 2009

Decoupling the National and the Local

The Taipei Times reported on a phenomenon which I've been discussing for weeks now: the absence of KMT Chairman and ROC President Ma Ying-jeou from the local election campaign, now heating up as we approach December.

The paper observed:
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) absence from the party’s latest campaign commercial for next month’s local government head elections sparked speculation yesterday about Ma’s popularity with the party’s candidates.

The KMT yesterday made public its first campaign commercial for next month’s local elections. The commercial highlighted the interactions between party candidates and local voters, while Ma, who has enjoyed great popularity with candidates in past campaigns, was notably absent.

In response to reporters’ questions about the president’s absence from the commercial, KMT Spokesman Lee Chien-jung (李建榮) said party candidates were the protagonists in the upcoming elections and denied speculation it was related to the president’s plummeting popularity.

“Chairman Ma is already in a lot of news coverage while campaigning for party candidates, and so the campaign commercials put the focus on the candidates because they are the protagonists in the elections,” Lee said yesterday at KMT headquarters. “The election next month is not a presidential election, but local elections for 18 city and county heads.”

In the legislative election in 2008 Ma was in many pictures (selection). This election he has been completely absent -- I've been all over the island, except in the south, and have only seen him on one recent picture. Plummeting popularity for Ma has meant that KMTers elsewhere have to banish him from their pictures.

This morning the KMT was out with more spin:
Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) said yesterday that the public should not draw a link between next month’s mayor and county commissioner elections and the public’s view of the performance of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and his government.


“What does the election of county councilors or township chiefs have to do with President Ma’s national policy?” Wu asked when approached by reporters in Nantou County yesterday.

Wu said that while in the US, the midterm election is seen as a vote of confidence for the sitting president as it is held in between presidential terms, in Taiwan, candidates are selected for their connections with local factions, their personal image and whether they have competence to serve the public, all of which have little to do with the nation’s leader.

Wu is in fact right: local factions are important in local elections. But in previous elections in which local faction politicians have run, Ma appeared. Wu is struggling to keep the public from linking the national and local, after the KMT received a few signals in the form of lost local elections.
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David said...

I agree that the results of the coming local elections won't mean much at the national level. I think the real story here is that Ma has risen to a position of great power simultaneously serving as President and Chairman of the KMT. Yet Ma is not only desperately unpopular with the public, he is also very unpopular within his own party.

While I don't think the KMT will split, Ma's chances of re-election in 2012 are not looking good if the majority of his party are not actively supporting him.

Anonymous said...

In that case, why did Ma go (few days ago) to Hsinchu to support and sing in public with Hsinchu County commissioner, Chiu Ching-chung?
Or did I miss something about that event?