Monday, December 15, 2014

Eric Chu in the limelight

From the most recent TISR poll, the old Global Views survey. Note that satisfaction with Ma is just 12.7%, dissatisfaction at 78%. The DPP approval rating is 43.7% to the KMT's 21.4%

Some good commentary out there on Eric Chu, who is set to become the new KMT chairman next month since no one is running against him.

One thing that has really excited everyone watching is Chu's call for constitutional reform and his support of a national meeting on the matter. Of the two great pieces out today, first read Ben on the Constitutional Reform issue, arguing that the key issue is the Birdcage referendum law, which exists to prevent the public from having real referendum powers. If we see change in that, it might be meaningful. This is important because the mechanism that Chu has proposed to change the constitution is a public referendum, as WantWant reports.

 Frozen Garlic contends in the other excellent one out today:
First, the proposal to adopt a parliamentary system seems extremely hurried and might not be well thought out at all. This is not a minor change. It would impact everything in the entire political system, and we haven’t even begun to think about the first-order impacts, much less the third-order impacts. Moreover, every parliamentary system is somewhat different; there isn’t a simple off-the-shelf model that you can buy at your local Carrefour. It’s one thing to ask for a parliamentary system; it’s quite another to hammer out all the little details. Who gets to have the first shot at forming a coalition government? How will confidence votes be handled? Will the president continue to be directly elected? What happens to the National Security system?
The ROC government was never more than the candy shell over an authoritarian party-state, so making it work as a democracy has always been problematic. Because of this, when links inside the ruling party are poor, the government is even crankier and more inoperable. Commonwealth observed of the KMT's reform moves:
For the KMT to make a fresh start, the new chairman must take big, bold steps to reform. One component of this is for the Central Standing Committee (CSC) – often accused of "sharing business interests with China" – to return to functioning as a platform for diverse opinions.

A former director of the KMT's Organizational Work Committee relates that, among the current 39 members of the Central Standing Committee, apart from seven directly appointed by the party chairman, the other 32 are elected by party members, among which "close to 10 have commercial interests related to China."

The reason such a situation has taken shape is that in China "the title of Kuomintang Central Standing Committee member opens a lot of doors and gets you places, so some people end up competing for seats in order to achieve that type of elevated status," says the source, intimately familiar with the party's workings.

Central Standing Committee elections are frequently plagued by rumors of vote buying. Consequently, when Ma Ying-jeou took over as party chairman he set up the "Zhongshan Council" for direct handling of important party affairs and political decision making. This move effectively relegated the Central Standing Committee, reputedly the party's highest agency of power, to a discussion group that "hears reports" and "makes recommendations."
The Central Standing Committee was full of people like Lien Chan and other core elites who did not like Ma Ying-jeou, hence his relegation of them to secondary status with the ironically-named Zhongshan Council. But this meant that the KMT was effectively split into a pro-Ma inner circle and Ma-Opposed camps, which weakened it, and which Ma institutionalized. Ma's weaknesses are innumerable, but among the most important is an inability to conciliate -- his model for rule, I am ever more convinced, is the dictator Chiang Kai-shek. The creation of competing bodies performing the same function is a classic move of dictators everywhere. The Central Standing Committee's close business links with China are probably what Chu is criticizing when he talks about compradores... more on that.

Chu also said that the current government system means that those who screw-up are not accountable to the people, in which "power and responsibility do not match each other." Its instability is obvious: Ma is on his fifth premier, only one less than Chen Shui-bian, whom he used to criticize for regularly change premiers.

A closer reading of the Commonwealth piece, however, shows that the KMT isn't going to change its cross-strait sell-out policies, nor is it going to change its presentation of them. Su Chi, long close to Ma, is quoted therein:
In cross-strait political discourse, from the Ma Ying-jeou administration's "economics first, politics second" stance during its first term, to "economics only, forget politics" in the second, the administration's total emphasis on economics placed the Taiwanese people's focus on the economic balance sheet of cross-strait interaction. Moreover, the emphasis was placed narrowly on who benefits and who loses out, neglecting the fact that the value of cross-strait reconciliation is not measured exclusively in economic dividends, but also security dividends, international relations dividends, and political dividends.

"Unless this part is explained clearly, misunderstandings result," Su Chi reminds.
The KMT always claims that its pro-Big Business, pro-China policies are rejected because they are not properly explained. The KMT is never actually wrong. It just doesn't communicate well. One wonders, as Froze notes below, how much headway Chu can make against these entrenched interests and attitudes.

Even more fascinating is to watch Chu's "stand" against the "compradore faction" of the party, the big names who have been making the big money off their party connections over the years. Chu has even promised to give the ill-gotten party properties back to the people. Chu complains that the party's policies benefit the rich, recognition that the public perceives the party to be the party of big business. Quite true, but as Frozen Garlic observes, that is where the rubber meets the road.
He said a lot of great sounding things on Friday, but now he will actually have to deal with the consequences of those statements. If he doesn’t do something with party property, people will ask questions. Lien Chan and Wu Po-hsiung aren’t just going to ignore his comment about “compradore-style figures.” Most importantly, Ma Ying-jeou is not just going to yield to Chu’s ideas about economic policies. Chu might complain that Ma’s policies unfairly benefit the richest people, but Ma is still in charge of the government and he doesn’t seem to want to reverse six years of economic “achievements.” The business world isn’t going to sit idly by if Chu tries to change the economic policies they want. They have lots of power within the KMT, and they will defend their interests. Chu is going to have to engage in a full-blown power struggle to force the cabinet to follow his new line. Otherwise, Chu is going to look pretty weak if he, as KMT party chair, is calling for one set of policies and President Ma continues to push ahead with his entirely different political priorities.
Moreover, as Froze notes, Chu's media darling days all over. He'll be a national figure, facing a national media that has deep knowledge of the island's political machinations and little patience with its politicians.

There's been complaints that Chu is just the second coming of Ma Ying-jeou. Chu promised to do something about the party assets -- well, so did Ma in 2009. In fact Ma did as early as 2006, and in 2000 none other than Honorary Chairman Pickled in Brine Lien Chan, when he ran for President in 2000, promised to do the same. In other words, making noises about getting rid of the Party's ill-gotten assets isn't something that one does when one is a reformer. It's part of the package of noises that anyone who assumes control over the KMT and aspires to higher positions must reproduce, because it is a widely supported centrist position, not because they actually mean it. Chu's position on the party assets may well be a signal that he is going to run for President in 2016 even though he insists he is not going to.

Another interpretation is that if a much weaker candidate than Chu runs in 2016 and is beaten, which is highly likely, then Chu will oh-so-sorry have to step down from the KMT Chairmanship to "take responsibility" and what a coincidence, reform will go unaccomplished. Hey, he'll say, it wasn't my fault, we just didn't win the election. So he wouldn't actually have to carry out reform -- not enough time, you know -- but he can still wear the mantle of reformer when he goes into the trenches in 2020 as the Presidential standard bearer. So all this noise he is making now is just positioning...

Of course, he could actually mean what he says....

Indeed, here's an editorial in the pro-KMT China Times from 2009:
Today Ma Ying-jeou is again in charge of the party. He has proudly waved the party flag on behalf of candidates for the year-end elections. When Ma Ying-jeou declared his commitment to clean government and political reform, people were inspired. Political momentum accumulated. But he has now declared his intention to enforce strict party discipline. He has promised that he will strictly punish those who have disobeyed the party decision and run for public offices. But they doubt Ma will hold up if they give him the cold-shoulder treatment. Ma Ying-jeou has been in charge of the affairs of state for a year and a half. He is being pulled in several directions at the same time. He has not demonstrated sufficient courage and determination. As a result, his leadership has been subjected to constant challenges. Candidates for City Mayor and County Executive offices have thrown their hats in the ring without consulting him. Even incumbents who were elected on the basis of Ma's endorsement are ignoring the party leadership, and bent on rebellion. During the party chairmanship election, the turnout in many constituencies was low. The percentage of invalid ballots was high. Quite a few former "Team Ma" legislators with reputations for integrity and many outspoken and forceful County Executives and City Mayors have all gradually withdrawn their candidacies for membership in the KMT Central Standing Committee. When asked why, they replied without enthusiasm, and sighed, "Let him (Ma) find out what it's like to have a Central Standing Committee not consisting of his own people!"
Already by 2009 Ma had alienated the bottom of his own party. Is Chu headed for that? We can only hope.

As I said, the close business links of powerful KMTers with China are probably what Chu is criticizing when he talks about compradores, but let's not forget that Chu's Dad-in-law Gao Yu-ren (高育仁) was a central standing committee member of longstanding with nearly half a century of service to the KMT in various positions. His father is the former speaker of the "Taiwan Province" legislator. Chu is a princeling, in other words (on his mother's side he is from a family of DPP politicians, which may help his relations with that party, and he and Taipei mayor-elect Ko Wen-je are old school classmates and friends of long-standing). But as the national media begins to focus on Chu, these relations -- his father-in-law was forty years in Tainan politics -- and Chu's own deals in the past are going to come under far more heightened scrutiny than Chu may be able to handle.

I'm going to go roast some popcorn now...
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Anonymous said...

If any of you out there are journalists, please ask Future Chairman and Current New Taipei Mayor Chu how his KMT is going to settle the 4th nuclear power plant standoff.

Anonymous said...

Another interesting tidbit from the TISR poll: The DPP is tipped as the party best able to handle cross strait relations. First time I've ever seen that in a poll.