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Taiwan needs no more 'King-makers'
Taiwan News
Page 6
2009-12-14 12:00 AM
In an apparent effort to recover his declining popularity and hopefully rebuild the collapsing credibility of his ruling right-wing Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang), President and KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou made a stunning decision last week to appoint his former top aide and ex-Taipei City deputy mayor King Pu-tsung as KMT secretary-general.

Coincidently, Democratic Progressive Party Chairwoman Tsai Ying-wen tabbed former interior minister Su Chia-chyuan as the opposition party's new secretary-general days after its rebound in the December 5th "three-in-one" local elections.

King and Su will thus be responsible for managing their respective parties during next year's critical special municipal elections in Taipei City, Kaohsiung City, the upgraded "Xinbei City" (formerly Taipei County) and the merged metropolises of Taichung City and County and Tainan City and County that will set the stage for the 2012 presidential and legislative polls.

Based on their distinctly different personalities and divergent political experience and backgrounds, King and Su will certainly adopt starkly different strategies and styles.

Born in Tainan of Manchurian ancestry, King is well known for his role as "king-maker" for Ma in the December 1998 Taipei City mayoral elections against incumbent DPP mayor and later president Chen Shui-bian and guiding Ma's victory in the March 2008 presidential poll against former DPP premier Frank Hsieh.

King declined to join the Ma administration in May 2008, but was asked by his former boss to take charge of ruling party operations in the wake of Ma's leadership crisis and the KMT's setback in the Dec. 5 polls.

It is no doubt that King skilfully moulded Ma's image as a moderate, clean and charismatic politician despite the latter's lack of concrete achievements as mayor and played a the key role in the creation of Ma's presidential campaign slogan, "We Are Ready!"

Ironically, Ma' popularity has suffered since taking office largely due to the failure of his KMT administration to live up to this pledge to voters and other campaign promises, notably the "633" promise to boost annual economic growth to over six percent.

Ma evidently aims to use King as a "bad cop" to push out the KMT old guard and thus help the born-again KMT chairman promote party reforms which he had promised but failed to realize in his previous term at the KMT's helm from late 2005 to early 2007, including dealing with the KMT's illicitly acquired "party assets" and the KMT's notorious reputation for "black and gold" money politics.

As a party outsider, King will face tremendous challenges in this task, mostly from within the 115-year KMT, whose hoary ideology, bureaucratic rigidity and impenetrable web of vested interests have impeded any movement toward genuine modernizing reforms.

Moreover, despite his redoubtable advertising talents, the KMT leadership duo face an uphill battle in rebuilding the images of the president and the ruling party, especially if Ma and King remain fixated on the notion of "image is everything" and thereby underestimate the intelligence and overestimate the tolerance of Taiwan voters, who are increasingly more concerned with competence than charisma.

Between heaven and earth

After all, Ma won the presidential poll mainly not because he was a better choice than Hsieh, but because most voters were fed up with the political paralysis during former president Chen Shui-bian's eight-year governance whose DPP administration was stymied by incessant obstruction by the KMT - controlled legislature.

To win back support from a disillusioned public, Ma and his KMT must provide effective policy implementation that benefit most citizens and not just economic or party - connected elites and prove in action the ability and sincerity to engage in open and fair dialogue with the opposition and public on major policy issues.

How helpful King will be in this field is open to doubt since he has never stood for election to public office and is not known for his "grassroots touch."

In contrast, the new DPP secretary-general is known as a down-to-earth, experienced, decent and even humorous political leader.

Rising from the grassroots in his native Pingtung County, Su accumulated a rich political profile through winning several elections for a seat in the now defunct National Assembly, two terms in the Legislative Yuan and two terms as Pingtung County magistrate before serving in the former DPP administration as interior minister and Council for Agriculture chairman.

Su has established a solid reputation for capability in political management and coordination and gained experience in internal party coordination and tough negotiations in his role as director of the DPP's election strategy commission for the "three-in-one" local polls.

This edge may be critical since maintaining internal unity and grasping what most voters want and need will be the most important determinants in the five metropolitan elections and the following presidential and national legislative polls in early 2012.

Taiwan needs no more "king-makers" or "heavenly princes" but political leaders and parties which are truly capable and determined to offer pragmatic and principled solutions to the challenges facing Taiwan that are accord with the needs of the majority of our citizens.

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