All the King’s Horses and all the King’s men

So it looks like President Ma 馬英九 will succeed in his quest to purge Speaker Wang 王金平.  A lot is still ongoing and we certainly haven’t seen the end of this story.  Moreover, there is always a lot more going on behind the scenes that we don’t see, so we don’t really have a full set of facts about the basic events.  However, at this point I think I can start to make some preliminary comments about what has happened and what it will mean.

One thing that I still do not feel I understand well is why Ma wanted to purge Wang.  I haven’t heard any such uncertainty from the talking heads on TV, but then no one there ever says “I’m not sure” about anything.  They have offered several motives.  Ma has hated Wang ever since the 2005 fight over the KMT party chair or the 2007 fight over nomination for president.  The talking heads point to one of Ma’s campaign ads that said his campaign was a fight against black and gold, and (obviously??) this meant Wang.  Another pundit said the hatred goes back to the mid-1990s when certain KMT legislators blocked Justice Minister Ma from prosecuting corrupt KMT politicians.  A different tack is that Ma was hearing rumors that various forces (perhaps including Lien Chan 連戰, Hau Bei-tsun 郝柏村, Wu Po-hsiung 吳伯雄, and/or Eric Chu 朱立倫 and his father-in-law 高裕仁) were planning to push Wang for party chair, and the purge was Ma’s pre-emptive strike to secure his power and avoid becoming a lame duck.  Then there are the people who think that the legislature was not passing Ma’s legislation (nuclear plant referendum, trade and services pact) quickly enough or not blocking potential amendments.  All of these make a little sense, but none is quite persuasive to me.  If you had asked last week who the biggest threat to Ma was, I wouldn’t have said Wang.  The dredging up of old events looks like post-hoc reasoning, much like how stock market analysts confidently say the latest unemployment stats were (obviously) good news if the market went up or bad news if the market went down, regardless of whether unemployment was up or down.  The idea of Wang challenging Ma for party leadership is ignoring the point that Wang is just not a confrontational guy.  I’ll talk more about the effect on the legislature below, but the basic problem is that the referendum and the services trade pact are unpopular and KMT legislators don’t want to go on the record casting votes for them.  Removing Wang won’t change that.  At any rate, these sorts of internal tensions always exist inside every political party, but the various actors usually just put up with things rather than declare full nuclear war.  I don’t have a better answer; I’m just not fully satisfied with any of these proposed motives.  I’d really like to know why Ma chose this course.

One thing I am absolutely sure of is that this is a political purge.  Ma’s accusations of influence peddling and harming the party’s image are clearly window dressing.  As many, many people have pointed out, Ma didn’t react nearly as strongly to other recent cases (eg: Lin Yi-shih 林益世, Chang Tung-jung 張通榮, Chuo Po-yuan 卓伯源, Lee Chao-ching 李朝卿, Lai Su-ju 賴素如) in which actual crimes were committed and people were convicted by the judicial system.  Every report I’ve seen so far says that there is no legal case against Wang.  Indeed, the KMT rescinded his membership for the vague offense of harming the party’s reputation, not for any specific legal cause.  This is in marked contrast to the usual practice of declining to take any action until a party member is convicted by a court and the legal appeals process has been exhausted (and not always even then).

No, this was a power play.  Ma decided to remove Wang, planned carefully, and ruthlessly executed that plan.  The timing is a clear tipoff.  Are we to believe that Ma really learned of this “egregious offense” right before Wang coincidentally left the country?  And, even more fortuitously, Wang chose to go to a fairly remote part of Malaysia with bad communications and infrequent transportation back to Taiwan.  Wang could hardly come back early since he would have had to cancel or miss his daughter’s wedding, but even if he had wanted to, it would have been logistically challenging.  (I even heard one pundit claim that Ma had waited until right after Wang cleared customs at the airport to send the first message to explain himself and the second call went out right after the plane took off.  Take that story with a grain of salt.)  If we are to believe the official timeline, the Special Investigation Division learned of the lobbying while (illegally?) listening in to a DPP legislator’s phone calls.  However, the phone calls took place in late June, but Huang supposedly did not (illegally?) report this information to President Ma until August 31.  So supposedly the SID sat on this info for over a month and, by random chance, reported to Ma at exactly the worst time for Wang to defend himself.  That seems a bit fishy.  More likely Ma sent word to the SID to pass him any dirt on Wang and knew of this incident by early July.  The official timetable is almost certainly contrived for public consumption.  After springing the trap, Ma acted quickly to ensure that Wang could not wiggle out.  Ma scheduled the KMT disciplinary meeting less than 24 hours after Wang arrived back in Taiwan.  When the decision came down from that obedient body, it was finalized and the paperwork was sent out to the Central Election Commission that day.  The disciplinary committee even “rescinded” 撤銷 his party membership rather than “expelling” 開除 him, because the party rules require the latter decision to be ratified by the Central Standing Committee.  Ma does not dominate the CSC as thoroughly as the disciplinary committee, and Wang might have been able to overturn the decision in that arena.  Instead, the CSC was merely informed of the decision.  Now that the Central Election Commission has received the KMT notification, I don’t see how the decision can be reversed.  The CEC is not responsible for judging whether the decision was fair or reasonable.  It received an official document from the legitimate party office saying that Wang is no longer a party member.  The CEC’s hands should be tied.  According to law, if Wang is not a party member, he loses his seat on the KMT party list.  Since he will no longer be a member of the legislature, he automatically ceases to be speaker.  (Then again, I’ve seen stranger things happen in Taiwan’s politics…) This was a lightning strike, designed to render a decision before Wang was able to mobilize any support for a counter-offensive.  At this point, it looks like it has succeeded.

[Update: Wang has gotten a stay of action from a court.  I think this is probably just delaying his fate.  But maybe not.  I hate writing while things are still unfolding.]

[2nd update five hours later: Oops.  It seems the court decision has overturned everything and Wang will survive.  What??  I don’t understand the legal ruling at all.  At any rate, a lot of this post is immediately rendered obsolete.  Imagine that: after months of writing nothing for this blog, I spend hours and hours writing a 4000+ word post that is out of date before it is even published.  This is why academics usually wait a few months or even years after the fact before trying to publish anything.  ]

Supposing Wang really has lost the Speaker position.  What then?  Several people have suggested that Wang will run for Kaohsiung City Mayor next year or president in 2016.  Others think he will try to get back in the legislature and regain the speaker’s chair.  Still others wonder if he will split his faction off from the KMT and ally with the green camp.  I think none of these will happen.  The reason that Wang has been such a great fit as speaker for 15 years is that he is a consensus seeker.  By nature, he shies away from conflict whenever he can.  He just doesn’t have the personality to try to storm the castle all by himself.  At any rate, none of these options has a sliver of a chance of succeeding.  We’ve seen again and again how dismally third party candidates do in Taiwan’s elections.  And there is no clear path to get back into the legislature quickly.  Even if a close ally resigned a seat and Wang won the by-election (ignoring the fact that he would have to beat a KMT assassin and a DPP candidate), by the time that happened there would already a new speaker sitting in the chair.  At any rate, Wang is old and was planning on retiring after this term anyway.  I think he’ll just fade away.  But, as always, I could be wrong.

Another line of speculation says that the Wang faction in the legislature will ally with the green camp to elect the new speaker.  According to this logic, it takes 57 legislators to win a majority and the KMT has 64 legislators, so all Wang has to do is get 7 or 8 KMT members to split off and combine with all the DPP, TSU, PFP, and independent legislators to elect the new speaker.  Think about that coalition for a bit and see if it sounds like it could agree on anything.  I doubt it.  More importantly, which 7 or 8 KMT members are going to break off?  One thing that has been overlooked is that the “Taiwan KMT” legislative caucus is much smaller than it used to be.  Moreover, many of the most senior legislators with leadership capability are no longer in the legislature.  Some of the people who MIGHT (not always clear who belongs where) be considered Taiwan KMT who have left the legislature in the past few years include Lin Yi-shih 林益世, Chung Shao-ho 鍾紹和, Li Fu-hsing 李復興, Huang Chien-ting 黃建庭, Lin Ping-kun 林炳坤, Lin Chien-jung 林建榮, Chiu Ching-chun 邱鏡淳, Liu Chuan-chung 劉銓忠, Hou Tsai-feng 侯彩鳳, Chiang Lien-fu 江連福, Yen Ching-piao 顏清標, and Chiang Yi-hsiung 江義雄.  Some of them retired, some were defeated, and some took other offices.  Regardless, that is a lot of talent and experience that is now missing from the Taiwan KMT.  What’s left?  Perhaps Weng Chung-chun 翁重鈞, Huang Chao-shun 黃昭順, Yang Chiung-ying 楊瓊瓔, Hsu Yao-chang 徐耀昌 and a handful of new or uncharismatic legislators.  That doesn’t look to me like a group with the guts or skill to take on a party leadership that will be invoking draconian party discipline on the speaker vote.

The more interesting question is whether this case will cost the KMT votes.  There are two ways this could happen.  First, Wang has his own personal networks that could refuse to mobilize for the KMT again.  They might even actively work against the KMT to try to show that expelling Wang was a bad idea.  This effect would be limited to a very small segment of the electorate in Kaohsiung.  Second and potentially much more significant, the “Taiwan KMT” could reconsider its loyalties.  Wang was widely seen as the leader of the native wing of the KMT, that vague grouping of people who are ethnic Min-nan, prefer to speak Taiwanese, have a predominantly Taiwan identity, come from central and southern Taiwan, are somewhat earthier, and/or have “complicated” ties with local society (read: local faction politicians embedded in black and gold networks).  Many (mostly green) pundits are arguing that Wang’s purge is a signal to the Taiwan KMT that they are clearly subordinate partners to the dominant Taipei/mainlander/bureaucratic/elite Chinese KMT wing.  Because of this, some people wonder whether the elites and their supporters in the Taiwan KMT will reconsider their support for the blue side and defect to the green side.  This is certainly possible, but I am dubious.  These people have had numerous opportunities to defect over the years, and yet they are still in the broader blue camp.  Unless Ma comes out and explicitly says something to the effect of “you people are not full partners and your Taiwan orientation is illegitimate,” don’t expect them to defect now.  Of course, Ma will say nothing of the sort.  Instead, he rejects the notion that Wang represents anything more than one person.  In Ma’s discourse, this was a regrettable but isolated incident, and the KMT remains a broad tent welcoming people from all corners of Taiwan.  By the time the 2014 and 2016 elections roll around, this will probably once again be the dominant way of thinking within the Taiwan KMT.  In short, I don’t think this purge will trigger much lasting change to the political map, much less a full-scale reorganization of the party system.  If there is any effect, I think it will be marginal.  This ugly factional infighting will be just one more thing in a litany of KMT problems, including the Dapu land case, the recent death of a military recruit, a few corruption scandals, continuing economic stagnation, and now this.  I expect many previous blue camp supporters to be disgusted with the KMT when they vote in 2014 and 2015, but they won’t necessarily be able to tell you which incident was the critical one.  All these things blur together.

If Wang has lost, this doesn’t necessarily mean that Ma has won.  You can’t just purge someone of Wang’s stature and go back to work the next day expecting everyone to pretend that nothing has happened.  The KMT will probably go through an extended internal struggle over the next month or two.  Ma will either emerge hobbled and constrained or dominant within the party.  It’s still not clear how that struggle will unfold and who will be on which side.  So far, only a few KMT figures, most notably the Lien family, have been willing to openly attack Ma for this power play.  However, Ma did very little in this episode to try to package his actions to make them more palatable to the public, and public opinion is running very strongly against Ma.  Likewise, other party elites were shocked and most seemed rather dismayed by this purge.  If we are to believe the media reports, almost none of them had any inkling that Ma was about to ambush Wang.  (The plot was said to be planned by only handful of people, including Ma, VP Wu 吳敦義, Premier Jiang 江宜樺, consigliore King Pu-tsung 金溥聰, King’s man in the presidential office Luo Chih-chiang 羅智強, and the former Foreign Minister Yang 楊進添.  Again, grain of salt.)  Some party elites, like Mayors Hau 好龍斌 and Chu 朱立倫, have accepted the fait accompli and grudgingly expressed support for Ma.  Other, like Mayor Hu 胡志強, have remained silent.  There could be much more to come.  For that, we will just have to wait and see.

One of the points of contention within the KMT may be the extent to which Ma, as party leader, can make decisions for the entire party.  In particular, legislators on the party list are supposed to serve at the pleasure of their party.  If they run afoul of the party, it has the right to take that seat away and give it to someone more reliable.  In democratic theory, parties play a crucial role by restraining individuals from pursuing their own personal gain at the expense of the collective.  Since many members of the party will have to face the electorate at some time in the future, they act to constrain their members from engaging in harmful behavior such as taking unpopular positions on critical issues or taking bribes in order to protect the reputation of the whole group.  If Wang had really damaged the KMT’s reputation by influence peddling, the party would be justified in expelling him.  However, Wang did not seem to run afoul of the collective KMT.  Rather, he ran afoul of one person, Ma.  In making the decision for the entire party based on his personal considerations, Ma seems to have gone far beyond what most members of the party wanted.  Remember, parties are supposed to constrain their members, and Ma is a KMT member.  If he was usurping the party machinery to do something that harms the greater party image (eg: launch a highly visible factional purge), the collective should try to restrain him.

At any rate, Ma has sent a clear message to all KMT party list legislators that they are responsible to him, not to the wider KMT.  This is a departure from past practices.  In the past, list legislators have only been stripped of their seats if they were convicted of a crime or if they blatantly disobeyed party discipline on a very critical issue.  In the former case, it was the courts, not the party, that usually took the seat away.  This case is something new.  Ma has apparently taken Wang’s seat away because of a factional dispute or because Wang was not pushing Ma’s legislative agenda to Ma’s satisfaction.

I have been arguing for a few years that Taiwan’s legislature has a class system, with dominant district legislators and relatively powerless district legislators.  The main exception to this pattern came from senior legislators who decided to take a spot on the party list rather than go through the trouble and expense of winning another district election.  In the future, those senior legislators will have to think twice about whether they should stay in their districts.  If even Speaker Wang was vulnerable, everyone has to worry about whether they might unexpectedly end up on the wrong side of a factional power struggle.  If I were any of the senior list legislators now, I would be thinking very seriously about reopening a few constituency service centers and preparing for a district race.  On the KMT side, I’m looking at Vice Speaker Hung Hsiu-chu 洪秀柱, Pan Wei-kang 潘維剛, Chi Kuo-tung 紀國棟, and Hsu Shao-ping 徐少萍.  In the DPP, Tien Chiu-chin 田秋堇, Wu Ping-jui 吳秉叡, Tsai Huang-liang 蔡煌瑯, and Chen Chi-mai 陳其邁 might be better off running in districts next time.  Of course, if only people who cannot win a district are willing to take list seats, the power gap between district and list legislators will grow larger.  (There were some hints that it had been shrinking after electoral reform; now we may not see these trends develop to fruition.)

What should we expect in the post-Wang legislature?  All the rumors say that the KMT will push for Vice Speaker Hung Hsiu-chu to take over the speaker’s chair.  Hung is a very different person from Wang.  Demographically, she is female, mainlander, and from the Taipei area.  Ideologically, she is clearly part of the Chinese KMT, not the Taiwan KMT.  Her personality is also very different from Wang’s.  She is sharp-tongued and confrontational.  She is often called a “chili pepper” in the media.  She will be a very different speaker than Wang was.  (Casual observers who know only one thing about Taiwan’s legislature – that fighting occurs regularly – might be surprised to learn that it was chaired by a dedicated consensus seeker!  You mean there will be MORE fighting in the legislature in the future??  Yup.)

Frankly, I wonder if there was growing impatience with Wang’s consensual style.  Wang gave the DPP and smaller parties quite a bit of input into how the agenda was set.  I wonder if there was a growing demand in the legislature to rein in some of the individualism or consensualism and run the institution along more majoritarian lines.  I don’t mean that there was any danger within the legislature to Wang’s leadership.  I think he was still extremely popular and most blue camp legislators were stunned and probably somewhat dismayed by recent events.  However, it’s possible that, moving forward, the KMT caucus won’t be entirely unhappy with the new regime.  Let me explain.  As I noted above, the Taiwan KMT wing of the party is much smaller and has weaker leaders than in past years.  Instead, the party is increasingly dominated by the Chinese/northern wing of the party.  Of the KMT’s 64 members, 25 are from Greater Taipei, Taoyuan, and Hsinchu City, and almost all of these belong to the Chinese KMT wing.  A further 16 are on the party list and can be counted on to toe the party line.  A handful of other legislators from districts around Taiwan can also be counted as Chinese KMT.  In all, the Chinese KMT might control as many as 45 or 50 votes in the legislature.  In other words, the current KMT legislative caucus is more narrowly based in the north and more ideologically cohesive than previous caucuses have been.  On the other hand, this is a crude generalization as it still maintains a wide range of opinion on some policy questions, such as nuclear power.  Even if it cannot agree on all policy questions, I think there might be some consensus on the desire to cut the DPP and other smaller parties out of the decision-making process.  I think it is quite possible that the KMT under Speaker Hung will revise some of the organizational laws to allow for more majoritarianism.  While this wouldn’t necessarily be undemocratic in principal – legislatures have the right to determine how they will reach decisions and are constantly moving between more minority rights and more majority control – it might not be a great thing for an already polarized Taiwanese society to see more things forced through the legislature by an already-unpopular president.  Alternatively, she might just use her agenda power as chair to disallow some motions or bills.  In the extreme, she could do what the KMT did a couple of decades ago to pass controversial national security laws: seeing the chaos on the floor, Speaker Liu yelled that legislators would vote yes by standing up and then hammered the gavel down and declared the bills passed.  If the DPP can’t oppose KMT bills through normal legislative procedures, it will react by resorting to more extraordinary tactics, such as interrupting legislative proceedings and street protests.  (On the positive side for me and my colleagues, we might see a lot more roll-call votes if Hung tries to do more things without first getting unanimous consent.  Data!)

So let me try to sum up a bit.  On the one hand, it’s easy to see how this might lead to a more China-friendly government in the short run.  The president has purged a nativist rival and may have cowed others into silence.  At any rate, the KMT legislative caucus has been evolving toward a more pro-China orientation.  If Ma is able to consolidate his power inside the KMT over the next couple of months, he could have quite a bit of leeway to govern as he pleases over the next year or so.  On the other hand, other forces in the KMT might not be so happy with this power play and might be able to encroach on his power within the party to make sure they are not the next casualties.  On the third hand, eventually we will return to electoral politics.  The more radical Ma and the KMT are over the next year or so, the more out of step with the electorate they will become.  I think it is becoming increasingly likely that the DPP will win power in 2016.

One more thing.  Suppose the KMT finds itself out of power in 2017.  When the hardliners in the DPP demand a thorough investigation of corruption in the Ma administration (and there is always something to be found), how many KMT supporters will stand in his defense?  I’m pretty sure it will be fewer now than it was last week.  Ma displayed more ruthlessness this week than I thought him capable of, but political hardball is a dangerous game.  He may have sown the seeds of his own eventual disgrace.

3 Responses to “All the King’s Horses and all the King’s men”

  1. printlessfoot Says:

    I like to share some thoughts on this event’s impact on 2014 election.
    1. After he harshly criticized Ma, Sean Lien will have to run for Taipei mayor in order to protect his family and friends. If Lien wins, Ma will have a young and strong rival in the capital. If he loses but splits blue votes, DPP will win. Either way, Ma has lost Taipei in 2014 already.

    2. The true king-maker in Taichung is Wang (through temple networks). Wang is Ma’s best friend in this region. Ma just doesn’t know it. After this event, Wang will support his own man, who will definitely not be Hu, in 2014. I would cast my vote for a DPP mayor here.

    3. Will Chu seek re-election in New Taipei? He knows that Ma has been suspecting his loyalty. He can choose to be even more submissive than he is now or choose to be very brave and run for Taipei mayor. This makes him very indecisive about his re-election. Such indecisiveness might cost KMT the mayor seat in New Taipei.

    4. Taoyuan Mayor Wu’s father talked about his concern about any ripple effect in Taoyuan. I don’t know if he is thinking along the split line betwen Chinese-KMT and Taiwanese-KMT, which you have a very good analysis of in your post. I agree with you that Ma has made that split line wide open this time. So I am thinking about this. The deep blue Chinese-KMT, many of whom are military families, have a large concentration in Taoyuan. The best ROC mechanized infantry unit is too stationed in Taoyuan. Will Ma trust Wu, who is from an old time Hakka family, to be the mayor in case he wants to declare martial law?

    5. Taipei Mayor Hua has an eye on the top position of Executive Yuan for a long time. The Huas are the one and only one deep deep blue Chinese-KMT military lord. Hua beat Ma’s selection, a Taiwanese-KMT, to win his party nomination. That says that Hua is basicly the only politician that ever beat Ma in any election. Will Ma trade the top executive position with Hua’s support? I think he will (and let the current executive head Chiang run for Taipei mayor). But then Chu will have to stay in New Taipei.

  2. Pat Says:

    At this point – and of course both elections are so far off that all predictions are both hard and fairly meaningless – how do you see the KMT faring in the 2014 and 2016 elections? Do you think they’re on their way to the kind of drubbing the DPP got in 2008? Ma’s approval ratings would indicate that, but the KMT had enough built in advantages that they shouldn’t ever face that kind of loss.

    • frozengarlic Says:

      At this point, I expect the DPP to make clear gains in 2014. I also think the DPP has a better than 50% chance of winning the 2016 elections. However, party voting is strong in Taiwan and the historical patterns have tilt to the blue camp, so don’t expect the DPP to win 58% of the vote as Ma did. Even if the rest of Ma’s term is filled with awful KMT performance, I’m guessing the DPP’s absolute national ceiling is somewhere around 52 or 53%. But that’s still a long way off. We don’t even know who the candidates in the 2014 elections will be yet.

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