Unopposed Ma needs large turnout to 'solidify' power

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 July, 2013, 5:19am

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou seems certain to be re-elected tomorrow as head of the Kuomintang for a second term, but senior officials are concerned turnout for the poll may be low.

Ma is running unopposed, after the withdrawal of his sole opponent earlier this month. But he has nonetheless seen his popularity falter in local opinion polls, a reflection of feelings about his administration's performance, in particular its ability to tackle Taiwan's struggling economy.

"A high turnout is necessary to consolidate [Ma's] leadership within the party," a senior KMT official said yesterday, declining to be named. "It also reflects the level of members' support for him, which can help facilitate the chairman in pushing through party reform and the government's policies."

The poll, to be held this weekend during the party's national congress, will determine the KMT's next four-year chairman. A total of 380,000 members of the party are eligible to vote - a 24 per cent drop compared with the election four years ago. The KMT has more than a million members, but only those who have paid membership dues for the last five years are eligible to help pick the party's chairman.

There's no contest this time, however. Hsieh Kun-hung, a KMT Central Standing Committee member, decided on July 3 not to contest a party decision to disqualify him from running because he did not get enough endorsements of his bid.

The unnamed official said senior party members want to see Ma secure at least 80 per cent of the turnout, if not the 93 per cent he garnered in 2009. A turnout of "73 per cent would be considered subpar," the official said, alluding to the 72.4 per cent that Ma captured during his victory in 2005 against legislature speaker Wang Jin-pyng.

KMT leaders are allowed to serve two full terms. Ma was first elected chairman in 2005, but he quit after less than two years amid corruption allegations related to his time as mayor of Taipei. He was later cleared of the allegations. Despite technically being elected chairman twice, after again winning in 2009, the party decided that Ma was still eligible to run this year because he never finished his first term.

Hsieh, who claimed that the party treated him unfairly when considering his eligibility to run for chairman, initially demanded a halt to the election, but he later withdrew his demand "for the sake of party unity".

"Whatever the outcome might be, the party's reputation would undoubtedly be damaged if I insisted on taking legal action in order to secure my candidacy," he announced on July 3.

Analysts said "party unity" was a key theme in the chairmanship election this year amid growing dissent over Ma's leadership among some KMT stalwarts, the younger generation and grass-roots members.

"The weekend poll is not only seen as a vote of confidence in Ma, but it also reflects [whether] the party is unified enough to face upcoming challenges such as the local government elections next year and the presidential election in 2016," said Hsu Yung-ming, an associate professor of political science at Soochow University in Taipei.

In a campaign event on Tuesday, three KMT bigwigs - Taipei mayor Hau Lung-bin, New Taipei mayor Eric Chu and Taichung mayor Jason Hu - backed Ma's candidacy.

They urged KMT voters not to think of the poll as being entirely about Ma, and stressed its role in boosting the party's momentum going into future elections.

An emotional Ma was also quoted by local media at Tuesday's event as saying that he believed he had done a lot for the people of Taiwan, but that he had still failed to win the support of many people.

He also stressed the importance of party unity and said that close ties between the KMT and the island's government were needed to push through government policies.