Speaker Wang Jin-pyng, the quiet man of Taiwan’s KMT

Wang Jin-pyng, whose rivalry with Ma Ying-jeou has exploded, is seen as a conciliatory figure with friends across the political divide

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 September, 2013, 5:48am

Veteran Taiwanese politician Wang Jin-pyng, regarded by the public as a softly spoken, conciliatory figure and one without enemies, has been a key rival of the island's president, Ma Ying-jeou, since 2005.

Wang, a native of Taiwan's second-largest city, Kaohsiung, in the island's south, was first elected president of the Legislative Yuan in 1999, and has held that position until now. But his position was challenged yesterday after the ruling Kuomintang announced he had been expelled from the party.

A KMT disciplinary panel's decision to revoke Wang's membership of the party, which Ma chairs, marks an escalation of the simmering rivalry between the two leading party figures.

The acrimony dates to at least 2005, when they fought for the leadership of the KMT. Wang tried to thwart Ma's ambition to run for chairman of the party, then in opposition, which in turn would open the way for an attempt at the presidency in 2008. Ma was elected chairman with 72 per cent of the vote.

During the nomination period for the 2008 presidential election, Wang, a three-time Legislative Yuan Speaker, expressed his interest in running for the presidency.

However, Wang finally deferred to Ma and announced publicly that he would not contest the election. The move was seen as a display of loyalty to the KMT to prevent a repeat of the party split in 1999, when veteran KMT politician James Soong Chu-yu unsuccessfully sought the presidency against colleague Lien Chan - a move that also cost Soong his party membership.

Ma was elected president in 2008, and again in 2012. The island's media have reported that Ma was displeased with Wang's recent hesitation to push a series of bills through the Legislative Yuan, including ones that dealt with a referendum on a nuclear power plant and a cross-strait services trade agreement.

Wang was a rare KMT leader - softly spoken and conciliatory, with many friends in the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), largely due to his family background.

He was born into a large land-owning family in Kaohsiung. As a child, he would help his family during harvest season, which provided him with opportunities to meet grass-roots farmers. He credits the rigours of rural life with giving him a positive mental outlook and for keeping him in good physical shape.

As a politician from the DPP's power base in southern Taiwan, Wang's personality helped him to make friends from opposition parties, including DPP lawmakers, who provided crucial support when he was elected president of the Legislative Yuan during the leadership of the DPP's Chen Shui-bian from 2000 to 2008.

Wang became a maths teacher after graduating from the island's Normal University with a bachelor's degree in science in 1965. After completing his mandatory military service, the unassuming young man returned home to work for the family-run food processing business.

In early 1975, he became the founding director-in-chief of the Kaohsiung Industrial Association. The job, which involved travelling throughout the county to inspect members' factories, led to his involvement in politics.

He was invited to run for the KMT when it introduced grass-roots democratic elections in the 1970s. As a KMT candidate who spoke the Taiwanese dialect, he won in a landslide victory, which made him the island's then youngest lawmaker and paved the way for his later political success.

Wang has since been re-elected eight times. From 1976 until 1990, he was a member of the Finance Committee of the Legislative Yuan. In 1990, he was appointed vice-chairman of the Central Policy Committee of the KMT and chairman of the Central Policy Committee's Finance Commission.

Wang became the first director general of the KMT's Committee on Co-ordination between Party and Government and the KMT caucus convenor in the Legislative Yuan in 1992, following the retirement of the original Legislative Yuan members in December, 1991. He was vice-president of the Legislative Yuan from 1993 to 1999.

The 72-year-old veteran is the longest-serving Legislative Yuan president since the KMT introduced democratic reforms for the parliament in 1991.

"I'm afraid that Wang's political career may soon come to an end after he was kicked out by the KMT," said Lin Bao-hua, a Taipei-based political commentator also known by his pseudonym, Ling Feng. "Unlike former KMT veterans Lee Teng-hui and James Soong, Wang is relatively unassertive. Many of his followers will leave him after the KMT abandons him and he loses his political influence - that's the reality of politics."