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Protests and infighting may sting Taiwan's Kuomintang party in elections, analysts say

Public distrust will test President Ma Ying-jeou's party in November's local government poll

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 April, 2014, 11:42am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 April, 2014, 5:02pm
 

Infighting and the impact of Taiwan’s student-led protests will take their toll on the ruling Kuomintang party in upcoming local government elections, according to analysts.

If the century-old party fails to learn lessons from the three-week-long protests and step up reforms to regain the public’s trust, President Ma Ying-jeou’s party may even lose the presidential election in 2016, the analysts warned.

“One major impact of the Sunflower movement can be seen in November’s elections,” said National Taiwan University political science Professor Wang Yeh-li.

That month, voters will elect the mayors of five major cities, magistrates, township heads and councillors at various levels.

The student-led movement seriously eroded young people’s perception of the governing party, which will need the support of young and first-time voters, Wang said.

More than 500,000 citizens rallied outside Ma’s office late last month to support some 200 students who blockaded parliament to oppose the ratification of a services trade pact that Ma signed with Beijing last June.

Fearing the pact would cost thousands of jobs and put Taiwan under stronger mainland control, the students occupied the parliament chamber on March 18, sparking more street rallies and forcing Ma’s government to agree to protesters’ demands.

On April 10, the government agreed to pass legislation to increase scrutiny of future cross-strait agreements to protect Taiwan’s interests.

The ruling party, of which Ma is chairman, has been criticised for poor crisis management and for failing to heed public voices more quickly. Pundits and the media say the protests reflected the conflict between the youth and the old guard.

“Worst of all, a divided KMT will face off with a united DPP [Democratic Progressive Party] at the year-end polls,” said George Tsai-wei, a political science professor at the Chinese Culture University in Taipei.

Shortly after the protests, on April 14, DPP chairman Su Tseng-chang and former premier Frank Hsieh Chang-ting withdrew from the race for party chairman next month. They made way for 55-year-old former chairwoman Dr Tsai Ing-wen, to avoid a three-way fight that could divide the party.

Ma vowed at a recent party meeting to fast-track major reforms within the party, calling for greater interaction with the youth through a series of forums aimed at regaining their support.

But it is party infighting that may seriously cost the Kuomintang in the upcoming elections.

Ma’s calls for greater party unity ahead of the elections were questioned by some Kuomintang lawmakers.

“If the chairman really wants to unite the party, he should have dropped the lawsuit against [House] Speaker Wang [Jin-pyng],” said Luo Shu-lei.

Accusing Wang of influence-peddling, Ma instructed last September that the ruling party expel Wang so that he would lose his legislator-at-large status and, subsequently, the speaker’s post.

Wang allegedly "meddled" in a DPP lawmaker's breach of trust case by urging prosecutors not to appeal that lawmaker's acquittal. 

Wang mounted a successful legal challenge which got the case dismissed for lack of direct evidence. Local media have described it as a power struggle between Ma and the politically influential Wang, which has intensified infighting within the party.

Ruling on Ma's lawsuit, a district court ruled that Wang should remain as the speaker. Ma recently appealed the decision.

Wang had been influential in brokering a compromise agreement with the student protesters who occupied parliament, promising legal safeguards for future cross-strait pacts.

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