Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou has held a series of closed-door meetings with Kuomintang lawmakers in an effort to cool simmering discontent over his bid to oust legislative speaker Wang Jin-pyng.
Since Monday, the president, who also serves as KMT chairman, has met some 65 members of Taiwan's ruling party to explain his response to allegations that Wang interfered in a criminal case against another prominent legislator.
Ma, whose popularity has sunk to a historic low of 9 per cent amid the controversy, has also appealed to the public for understanding, saying during one television interview that Wang's expulsion was something that "must be done as it concerns what is right and what is wrong".
The KMT's disciplinary panel voted to strip Wang of his party membership last week over allegations he lobbied the then-justice minister to drop an appeal in a criminal breach-of-trust case against Democratic Progressive Party whip Ker Chien-ming.
The move effectively removed Wang as speaker, since he relied on the KMT's recommendation for his "at-large" legislator status, and he turned to the courts in a bid to preserve his political career. The island's High Court agreed on Wednesday to hear an appeal filed by the KMT against a lower court's decision that allowed him to keep his party membership.
Ma's confrontation with Wang threatens to drive a rift within the party, since the speaker has long been a leading rival of Ma's in the KMT.
A KMT lawmaker who attended one of Ma's damage-control meetings this week said the president sought to quiet concerns that his actions were politically motivated. Ma said he was shocked when Prosecutor General Huang Shih-ming informed him of the influence-peddling allegations earlier this month.
"The president told us it was purely unexpected and left him with no choice but to take action," said the lawmaker, who declined to be named.
Some lawmakers said Wang could have merely been expressing concern for Ker when he was caught on wiretap discussing the case with former justice minister Tseng Yung-fu. But Ma argued he could not ignore the evidence. "The president said this was why he had to make that painful decision," the legislator said.
Wang has said that he only sought to remind Tseng about the legislature's opposition to wasteful and unnecessary criminal prosecutions. Some KMT veterans, such as former chairmen Lien Chan and Wu Poh-hsiung, have suggest that Ma and Wang hold talks to end the dispute.