Comments on Ma Ying-jeou's indictment
aired by NHK World Radio Japan (February 27, 2007)
On 13th February, Taiwan's Prosecutor's office indicted the opposition party leader Mr. Ma Ying-jeou. The Taiwanese politics went into turmoil.
1. It has been two weeks since Mr. Ma Ying-jeou was indicted on charges of corruption. Dr. Ogasawara, first of all, can you tell us about the political career and the background of this figure?
Mr. Ma Ying-jeou was born in Hong Kong in 1950. His father was an official of the Chinese Nationalist Party and his family came to Taiwan after the defeat of civil war in China. Mr. Ma Ying-jeou studied at the Department of Law in Taiwan University. It's an interesting coincidence that Mr. Ma and President Chen Shui-bian are graduates from Taiwan University and from the same department. Mr. Ma then went to the United States of America and got a doctor's degree at Harvard. The subject of his Ph.D. thesis was about the controversial issue of Senkaku islands and he participated in the protest movement against the Japanese government over the sovereignty of Senkaku islands in the 1970s. This episode gives people an impression that Mr. Ma is inclined to anti-Japan.
After returning from the USA, Mr. Ma became the English interpreter for the late President Chiang Ching-kuo. Mr. Ma became a deputy secretary-general of the Chinese Nationalist Party in the 1980s. He was promoted to the Cabinet Minister in the former President Lee Teng-hui's administration when he was forty years old. Looking at his career, we could see Mr. Ma is a typical elite politician of the Chinese Nationalist Party. Mr. Ma has successfully established his image as a clean politician, which is quite unique existence in the Taiwanese politics. He also has an advantage of being a handsome politician and able to attract female votes .
In 1998 Mr. Ma stood for the election of Taipei City Mayor to challenge the incumbent Mayor Chen Shui-bian and he was elected Taipei Mayor. Mr. Ma became a rising star in the Chinese Nationalist Party because he defeated Chen Shui-bian, another star of Taiwanese politics. It's interesting to see what happened with defeated Chen. Mr. Chen lost the job of Taipei City Mayor, so he decided to stand for the Presidential election in the year 2000 and Mr. Chen became President. In the meantime Mr. Ma consolidated his power base within the Party.
In 2005, the Nationalist Party's chairman Mr. Lien Chan stepped down. Mr. Ma fought over the Party chairman against Mr. Wang Jin-pyng. Mr. Wang is another influential figure in the Nationalist Party. Mr. Wang was born in a rural town in the south of Taiwan. He has been the Speaker of the Legislative body for nearly 10 years. Mr. Ma defeated Mr. Wang in the direct poll of party members, by winning 72 percent of the votes. Before he was involved in this scandal, Mr. Ma was obviously in the nearest position to the next President of Taiwan.
2. What kind of conduct led to his indictment?
Governors and Mayors in Taiwan receive special allowance for the spending on public purpose. The regulation of this special allowance is as following; spending of the half of the allowance requires receipts, but the other half requires only the signature of the official. In August last year, some legislators of the Democratic Progressive Party started to accuse Ma Ying-jeou of misusing Mayor's special allowance, which led to the official investigation. According to the prosecutor, Mr. Ma appropriated about 330,000 U.S. dollars from the special allowance while he was Mayor of Taipei. Mr. Ma treated this allowance as if it was additional salary and transferred the money to his wife's bank account.
Mr. Ma's own interpretation is that the special allowance deposited in his personal account had all been used for public welfare services. Mr. Ma said that he donated a huge amount of money (about 2 million U.S. dollars) to the public interests during his tenure as Taipei City Mayor, far more than the special allowance put in his private account. The prosecutor's office also indicted Mr. Yu Wen, former secretary of the Taipei Mayor's office, on charges of forgery in connection with Mr. Ma's case.
3. What sort of influence did this incident have on the opposition Nationalist Party and the ruling Democratic Progressive Party?
This is a serious blow to Mr. Ma himself and his supporters. Mr. Ma had to resign his post as Party Chairman after he was indicted. The Nationalist Party fell into serious trouble. The party's regulation stipulates that the chairman of the party is required to resign if he is prosecuted; it also stipulates that the party cannot endorse a person as a party candidate once he is prosecuted on charge of corruption even before he is found guilty.
At a press conference just after the prosecution, Mr. Ma announced his resignation from Party chairman, but he protested his innocence and declared that he would run for the 2008 presidential election. On that day the party's executive committee held an emergency meeting and changed the regulation to create room for Mr. Ma to be selected as the Party's presidential candidate. At the moment it's not clear whether this hasty decision will really help the Nationalist Party or not.
On the other hand President Chen could take a deep breath. He was in a tight corner because of a series of corruption scandals by his aides and his family member. Even his wife was investigated and eventually indicted on a charge of appropriation. President Chen had been under heavy pressure to resign since June last year. There had been large scale of demonstrations by civic groups to demand the resignation of President Chen in last September and October. Mr. Ma also joined the ranks of this Anti-Chen's movement. President Chen's popularity went down as low as 18 percent. But this pressure was eased, as Mr. Ma was also involved in the corruption scandal.
Now President Chen recovered from the lowest point of his political authority. President Chen restarted to emphasize Taiwan's national identity. Recently the Taiwanese government announced to change the name of some government owned public enterprises. For example, Taiwan's Post Office changed its official name from "China Post Company" to "Taiwan Post Company," and the largest oil refinery company changed it from "Chinese Petroleum Corporation" to "CPC Corporation, Taiwan." These are parts of an undertaking by President Chen's administration to enhance Taiwanese identity.
4. Having seen the situation so far, what are the prospects for Taiwan's political situation with the coming presidential election in March next year?
Taiwan's presidential election has already started, though its polling day is March next year. Both the Democratic Progressive Party and the Chinese Nationalist Party will hold a primary election to choose the presidential candidate for their party. The DPP's primary election will start soon, actually next week, while Nationalist Party's primary will start in April. Among the DPP's politicians, so-called Big Four will throw their hats in the race. Big Four include Prime Minister, former Prime Ministers and Vice President. Although the competition among them will be harsh, I predict that the losers will accept the winner's candidacy.
Trouble lies in the Nationalist Party's primary. Mr. Ma and Mr. Wang will fight for the party's candidacy. But it will coincide with the trial of Mr. Ma's special allowance case. He has to appear in court as the accused. Mr. Ma and Mr. Wang have different backgrounds and draw their support from different political sources. It will be very difficult for them to compromise and accept the other as party's candidate. It's true that Mr. Ma keeps higher rate of popularity, but the corruption scandal will eclipse his popularity. And he gives an impression that he is detached from the grass roots. Mr. Wang retains the rural character of an indigenous Taiwanese. People feel he is easy to approach. Mr. Wang has wider connection in the political circle beyond party line. After the democratization those politicians whose origins are from Mainland China gradually lost political influence. For those who have Chinese identity in Taiwan, Mr. Ma will be their last hope.
5. How is China viewing Taiwan's current political situation?
The Chinese government has been keeping very restrained attitude toward the Taiwan issue. China's official paper People's Daily carries articles almost everyday to criticize President Chen for his inclination toward Taiwan independence and his corruption issues. But the officials of the Chinese government carefully avoid statements that can be regarded as intervention in the election in Taiwan. It's no secret that Beijing wants pro-China politician to become the next President of Taiwan and the person is Ma Ying-jeou.
The day after the indictment of Mr. Ma, a Chinese government spokesperson reiterated that China's policy towards Taiwan would not change. The spokesperson said, "We are willing to talk with any person or any party on developing relations across the Taiwan Straits as long as they admit the one-China policy." I imagine, not only the Chinese government but also the US government fears that this prosecution will enhance the unpredictable nature of the Taiwanese politics even further.
6. How do you think the China-Taiwan relationship will develop?
President Chen will try to implement policies to emphasize Taiwan's national identity to boost his successor in the election campaign. But President Chen's move will be confined to minor changes because he is in no position to amend the Constitution. Beijing of course will be displeased with President Chen's move. But I think that pragmatic deals on minor issues between the two sides will continue. It's also possible that President Chen will lift the ban of Chinese tourist to visit Taiwan. The DPP's supporters consist of two elements; one is fundamentalist who wishes to cut the ties from China. The other is pragmatist who wishes to earn money from closer relation between Taiwan and China. I would guess China's Taiwan experts were astonished by the extent of pluralism in the Taiwanese society. The Chinese government will be keeping a close eye on Taiwan's president election, while refrain from taking any action to interfere in Taiwan's election. Psychological game on both sides will continue.