Beware the Lame Duck

lameMuch has been written, even on the Chinese Nationalist (Kuomintang, or KMT) website, about Ma Ying-jeou as a lame-duck president. With his approval ratings in the basement, a cross-Strait political agenda—I say political here because, let’s face it, Taiwan’s “economic integration” with China, conducted at the hands of the (not “pro-status quo” but rather) pro-unification KMT, is very much politically motivated—reaching what appears to be the end of its tolerance domestically, and seemingly constant domestic controversies, it appears as though Ma’s days as a wielder of power on Taiwan and even within the KMT are numbered. (Perhaps they are already over?)

But journalists and analysts should beware of labeling him and his administration—and his party—anything but sunk politically. From a constant barrage of ideological and politically biased responses to various social movements—blaming, for example, the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) for the Sunflower Movement—to a shadowy yet no less real quite authoritarian grip on all major institutions, political and otherwise, on Taiwan, the KMT and Ma Ying-jeou still have a great deal of power at their disposal vis-à-vis society at large as well as the utterly impotent and arguably irrelevant political opposition to do basically whatever they desire at virtually any time they desire it. That is, of course, once “political oversight,” also known as voting, is done.

The criticisms of the Sunflower Movement and the hundreds of thousands—and probably millions—of its supporters reflect this. Voting still matters to the KMT so long as one shuts one’s mouth and puts one’s head down after the ballots are (bought and) counted. (And let’s be honest: both sides buy votes.*) “Show your disapproval at the ballot box,” retort the KMT talking heads. “If you’re unhappy—well!—you voted for us! You are to blame!” “Social movements are anti-democratic,” retort others, “because they interfere with the workings of democratic governance. Show your disapproval at the ballot box if you want to be ‘good democrats’.”

I’ll leave my own criticisms of voting and “democratic governance” for another post sometime in the future. Suffice it to say that if this is the Ma administration and KMT’s response to any and every show of disapproval, then Taiwanese have much to fear from a lame-duck president, particularly if he and the KMT believe the DPP may regain the presidency in 2016. Taiwanese have much to fear, that is, after the 2014 county and municipal elections, of course, because to be too provocative too close to potential “demonstrations of public disapproval” might prove fatal politically (although I don’t ever rule out the potential for a Thailand-like military [read KMT-controlled military apparatus] coup in Taiwan; call me an extremist).

A president—nay, a politician, any politician—unconstrained is a politician irresponsible. This is not an “if, then” statement; it is essentially tautological. Political leaders do not fight tooth and nail through the political orders and echelons in countries to “give back to the people” or to serve at the “benefit of all.” But beyond my own cynicism with regard to politicians and diatribes against them, we can also state this much: the KMT is not a practical, pragmatic, “realist” good guy fighting against the “troublemaking, extremist, idealistic” independence movement. There really is no middle ground in Taiwan politically even though a large portion of the population is quite satisfied with Taiwan’s de facto independence, as countless polls have shown. But between parties, extremism—probably for political points and to gain the support of party bases, which are always portrayed as extreme—exists.

But I think it is quite clear that over the past few years, especially since Lien Chan visited China to undermine and isolate Chen Shui-bian in 2005, the true colors of the KMT have shone through. Ma Ying-jeou’s presidency thus far ought to confirm this. The KMT will undermine the wills of a large portion of Taiwan’s population to close the gap between Taiwan and China. I have argued before among friends, colleagues, and even professors, that the only trustworthy group that could move relations with Beijing forward would be a Nixon-like character within the DPP. But even though some DPP members have floated ideas regarding the elimination of support for Taiwan’s de jure independence from China from the DPP’s party charter, the DPP has yet to do this (and let’s just say right here that this would probably confirm the DPP’s irrelevance politically on Taiwan because the the DPP and KMT would become virtually the same party under different names) and I highly doubt the People’s Republic of China (PRC) would deal with the DPP under any circumstances. But I might be surprised.

The county and municipal elections this year will be a litmus test for popularity among or between parties—or at least that’s how it will be portrayed. The power party, the KMT, will be up against the marginally relevant and essentially impotent opposition DPP. Support the KMT’s “integration” (read “unification”) agenda with China or the DPP’s “independence” agenda. Which party is the ideological antagonist and which is the pragmatic protagonist? Well, the KMT has been portrayed as the former and the DPP the latter for so long, especially in Western (read American) media that one would think the answer a foregone conclusion. But it isn’t. In reality, the KMT is the ideological player placing all its chips on the China card; it is, as my pro-blue friends and colleagues repeat ad nauseum, the only true and rightful government of all of China (including Mongolia, let’s not forget). Unification—or, as they like to say, “re-unification”—is “inevitable.” (Ah, yes, “inevitable”: that word that historian A.J.P. Taylor put into such great [completely ideological] context.)

On the other side is the “ideological” but far more realistic DPP. Taiwan is already independent. It is only under Ma’s administration that Taiwan has been a forced supplicant to Beijing. Otherwise, Taiwan answers to no higher authority (although Beijing and Washington occasionally put their feet down). In a perfect world, Taiwan could be independent and would be independent. But this is not a perfect world. Taiwan’s position is precarious. But Taiwan could be, can be, and should be independent by law.

And here is where one ought to beware the lame duck. After the 2014 elections, President Ma has no constraints on his will, and the KMT may be able to use an unpopular and unconstrained ideologue to push forward its ideological agenda without any further potential “demonstrations of public disapproval” (i.e., elections) getting in the way. They have not shunned the use of force against peaceful protesters, nor will they. Force is too useful—and too necessary—for the tyrant to renounce. And only the KMT, let’s forget, could use force in such a situation. A president unconstrained by concerns for public approval and a political party unconstrained by further elections and concerned about its ability to retain the presidency in 2016 might be pushed to the only “pragmatic” conclusion. What that might be is anyone’s guess, and I leave it for the reader to speculate.

Suffice it to say that a polity without the means of protecting itself from its masters and reduced to sitting peacefully while its masters bash their skulls in is not a polity; it is a subservient mass of meat heading to the grinder. I don’t ask people to “wake up” because I know that what they might “wake up” to and the conclusions they may draw might be far different from my own, and that is perfectly acceptable in a free society. To plead with someone to “wake up” and to attempt to force them to see one’s own point of view is antithetical to individual liberty. I simply ask others to think if they so desire and hope they may desire.

And these words I give readers to think on if they so desire: a politician—nay, a political group—unconstrained is one irresponsible. Beware the lame duck.

*[Update]: Several readers have taken issue with this statement, calling it “[ir]responsibl[e]” since the vast majority of reported vote buying has been done by the KMT and its candidates (84% of all cases, by some reports) in recent elections. I hesitate to alter original content unless there are grammatical and/or typographical errors; hence, this appears as a footnote. The original content states that both sides buy votes, not that both sides do so equally. To add clarity to this statement, I submit this is quantifiable fact, as is the original content (i.e., that both sides buys votes). I apologize for my part in the misinterpretation of the meaning here, although I will also submit that (mis-)interpretation is also the burden of the reader. I appreciate the criticism, although I do hope that future relevant and constructive criticism can be posted as comments below respective posts. Thank you.