Cablegate: Kmt Chairman Ma Ying-Jeou Forging a New

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

300038Z Dec 05




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. The following cable is an analysis of public
opinion written by one of AIT's senior local employees
in the Press Section. She wrote it based on several
weeks of monitoring talk shows, newspapers and
conversations among her contacts and friends. Rather
than edit it into a traditional reporting cable, we
found it an interesting reflection of opinions
currently held by a large sector of Taiwan's

2. Summary: Opposition KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou, who
took over the helm of the century-old "ossified" party
four months ago, has demonstrated a new and distinct
leadership style since he started campaigning for the
December 3 "3-in-1 elections" of mayors and magistrates
in Taiwan, in which the KMT won a landslide victory.
In contrast to President Chen Shui-bian's mercurial
leadership, Ma's political style is in general gentle,
sober and orthodox; he tends to believe in precedents
and procedures rather than ad hoc arrangements. But
while campaigning for the December 3 elections, the
charismatic "Mr. Nice-guy" adopted some surprising and
unprecedented campaign strategies, which have not only
distinguished him from his KMT predecessors but also
turned him into the toughest challenger to the ruling
DPP. End summary.

3. Despite President Chen's denial that the December 3
"3-in-1" elections were a vote of no-confidence in the
Cabinet or a harbinger of the 2008 presidential
elections, Taiwan's media and observers generally
viewed the elections as a "mid-term report" for
President Chen Shui-bian. Some pro-pan-Blue newspapers
also termed the island-wide elections as a "qualifying
examination" for KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou, since it
was Ma's first battle since he took up the reins
leading the KMT. The KMT's landslide triumph in the
elections indicated Ma had not only passed the exam,
but he had also become the most popular political
heavyweight in Taiwan politics.

4. Ma, a graduate of Harvard Law School, received a
legal education like President Chen. But unlike Chen,
whose lawyerly characteristics are clearly manifested
in his witty reactions, eloquent rhetoric, and the
belief that winning comes above all things, Ma, despite
his popularity, has never been a passionate leader or
good at stimulating the public's fervor. "His speeches
are always safe and stable, seldom inspiring, even when
he addresses people at the grassroots level," a "China
Times" reporter said. Ma's law-abiding character,
clinging to high moral standards, and insistence on
doing things the right way make him an extraordinary
figure in Taiwan's often scandalous political culture.
On the other hand, Ma is often criticized, even by his
now deceased father, for his lack of flexibility and

5. Ma has often been labeled "political Teflon" since
his days as the justice minister in the mid-1990s,
meaning he has often managed to stay above the fray in
Taiwan's back-biting political world. Even though he
now works closely with several staff members, whom the
media call "Ma's army," he is seldom found to be
closely associated with any local business tycoons like
his predecessor former KMT Chairman Lee Teng-hui, or
with any KMT factions, like KMT Legislative Yuan
President Wang Jin-pyng, whom Ma defeated in an open
election for the party chairmanship in July. Ma's
sobriety and reputation for virtue, however, have
generated doubts about whether he has the people and
organizational skills to pull factions together,
motivate supporters at the grass-roots level, and win
island-wide elections.

6. The results of the December 3 elections, however,
gave the public the perception that Ma can be flexible
and even creative if he wants. "Ma's performance has
been quite surprising the entire way since he began
campaigning for the elections," Hsiao Hsu-chen, a
"China Times" reporter said, "because he almost single-
handedly initiated and determined all KMT campaign
strategies." Though it was reportedly not his own
initiative, Ma's announcement a few days prior to the
election that he would step down if the KMT failed to
win a majority of mayoral and magistrate posts
astounded the entire pan-Blue camp, as it has never
been the KMT's tradition to make such a bold move.

7. Ma's willingness to bet his political career and
test his popularity despite the objections of his aides
showed that he has started to forge the daring and
spirited leadership style expected of a party head. Of
greater significance was that this move by Ma changed
the race in Keelung City overnight, in which the two
pan-Blue candidates - KMT and PFP - were originally
running neck-and-neck with each other. Ma's
announcement resulted in a sweeping victory for the KMT
candidate in Keelung City (a 16% difference in votes)
and thereby generated fundamental changes in the
partnership between the KMT and the PFP. Ma has never
been as keen on the merger between the KMT and PFP as
his predecessor former KMT Chairman Lien Chan was. His
insistence on following the institution and making `no
concession to and no swapping with' the PFP during the
campaigns, combined with his soaring popularity
following the KMT's triumph in the December 3
elections, may add clarity to the hazy KMT-PFP
relationship. Ma and PFP Chairman James Soong met
December 12 and reached an agreement to boost
cooperation of the pan-Blue alliance before the two
parties formally merge.

8. Ma's mild image and measured style have given
people, including some DPP officials, the illusion that
he might be easier to deal with than the grim-faced
former KMT Chairman Lien Chan. When Ma was elected KMT
head in August, both President Chen and former DPP
Chairman Su Tseng-chang thought they might be able to
work with the KMT more easily to push for the passage
of certain stalled bills in the Legislative Yuan,
particularly the Special Defense Budget Bill. However,
they were disappointed as they soon discovered that Ma
can be very stubborn, almost to the point of obsession,
regarding procedures.

9. Beijing, too, has found Ma a tough counterpart to
talk with as Ma said firmly in an interview with a Hong
Kong-based media outlet in early November that "both
sides of the Taiwan Strait will not talk about future
re-unification as long as Beijing fails to repent for
its actions in the June 4 1989 Tiananmen Square
massacre." In a separate interview with "Newsweek" in
December, Ma did not mention the Tiananmen Square
incident but said "at the moment, we don't believe that
either side is prepared for unification. The
conditions are really not ripe yet" though, for his
party, "the eventual goal is reunification."

10. Ma has maintained a certain distance from both
former KMT Chairman Lien Chan and PFP Chairman James
Soong, as demonstrated in his insistence on following
the law and refusing to join Lien, Soong and other
outraged pan-Blue supporters in protest outside the
Presidential Office in the wake of the pre-2004 March
20 presidential election shooting, in which Chen
narrowly defeated Lien. His neutral image attracted
centrist voters in Taiwan who despise nasty mud-
slinging between political parties.

11. The fact that Ma continues to show respect to
former President Lee Teng-hui, the spiritual leader of
the Taiwan Solidarity Union, has also made him
attractive to some light-green voters. On the night of
the KMT's victory in the December 3 elections, Ma's
immediate request that pan-Blue voters take the KMT's
victory in stride and his pledge to set up an
"incorruptibility committee" to monitor the elected KMT
mayors and magistrates also helped the KMT's image,
which has often been labeled "ossified" and corrupt in
the past.

12. DPP Premier Frank Hsieh attributed the DPP's major
setbacks in the December 3 elections to the "Ma Ying-
jeou phenomenon" or "Ma Ying-jeou charisma," as some
observers call it. Sisy Chen, a well-known TV talk
show hostess and political commentator in Taiwan, once
compared Ma to Michael Jordan, the former NBA star.
According to Sisy Chen, Taiwan's elections closely
resemble NBA basketball games in the way that voters,
like basketball fans, anticipate seeing heroes or
stars. Ma is such a star.

13. However, Ma faces some potential crises as a party
leader. For one thing, Ma's popularity is mainly about
his personal charisma; it has yet to be transformed
into collective action or teamwork. Ever since Ma
assumed his post as Taipei City mayor, there has been a
constant gap between Ma's approval rating and the
approval rating for the whole city government. Some
critics interpret this gap as indicating Ma needs to
work harder on his management and personnel issues.

14. The KMT party machine remains basically unchanged,
and some doubt whether Ma will be able to carry out his
plans to truly make the party democratic and
transparent or to effect reforms such as disposing of
controversial KMT party assets. If the KMT fails to
reform under Ma's leadership, he may quickly descend
from his current pedestal. Ma also faces the
challenges of ridding the KMT of its corrupt, "black-
gold" image, truly mobilizing the grassroots pan-Blue
supporters, and unifying the entire pan-Blue camp,
especially the older generation of KMT members who may
be less inclined to support party reforms. Also, as
Mainland Affairs Council Joseph Wu pointed out in
Washington in early December, Ma has yet to clearly
state his position with regard to some major national
issues, such as Taiwan's sovereignty and self-defense.
As a rising star expected to represent the pan-Blue
camp in the 2008 presidential election, Ma's true tests
may still lie ahead.


© Scoop Media

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