The Resilience of the Party-State Model

by on 週五, 12 六月 2009 評論
It is now official: from July on, Ma Ying-jeou will add to the position of President of Taiwan, that of Chairman of the Kuomintang (KMT). The move is hardly surprising: Ma has difficulties in controlling his own party; he needs stronger leverage over the parliamentary group, to impose nominees during the next elections, and to make his policies prevail, notably when it comes to relationships with China. Furthermore, presiding over the KMT should allow him, eventually, to meet with Hu Jintao – and such a meeting will be one between two party chiefs, thus putting aside many embarrassing questions about protocol and Taiwan’s international status.

This might be a smart political move – but hardly a laudable one. It shows how resilient remains the model of the Party-State in Taiwan – a stain in an otherwise democratic political culture. Both the Kuomintang and the Chinese Communist Party structures were shaped according to the Leninist model, which draws out a way of controlling and monopolizing power, independently from any ideological content. The Party-State model has even inspired the party that was founded to oppose the Kuomintang’s dominant position, i.e. the DPP. During the time of the Chen Shui-bian‘s presidency, Chen was sometimes the party’s chairman, and sometimes not, according to circumstances. Also, the DPP showed some disquieting signs of trying to substitute itself to the control of the State apparatus as was done previously held by the KMT. Due to the minority position of its internal division on the Legislative Yuan it was prevented from doing so. Its revival and moral status as an opposition party will largely depend on its capacity to fully modernize its political outlook and to further contribute to Taiwan’s democratization. There is no “providential man (or woman)” who will save the DPP and Taiwan by concentrating all powers between their hands, as some supporters still seem inclined to believe.

In a fully democratic culture, a Chief of State should not preside over a political party (though of course he often unofficially retains ultimate control over the one from which he comes.) The Chief of State has to keep the moral capacity of being a referee in times of troubles or national division. Conversely, in a parliamentary regime, the Prime Minister can be the chief of the party holding the majority: a Chief of State, who only enjoys limited powers, still incarnates the State’s legitimacy. This might sound like a formal requirement, but it has profound significance, and the fact that Taiwan’s Presidents are still prone to double-up as party chiefs, is a sad remanent from the political past of the country.

There is another reason to lament the taking-over of the KMT’s chairmanship by Ma Ying-jeou: Clearly, China is in favor of developing party-to-party negotiations. The reconstitution of a Party-State structure, even if mitigated by Taiwan’s otherwise democratic institutions, makes it easier for China to engage Taiwan in a political agreement on its own terms. Should Taiwan play its hand by mimicking the Party-State structure that is at the core of China’s system, or should it remain faithful to the spirit that has made it the most vibrant Asian democracy, and thus continuing to offer to China the insight that comes from its political experiment?

Clearly, the new atmosphere that reigns between China and Taiwan has many beneficial aspects, and is conducive to changes not only for the nature of the cross-strait relationship but also, potentially, on China’s political system. However, there is a question mark about the course on which Taiwan is ready to embark further smoothen the relationship and about the nature of the concessions it is ready to make to that effect. The fact that the Chief of State will become once again Chairman of the KMT is bringing back a strong stench of the past, and is sending the wrong signal.

(Drawing by Li Jinyuan)

Benoit Vermander (魏明德)

Benoit Vermander lives in Shanghai. He teaches philosophy and religious anthropology at the University of Fudan.





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