Lawrence Eyton, one of the most perceptive of Taiwan watchers, writes in the Asia Times on Ma’s victory:

Ma was widely touted by the media as the favorite, but he was certainly a very odd favorite. When the vote took place, three quarters of the party’s legislators, many high-level party officials such as central executive committee head Chang Che-shen and more than 100 retired generals - the KMT is traditionally strong in the military - had thrown their support behind Wang. The party ruled Taiwan, often brutally, for 55 years until losing power in 2000.


What made the argument bitter was that the vast majority of the 300,000 members in good standing were expected to vote for Ma, since he is a mainlander, his father being one of those who followed Chiang Kai-shek into exile in Taiwan in 1949. Most of the 300,000 were old, conservative and mainlanders themselves. They would never trust a native Taiwanese like Wang with the KMT chairmanship, particularly after the previous Taiwanese chairman, Lee Teng-hui, turned out to be an apostate toward everything the KMT holds dear - the “sacred goal” of the unification of China and the party’s mainland heritage under Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek.

On the other hand, many of the remaining members - those not “in good standing” - were Taiwanese and lukewarm at best to the KMT’s Chinese nationalism, though remaining in the KMT because for many years it simply made opportunistic sense. Restricting the franchise would therefore give the election to Ma. Opening it up was thought at the time to be giving it to Wang.

and after noting Ma’s repeated rejection of the “one country, two systems” approach of China, offered this very interesting twist:

In this respect, given that Ma will almost certainly be the KMT’s presidential candidate in 2008 and that he stands a good chance of winning the election, some of the less extreme Taiwan independence advocates are almost looking forward to this. They argue that just as only anti-communist former American president Richard Nixon could open the US door to China in the mid-1970s, therefore perhaps only a mainlander unificationist can express in a way that Beijing has to listen to the reasons why more than 80% of Taiwanese do not support unification, either now or in the future.

I think it is much too early to hope for something like this. Ma is weak and his power base is simply popularity, which can disappear at the slightest misstep. First Ma has to plant his people in key KMT positions and carry out reforms. Then he has to get elected. The pattern for Presidencies is that failure at home is compensated for by misadventures abroad. If Ma manages to get elected in 2008, a strong possibility, then reform of the KMT may whither and die as the Party resumes power. Then Ma may alter his China stance in order to “make progress”….