Mon, Nov 17, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: KMT adapts to win back voters

Nine years ago one of this newspaper's editorial board members was fired from a paper for committing the heresy -- according to the newspaper's Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) old-guard owner -- of suggesting that the KMT was intellectually bankrupt and was overcoming this by first denouncing then adopting the policies of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). As the editorial pointed out, anybody who had been following the fortunes of various reform proposals -- abolition of the Temporary Provisions, the re-election of the National Assembly and the legislature, the end of the black list and direct presidential elections -- could see a clear pattern where the DPP would start a campaign, the KMT would thunderously denounce it, then about two years later it would push through the proposal itself and reap kudos for its liberalizing vision.

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose. On Saturday the KMT, with much fanfare, came up with its vision for constitutional change after, we assume, a debate over just how much of the DPP's program it could adopt without incurring derision. Of the 10 major elements to the plan announced by Lien Chan (連戰), we note that the adoption of a fully presidential system -- i.e. making the president the leader of the Cabinet and reducing the premier to his chief of staff -- changing the Constitution by means of a referendum, changing the voting system for legislative elections, reserving a comparatively higher proportion of public posts for women, lowering the voting age and making the armed forces all voluntary, are ideas that have been appearing in DPP policy documents since the early 1990s.

It is interesting to note just how many of these policies the KMT has until very recently opposed. It has thundered against referendums like an evangelist against sin; it has tried to use the "semi-presidential" system to manipulate power in the legislature into a grasp on the reins of government; it showed no interest in changing the voting system when it had the power to do so nor in lowering the voting age, largely because the current system benefits the KMT's corrupt money politics and the party has always believed that young people are fodder for the green camp.

But just because we have heard these ideas before, elsewhere, doesn't mean that nothing happened on Saturday. But what? That depends how charitable you want to be. We could deride the KMT as being intellectually vacuous. And we could sneer at the party's idea of rolling policy unveilings to put some oomph into its campaign. If the KMT is just going to copy the DPP, then why bother with what it has to say? But let us instead be a little charitable. For what Saturday really told us is that the KMT is beginning to realize that, to win power, it cannot rely on the contemptible canaille who thrill to the memory of Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國). Instead it has to attract mainstream Taiwanese voters, and to do this it has to offer them what they want -- referendums, a less corrupt electoral system and an end to bickering over constitutional powers. For the last three years the KMT has been relevant to the political life of Taiwan only via the blue camp's blocking tactics in the legislature and the KMT's advocacy of policy priorities seemingly drawn up in Beijing. Its rejection of former shibboleths in favor of policies which are overwhelmingly popular with voters -- even if the DPP did think of them first -- shows the KMT is taking stock of itself, trying to recover its mainstream political relevance and that it at last understands whose support -- that of the middle-of-the-road "floating" voter -- it so desperately needs if it is to regain power.

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