Mon, Jul 12, 2004 - Page 8 News List


KMT learning from mistakes

The current internal power struggle in Beijing for control of the Central Military Commission is an interesting contrast to the current dilemma faced by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) leaders in Taiwan.

Both the Chinese Communist Party and the KMT are organized loosely around Marxist-Leninist ideology, which may be characterized as rather rigid and authoritarian. Thus the ability of these parties to adapt and to retain their legitimacy is being tested, but in two very different environments.

On the one hand, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is again locked in a bitter internal feud to see which faction -- the one led by Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) or his predecessor, Jiang Zemin(江澤民), knows what is best for the people. It seems like these internal power struggles are periodic events that often result in social upheavals, such as the Cultural Revolution or the Tiananmen Square Massacre. It is a competition where the elite use personal connections to jockey their cronies into key positions and thus win power and influence. No wonder corruption and nepotism are self-acknowledged to be rampant -- these methods are precisely how an authoritarian system operates to select its leaders.

The KMT's problems are organizational. After democratization, they believed that by staying the same course they have steered for the past 50 years, they could hold onto power in the same illiberal way as the Liberal Democratic Party has done in Japan or the Institutional Revolutionary Party in Mexico. They assumed that people crave continuity and fear change, not realizing that once voters saw that the world didn't end with the election of President Chen Shui-bian(陳水扁), they would now actually have to develop competitive platforms and policies as in a true liberal democracy.

Even after being beaten several times at the polls, however, the same tragic human lust for power has allowed a clique of leaders to hinder the much-needed party reform process. KMT Chairman Lien Chan, or "Big brother Lien," as his followers have nicknamed him, and PFP Chairman James Soong have not grasped the dynamic change that Taiwan and its people have undergone, making them dinosaurs on the democratic landscape.

But there is hope for the KMT as internal grumbling and external failure has awoken many to the need for reform. By changing to meet the needs of the people they hope to represent, they will also offer hope for a vibrant democracy built on multiparty competition.

As Samuel Huntington once pointed out, while democracies may sometimes seem loud and unruly, they are in fact the most stable political systems because people can find non-violent outlets for their demands. Street protests in Taiwan are not a sign of weakness, but rather of the system working properly.

But on the other side of the strait, tired CCP officials try to pass off oligarchy for "democratic centralism" and attempts to legitimate their ideologically bankrupt regime on the dated notion of pan-Chinese nationalism. The KMT is learning that the lack of intra-party openness leads to poor electoral outcomes. In the same way, neither the international community nor the people of Taiwan will trust China as long as its internal politics are mired in oblique backroom power struggles closed to public accountability.

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