The recent meeting and 10-point consensus reached between President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) has raised the ire of many in Taiwan's political scene, most notably dyed-in-the-wool pan-greens and the diehard pro-China lobby.
But one major outcome of this pact that most people have tended to overlook is that it has led to the increased marginalization of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).
Indeed, it seems the once-mighty nationalist party now finds itself as far away from the center of power as ever. The last five years have seen one disaster after another for the KMT, as first power slipped from their grasp, they suffered a damaging split and lost many members to the PFP; then we saw the highly partisan anti-blue Party Assets Bill legislation.
The party has also gradually reversed previous localization policies, realigning itself with the pro-China faction. These are just a few examples of how the KMT has regressed and alienated itself from the people during Chairman Lien Chan's (連戰) lethargic leadership. And now the co-operation between the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and PFP, which threatens to relegate the KMT to the status of the least important party in the legislature.
All these events, combined with the current cashflow crisis, raise the question that just a few years ago would have seemed improbable. Could this be the beginning of the end for the KMT?
The first thing needing examination is the relationship between the KMT and Taiwan today. As it stands, the KMT is a party-state, without a state.
Unfortunately for the people of Taiwan, that has created a bunch of pompous, lifelong autocrats who have no idea how to behave in opposition. Instead of forming an effective opposition that challenges and examines the government's actions, they choose to delay, disrupt, and destroy any efforts the democratically elected government makes to improve things for Taiwan. Then it behaves like a spoilt child whose toys are taken away when it cannot get what it wants.
But can one expect anything better from a party with Lien as leader? A man who has never been popularly elected for any position, a man who still refuses to admit defeat in last year's election and a man who is so desperate for success that he treats coming second in the legislative elections as a victory, even though he ignored the fact that all the gains made were at the expense of the pseudo-KMT -PFP.
As a measure of how aloof and out-of-touch Lien and his party are with the electorate, one only needs to look at their reaction to the Bian-Soong meeting. It was suggested that the party reproach the Chinese Communist Party.
Stripped of the power it took for granted and overall control of the state, the KMT is a party in crisis. After it lost the cash cow it milked as a main source of income over the last 50 years, it cannot even afford to pay staff wages on time, or even give them a New Year's bonus.
Mass layoffs are in the pipeline with volunteers expected to fill vacant posts. Its members now have to learn new skills, like calculating which policies will appeal to voters, instead of calculating how much to pay them, and how to create policies that people will like, instead of dictating policies they won't.
But change is slow, they are finding it hard to reform and change the stagnant system that developed during 50 years of unchallenged superiority. Reminders of this corrupt legacy still lie uncomfortably around the Taiwanese landscape, the biggest example of this is the party's headquarters, built opposite the Presidential Office -- as if to signify that the leader of the state would never have far to commute from home to office.
Luckily, for the people of Taiwan who cherish democracy and crave a mature political system, it could be just a matter of time before the KMT goes the way of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) himself. Hardcore pro-China KMT support is aging, their numbers are slowly diminishing and with them will go Taiwan's history of one-party politics.
However long these people stay in Taiwan they will always consider themselves Chinese, and no one can blame them. However, one can blame them for their unstinting faith in that dictatorial, fascist regime, and their unwillingness to believe the truth about such incidents as 228 and other sad episodes in Taiwan's recent history.
There are also many middle-aged ethnic Taiwanese who after a lifetime of indoctrination and brainwashing actually believe there is no viable alternative to the blue camp. The mind-numbingly repetitive mantra of cross-strait stability, economic growth and eventual unification with the motherland is all they need to comfort them.
Even China's increasingly threatening behavior seems unable to wake them from their Chiang-induced coma. But hope springs eternal. Since martial law was lifted, the young people of Taiwan have been busy developing a Taiwanese consciousness, forming their own opinions from a free domestic press and international media. Even the offspring of some mainlanders have developed so.
Former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) did his best to reform this blue behemoth and attempted to localize, but he met stubborn resistance and change proved to be difficult. When his position became untenable, he did his best to destroy it, by tarring Soong's reputation, splitting the support, and installing the hapless Lien as his successor.
Five years under his tenure has seen the KMT languish and now it has reached a crucial crossroads that may ultimately determine its future. The Chen-Soong summit will further divide blue support.
Many in the KMT will never forgive Soong for his still inexplicable cooperation with the DPP, and so it is highly unlikely that he will be welcomed back into the fold in the near future. For the greens, once the initial furor has died down this could turn out to be a masterstroke by Chen, especially if he manages to permanently divide the blue camp and their vote.
The upcoming battle to succeed Lien will decide the KMT's future one way or the other. Stick with Lien's China cronies and the party will only further alienate itself from most people, and this will surely spell the end of the road. Whereas go for generational change under the leadership of pin-up boy Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), or re-localize under Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-ping (王金平), and there may be a chance to rescue some electoral credibility. Those who wish to see the party survive and thrive need to think carefully.
They need to select a leader who will lead them forward and not sit around stagnating in the 50-year-old civil war defeat and sour grapes. But the leadership battle along with most KMT tradition -- is not as democratic as it seems, so it will be interesting to sit back and watch which road they decide upon.
Watching the KMT's "319 Truth Rally," it was apparent how anti-democratic this party really is. China recently passed its "Anti-Secession" Law, authorizing war with Taiwan, and the KMT is still locked in the past, protesting the election it lost a year ago. Taiwan is being cornered and bullied by China and the KMT still focuses only on itself. The rest of the country has moved on.
Accepting political realities, President Chen has backed off from moving toward independence and has shown himself to be responsible. Soong has decided to work with -- ?as opposed to against -- ?Chen and has signed an agreement with Chen. And what of the KMT? A year after the presidential election, Lien still hasn't resigned and the KMT still hasn't accepted its loss. What a total disregard for democracy. Every KMT rally has two focal points. One is that "A-Bian" stole the election and the other is that the KMT is the rightful ruler of Taiwan. Look how their supporters drape the nation's flag all over themselves like it is the sole property of the KMT.
It is time the people stand up and tell the KMT leadership that they? -- the KMT -- are no longer the rulers of Taiwan. It is time the KMT is reminded that the Republic of China flag is not KMT property and it is fair for all parties to use it. Seeing the KMT's disdain for elections (the ones they lose) and disregard for democracy and rule of law, I wonder what will happen the next time the KMT holds office and loses. Will they fight the election result and refuse to vacate? Will they organize mobs in front of the Presidential Office to protect themselves from "unfair" elections that they have lost?
Taiwan desperately needs a reformed and democratic KMT to provide the checks and balances that all democracies need to function. Sadly, it seems the KMT of today is little different than that of the martial law era.
At first blush, the KMT organization and development committee's insistence that members must pay their membership fees to vote in the upcoming election for party chairman sounds reasonable. Party members should pay membership fees for the privilege of voting for their chairman ("KMT deadlocked on votes for non-paying members" March 24, page 3).
But when one looks deeper, only 37 percent of the 1.1 million KMT members are current in their fee payment, and of those, a large majority are Chinese civil war veterans, government officials or are over 65 years old. They are either exempted from paying party dues or their local party chapters pay discounted fees on their behalf. Should these members also be ineligible to vote since the purpose is to have members pay their dues?
The KMT says that it wants to be open and transparent in its affairs, yet the party leadership keeps postponing the decision on the matter in hopes that supporters of the two candidates can reach a compromise for the sake of party unity.
Disputes should be resolved by the vote of the party's Central Standing Committee. That is the democratic and preferred way in an open society. Instead, it seems the KMT leadership prefers backroom deals so that a facade of unity is presented.
They just don't get it. How then, can they hope to reform and modernize their party?
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