The Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT) chairmanship election could have been a watershed leading to change and party reform. Regardless of who wins, positive competition and media information would have given the public the impression that the party has changed during its eight years in opposition. It would have both improved the party's image and increased its chances in the year-end mayoral and county commissioner elections.
The reform that was supposed to be the result of the chairmanship election, however, has turned into a drawn-out failure. First, there was the central standing committee's signature drive, and then party members kneeling to implore Chairman Lien Chan (
Taiwan has been democratic for many years, but there are still KMT members that like to play old imperial games.
Will democratic competition within the party tear the KMT apart? Maybe, because such is the temporary pain of reform. Over the long term, however, it will be beneficial to the formation of a superior democratic culture. Look at American democracy, and the Democratic and Republican parties. In the party preliminaries held prior to the presidential election every four years, slander and personal attacks abound. When the results are out, however, the earlier vitriol is abandoned and each party unites.
Both of the KMT's previous two splits have taken place under a patriarchal system. If this chairmanship election abandons democratic procedure for patriarchal leadership, it will be tantamount to democratic regression and will alienate the public.
If Lien stays on to "consolidate the party leadership" as his supporters claim, the competition for the party's presidential candidacy will merely be postponed.
What's more, if Lien wants to stay on, why did he risk being called a communist sympathizer for undertaking his "peace tour" to China at such a sensitive moment, when Beijing had just passed its "Anti-Secession" Law? Turning it around, would stepping aside improve Lien's historical legacy? The answer is yes. Apart from being the first KMT chairman to voluntarily hand over power, he would have laid the foundations for party democracy.
Former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) is called "Mr Democracy," but while he gave Taiwan full-fledged democratic elections, he failed to establish democratic mechanisms within the KMT. Lien's legacy could be to establish a democratic procedure for the chairmanship election.
Since it was unclear if Lien would again run for election, his supporters may have been allowed to engage in their recent activities simply because of his sluggish character or an unwillingness to oppose them. But given the KMT's lack of a democratic culture, deeply rooted in past feudal evils, and the fact that his supporters already have prepared a signature document and the required NT$1 million deposit, Lien could still surprise everyone and register his candidacy before next Wednesday.
If he does, I don't think Ma will be too surprised. Ma -- who said on many occasions that he would not run for Taipei mayor -- will surely be able to make a reasonable excuse for Lien. If Lien runs for re-election, we will have to rely on Ma's determination to establish a democratic culture within the party and break the myth of "consolidated party leadership."