As the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) did not emerge victorious in the Dec. 9 Kaohsiung mayoral election, complaints that the KMT is not sufficiently localized have re-emerged. There have even been suggestions that KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), as well as the party headquarters, should relocate to Kaohsiung.
The localization debate that has long hampered the party is back on the agenda. It is interesting, however, that whenever the KMT performs badly in elections in the south, it is easily explained away by saying that the party is not yet sufficiently localized. But no one ever gives any thought to what localization really means or how it expresses itself. Is it enough to join in the calls for localization to win votes?
Over the past decade, localization (本土化) has been used as a tool by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to manipulate voters, placing a narrow focus on Hoklo Taiwanese. This is exclusionary and has led to a chilling atmosphere where not agreeing with the narrow focus on Hoklo Taiwanese has been equated to not identifying with and not loving Taiwan. This has been crucial to the DPP performing consistently well in elections in the south.
The KMT could not come up with a counterstrategy to localization. Even when the KMT proposed good policies, it could not compete with the brewing localization issue and every single policy suggestion was distorted into an attempt to sell out Taiwan. Under these circumstances, joining in the calls for localization only meant that the KMT lost track of its original values and spirit.
Are southern voters only concerned with localization issues when deciding who to vote for? That would be to underestimate their judgment.
For the KMT, the key to emerging victorious in the south is talent rather than whether the party is localized. That is, the KMT has to look for and train talented young people who have not been touched by local factional politics in order to bridge the gap.
I also believe that the KMT should be able to redefine the meaning of localization so that it can signify concern for the homeland and to turn the "birthplace competition" into a competition of values and simply, clearly and loudly explain what it means to care for one's homeland.
As the largest metropolis in southern Taiwan, Kaohsiung is composed of various ethnic groups who already regard themselves as Kaohsiung residents and Taiwanese who already have local roots. Local integration of ethnic groups is thus a more appropriate term than the narrow localization concept.
The Kaohsiung mayoral election results show that the electorate is evenly divided between the KMT and the DPP and that swing voters will be crucial in determining the outcome of elections. In the eyes of many voters, the KMT remains a political bully. This image must be thoroughly overhauled -- and this includes the rejuvenation of the party, new electoral strategies and paying attention to the debate on social advancement and so on. The KMT has been in opposition for six years. Though it has, to a degree, been successful in its reforms, some voters still do not see it as a clean party.
The KMT needs to remain true to its beliefs, sort out its ideas, clarify its values, present a new vision for Taiwan and combat corruption. It should not fear being challenged when it knows that it is making a correct choice. The setback in the Kaohsiung mayoral election is but temporary. The KMT should turn this defeat into a positive experience by taking this opportunity to define its shortcomings and increase its efforts to further improve itself.
Chang Szu-kang is a member of the Chinese Nationalist Party's Central Standing Committee and a cofounder of the 567 Alliance.
Translated by Daniel Cheng
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