Sat, Apr 07, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Ethnicity: the joker in the KMT pack

Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng's (王金平) ethnically charged criticism of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has not received quite the amount of press that it deserved, so let this editorial start with one of the most astonishing things to come out of a politician's mouth in many, many months.

"There have been discussions at home and abroad, as well as in public and in academia, about the appropriateness of the political elite of a minority ethnic group governing a majority ethnic group," Wang had said on Monday as he pulled out of the campaign for the KMT's presidential nomination.

Wang's notoriously opaque and evasive language on this occasion could not hide his anger at the way in which the KMT has facilitated former chairman Ma Ying-jeou's (馬英九) push for the KMT nomination at his expense. That he shrouded his attack in ethnic terms suggests that things are nowhere near as rosy for the KMT and its candidates as some might believe.

That Wang would make such a damaging comment suggests that the party is on the verge of ensuring that the spoils in the legislative nomination process will be unevenly distributed in favor of Mainlander candidates. The KMT's carefully cultivated image of ethnic inclusiveness is now at risk, and its response in practical terms will be compelling viewing in the months to come.

The curious thing about this development is that for several elections ethnicity has been the KMT's weapon of choice in attacking the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government, even more so than the economy. This has been bolstered by the KMT's claim to a far more balanced membership in ethnic terms, with majority support from the Mainlander, Hakka and Aboriginal minorities and a sizable chunk of support from the Hoklo (commonly known as Taiwanese) majority.

Also curious is the fact that Wang was originally the man the inner sanctum of the KMT wanted to take over as chairman. What this represents in terms of a possible brawl in ethnic or factional terms is not clear -- but it does not bode well for the party so close to an election season.

The DPP, once again, has been thrown a lifeline that it has not earned. It now has the opportunity to hack away at the KMT's rhetoric and practice on issues of ethnicity and identity, and if DPP strategists are half competent, there will be riches for them to mine all the way until the presidential election.

It must be said that Wang's comments have the unmistakable odor of sour grapes. His humiliation at the poll for party chairman, which Ma won, and his withdrawal from the KMT presidential nomination race may have inspired him to speak more direct language, but this does not mean that he had any hope of gaining the nomination in a fair race.

But there must be more to explaining Wang's behavior than petty sniping born of spurned ambition. If he were alone in his fury, there would have been a much angrier response from KMT friends and foes alike. Instead, there was an embarrassed silence, broken only by the odd plea for party unity.

What is clear is that the KMT is starting to struggle to find a common theme other than the fact that it is not the DPP. There might have been a time when this had currency, but no longer.

Wang's comments will reverberate for some time, especially among those unnerved at the idea of Taiwan being ruled by a Mainlander for the first time since dictator Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國).

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