When the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lost the Miaoli by-election on March 14, many considered it a minor blip for a party that has enjoyed uninterrupted electoral success since the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) era began in 2005 with his stint as party chairman.
Many pundits blamed the defeat on the party’s poor performance at the national level, but a more likely explanation for the Miaoli defeat was the party’s overconfidence. Instead of choosing a candidate well-known for his or her commitment and hard work in the local community, in a hat-tip to everything bad about Taiwan’s politics, the party plumped for the wife of the deposed legislator, who had lost his seat after being found guilty of vote buying.
Kang Shih-ju (康世儒), passed over by the KMT for the nomination, promptly left the party and ran as an independent, winning despite the efforts of two-thirds of the party’s legislators.
Nerves jangled by defeat, it now seems the KMT is worried about losing tomorrow’s by-election in Taipei’s Da-an District (大安).
As in Miaoli, the KMT faces a direct challenge from another pan-blue candidate: The New Party’s Yao Li-ming (姚立明) is running as an independent.
While the New Party is no longer an electoral force, its strong anti-corruption platform could appeal to pan-blue constituents infuriated by the behavior of the former holder of the seat, Diane Lee (李慶安), who flouted the law for 14 years by hiding the fact that she had dual nationality.
The worst-case scenario for the KMT could see Yao split the pan-blue vote with the KMT candidate and pave the way for a shock Democratic Progressive Party victory. Low turnout of a disappointed KMT faithful could also result in the loss of one of the party’s strongholds.
A second defeat in two weeks would turn the blip into a minor crisis.
So, up steps the Central Personnel Administration (CPA), which on Tuesday took the unusual step of calling on civil servants living in the constituency — of which there are many — to make sure they vote tomorrow.
Although not unprecedented — government bodies made similar announcements during the KMT’s previous spell in government — the CPA’s announcement is quite clearly a clarion call to a traditionally pro-KMT section of society to do their bit for the party’s cause.
The CPA has defended the move by saying that it only asked people to vote. But if it was worried about turnout, why didn’t it do the same thing before the Miaoli election, where only around 50 percent of those eligible voted?
If the KMT thinks it can save electoral face and make everything right by ordering people to vote, then it is barking up the wrong tree because it is just this type of arrogance that is the party’s growing problem. Five decades of unchallenged power helped the KMT develop an air of entitlement, and since its return to power this regrettable trait has come to the fore once again.
If the KMT loses tomorrow in an election where it faces no real competition, then it will only have itself to blame. It has to realize that arrogance and complacency are not winning formulas in a democracy.
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