Fri, Dec 25, 2009 - Page 8 News List

King has yet to dominate the hill

By Lin Cho-shui 林濁水

Former deputy Taipei mayor King Pu-tsung (金溥聰) ran a highly successful presidential campaign for Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) last year. The question now is whether he, after taking over as secretary-general of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), will be able to give a repeat performance in the mayoral elections of the five special municipalities next year, as well as in the 2012 presidential election. To find an answer, we need to look into the cause of the KMT’s failure in the Dec. 5 local elections.

The most popular view blames the KMT’s failure on a “pendulum effect”: While the support bases of the KMT and of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) remain unchanged, voters punished the ruling party for its poor performance, thus causing the pendulum to swing toward the opposition. For example, strong public discontent with longstanding corruption during the 1990s resulted in the a series of defeats for the KMT between 2000 and 2004. Because of corruption scandals surrounding former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), the DPP was then defeated in three consecutive elections after 2005, until the KMT was recently punished for the government’s incompetence.

The road ahead for Ma’s team is likely to be rough, so the pendulum may remain in the opposition camp. This is the first problem for King, often nicknamed “King the Knife” for his sharp politics. The problem is that although the KMT’s failure resulted from a short-term swing of the pendulum, it was also a result of a long-term structural change in Taiwan’s political landscape.

The first issue to affect the political landscape was the rise of Taiwanese self-awareness over the past 20 years. King handled this issue well in the presidential election campaign. He told Ma to pledge to bury his ashes in Taiwan after his death — a promise that touched many people who thought the KMT had not given up its dreams of a “Greater China.” The problem is that the KMT was not in government at the time and was thus able to announce its love for Taiwan in its slogans. However, after a year of strongly pro-China policies, it would now be extremely difficult to change voter impressions through propaganda alone.

The second issue affecting the political landscape is the capital outflow that has followed from globalization and the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few people. No matter how much the economy grows, the income of most people in the middle class has not increased, and farmers and the working class have become poorer. Many people believe that the DPP, with its strong grassroots connections, is a party for southern Taiwan, farmers and laborers, but this is a stereotype and it is wrong.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the dangwai (“outside the KMT”) movement had little support in rural areas. However, it had the five biggest cities in its pocket until its members were suppressed as a result of the crackdown on the Free China biweekly and the Kaohsiung Incident of 1979. The DPP improved at the ballot box after its establishment in 1986. Its expansion was concentrated in cities and metropolitan areas including Taipei and Taoyuan counties and northern Hsinchu. Surprisingly, the party won in all mayoral and county commissioner seats north of Miaoli in 1997, as well as the direct municipality Taipei, the provincial level cities of Keelung, Hsinchu, Taichung, Tainan and Chiayi, and Taipei and Taoyuan counties. Aside from keeping Kaohsiung City, The KMT became a party for the rural south.

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