Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Secretary-General King Pu-tsung (金溥聰) attributed his party’s poor performance in Saturday’s by-elections — it only won one of the four legislative seats up for grabs — to “not working hard enough.”
This assessment has a long list of precedents in President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration, where defeats and setbacks are blamed on poor communication or lack of effort. Never, from its handling of Typhoon Morakot to the US beef debacle, did the KMT admit that political decisions that did not appeal to the public — or policies that are downright wrong — were the principal factor in the administration’s dwindling popular support.
In many ways, this attitude is reminiscent of the People’s Action Party in Singapore and the Hong Kong government in the 1970s, wherein the government acts as a paternalistic figure for the masses: It knows what is best for the people and any bump in the road to policy implementation is the result of poor communication — or, to be more precise, persuasiveness.
The result is that such unrepresentative governments will often stick to self-defeating policies, held hostage by the belief that by dint of repetition and persuasion, the public will come around and see the wisdom behind the government’s position.
This may have worked in systems where there is little institutionalized political opposition to speak of, but in a democratic country like Taiwan, persuasion alone isn’t enough, and that’s because voters have options. What voters need isn’t convincing, via government briefings in hall meetings, but concrete results. If the government fails to deliver, voters will simply give their vote to another political party (or choose not to vote, which is another means to express discontent).
This is the beauty of retributive democracy: It places the focus on quantifiable results rather than political rhetoric.
That KMT officials like King would continue to blame defeats on poor communication shows us that the party has not learned from its mistakes and could be a harbinger of future setbacks at the polls. It highlights the party’s utter failure to adapt to the times and to take into account nearly 15 years of formative democracy. There is no place for antiquated, paternalistic “we know best” government in Taiwan.
Should it fail to bring its mindset in line with the modernity that most Taiwanese have reached, the KMT will continue to advocate flawed policies that stand no chance of gaining traction with the public, no matter how hard it tries to portray them as the best ones.
This is not to say, however, that the KMT’s intellectual stasis means that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) can sit on its laurels and expect easy fights in the future. In fact, as the main opposition party, the lack of rigor in government policymaking compels it to come up with sound alternative policies that will sell themselves. So far, the DPP has been less than formidable in that department, and its recent string of wins is attributable more to KMT ineptitude than DPP savvy.
Those victories, however welcome they were for the DPP, were but small fights in a much larger battle, and if it is to win the big fights — the year-end elections in Sinbei and Taipei cities, as well as the presidential election in 2012 — it will have to awaken from its own stupor and propose real, workable policy alternatives on which to build a strong nation.