Were the eight years that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) held political power from 2000 to 2008 under former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) just a fluke, with the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) destined to be in power now and in the foreseeable future? That is a question that should be asked when one looks at the mammoth difference between the assets of the KMT and the DPP, or any other party.
In many ways, power is about money. As money can buy influence, the party or candidate with the most money usually gains the most power. There are, of course, exceptions to this axiom, such as when a candidate with a better idea that resonates with the public trumps money-bought influence.
However, in the imperfect world that we live in, money talks — and with its billions of dollars, the KMT has a loud voice. It has long been bandied about in academic circles and the press that the KMT is the richest political party in the world, and that it gained most of its wealth either by stripping China of its riches after it lost the Chinese Civil War and fled to Taiwan, or that it stole property when the party arrived in Taiwan. Whether these claims are true or not, and to what scale, is beside the point. The fact is the KMT indeed has oceans of wealth — the party made NT$3.5 billion (US$116.9 million) in 2010, NT$2.9 billion from stock dividends alone, with billions more locked up in real estate — that can be marshaled to crush opposition candidates whenever an important political seat is up from grabs, such as in January’s presidential election.
The DPP, on the other hand, has to think quickly on its feet to come up with catchy fundraising drives whenever it wants to challenge the KMT. However, this is not nearly enough to compete with the KMT’s juggernaut of cash — for instance, the DPP’s “three little pigs” fundraiser netted it NT$200 million for the presidential election campaign; not too shabby, but not good enough.
This is the equivalent of a small firm with NT$50 million in capital trying to mass produce and market a newer, better smartphone that it hopes will wrench Apple Inc’s iPhone out of its top spot in the global market. Although not impossible, the smaller company’s success is statistically very unlikely in the face of Apple’s dominance.
The KMT only lost in the 2000 presidential election because the vote was split three ways, and the DPP managed to squeak in. In 2004, although the pan-blues were unified, it was unified by the same two politicians who split it in 2004 — then-KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜), neither an appealing candidate.
Now, despite the grumblings of a growing number of KMT members under President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who also serves as KMT chairman, the party seems to have learned its lesson — as long as it is unified, it can rely on its vast wealth to beat back any challenge the DPP or any other party throws at it.
So, with its gigantic coffers, it looks like the KMT is here to stay and will likely put up the winning candidate again in 2016, 2020, 2024 and beyond.
If one subscribes to the principles of a fair democracy, then maybe those academics who belong to the Taiwan Association of University Professors were right — the KMT’s party assets are the root of the evil poisoning Taiwanese politics.