The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) should understand that its narrow victory in Greater Taichung’s legislative by-election on Saturday against the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is not a vote of confidence on President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration.
Greater Taichung has long been a pan-blue stronghold, with former Non-Partisan Solidarity Union legislator Yen Ching-piao (顏清標) dominating the political scene in his district for years and winning last year’s legislative election by nearly 40,000 votes.
However, in the by-election, Yen’s son, Yen Kuan-hen (顏寬恆), the KMT candidate, fought a neck-in-neck battle against DPP candidate Chen Shi-kai (陳世凱) and won by less than 1,200 votes, highlighting the rapid decline of support enjoyed by the KMT in a traditional stronghold during Ma’s administration.
Yen Ching-piao, whose own election was revoked after he was found guilty of corruption, acknowledged that the victory was hard earned and blamed his son’s narrow win on the “overall environment,” referring to the growing public grievance against the Ma administration.
Ever since the KMT nominated Yen Kuan-hen as its candidate, the Yen family played down its association with the party in campaigning to avoid Yen Kuan-hen’s chances being hurt by the government’s poor performance. Neither Ma nor the KMT were mentioned as Yen Kuan-hen thanked voters for their support in his victory speech.
The KMT also distanced itself from the election. Ma, who doubles as KMT chairman, was absent from all campaign activities while DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) led all party heavyweights to stump for Chen.
If Saturday’s result serves as a skirmish for the local government elections next year, the KMT should recognize the narrow victory as a defeat and learn a lesson from it.
The by-election is over, but the challenges the Ma administration and the KMT face are not. Pension reform is far from complete, the economy shows little sign of making a full recovery and major issues such as nuclear power plants need to be addressed.
As Ma and the Executive Yuan prepare to announce pension reform measures this week, they will need to explain clearly how they plan to lower the 18 percent preferential interest rates on portions of the pensions of retired public service and military employees and other measures and seek a consensus in society before implementing any reforms.
The KMT must seek to work more closely with the DPP in ending the political divides that have contributed to the long-term chaos in the legislature.
Ma, facing disgruntlement over his re-election bid for the KMT chairmanship, should also not forget about the pledge he made when he was elected the KMT chairman in 2005 to get rid of the party’s illicit assets and continue party reform, besides fulfilling his duty as the president.
If Ma cannot deliver on his promises and improve the government’s performance, he and the KMT will suffer a further loss of support, and even die-hard supporters could turn their backs on them.