The outlook for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) in next week’s nine-in-one local elections does not look good. Many die-hard KMT supporters dissatisfied with the government do not want to express support for KMT candidates and this is causing great anxiety within the party. As a result, several legislators and candidates have revived the issue of year-end bonus for retired military personnel, civil servants and public-school teachers. These groups are considered to be die-hard KMT supporters, and when the year-end bonus was abolished, a lot of these votes disappeared. The question is whether they will come back if the bonus is reinstated and whether the move will improve the party’s election prospects.
Several conditions must be met for this plan to work. First, it must be true that retired military personnel, civil servants and public-school teachers really are part of the party’s hard-core supporters. Second, it must be true that the main reason the party lost these votes — whether to another party or to protest votes — is that the bonus was abolished. Third, restoring the bonus must bring these voters back. Fourth, the number of returning voters must exceed the number of voters shifting their vote somewhere else as a result of this attempt at using policy implementation to buy support.
One of the reasons that retired military personnel, civil servants and public-school teachers were considered the KMT’s most fundamental supporters was that prior KMT governments always favored these groups and their welfare through policy decisions, while the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) made cuts to welfare packages to improve social justice and diminish the government’s fiscal burden. Although the number of die-hard supporters is diminishing as the situation changes, the ascension of the DPP to power could be seen as doing more harm than good to these groups. In other words, it is not at all certain whether they would lend their support to the DPP.
This means that even if the first condition is met, the question is how high the bonus must be for these former hard-core supporters to return to the party. The levels being discussed are clearly not enough to pacify and satisfy these former supporters enough to return to the fold, which means that the nation still must wait to see how close the connection is between the bonuses and election outcomes. Given this, restoring the bonus in an attempt to restore support might have only a limited effect.
Ending the bonus was a major fiscal policy change brought about jointly by the pan-blue and the pan-green camps. By taking a step back in this way, the KMT is certain to alienate middle-of-the-road voters, further displease the wider taxpayer base and intensify generational injustices. It is unknowable whether a change in the bonus policy will be good or bad, but one thing is sure: Restoring it will be strongly criticized as a way of using policy implementation to buy votes and for rolling back reform. Moreover, adding tens of billions of New Taiwan dollars to budget spending will cause the nation’s fiscal debt to accelerate. If it goes through with this plan, the KMT will have to pay an even heavier price in 2016.
It is easy to see that the KMT is concerned with its poor election prospects and diminishing support from its former core supporters among military personnel, civil servants and public-school teachers and in veterans’ villages. Still, the party must refrain from coming up with wild solutions to the problem, because even if it were to provide temporary relief, the efforts could well end in disaster.
Retired military personnel, civil servants and public-school teachers receive retirement privileges with income replacement levels of between 80 and 90 percent. This causes ill will among other groups and it would be going too far if already retired people were given a year-end bonus.
If the Cabinet cannot put an end to this attempt, it will end up throwing good money after bad.
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