How does one explain the massive Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) defeat in Saturday’s elections?
In Australia, we say that the voters will not support a political party that cannot govern itself. Clearly, this helps explain what ails the KMT. The KMT is divided into multiple factions. There is the faction led by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who also serves as KMT chairman and has fights with former vice president Lien Chan (連戰) and with Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平).
Lien, who has fought with virtually everyone having even the slightest Taiwanese consciousness, believes that Taiwan owes him and his family political positions even though he has never won an election.
Wang, on the other hand, refused to take any outright political position until attacked by Ma last year, but he finally showed some courage in supporting the Sunflower movement students.
When Ma won the presidency in 2008, he convinced everyone that former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) administration was both inept and corrupt.
Certainly, the Ma administration has proven even more incompetent than the Chen administration. Food safety, once one of Taiwan’s strong points, has deteriorated to the point where people are now concerned with food products in stores.
Recently, with the signing of the China-South Korea free-trade agreement, the Ma government screamed disaster for Taiwan’s economy, despite having conducted no research and not having read the agreement itself.
Meanwhile, it appeared naive in its negotiations with China for the Cross-Strait Service and Trade Agreement (CSSTA).
In some ways, the Sunflower movement reflected the disenchantment with the Ma administration.
At the time, the Ma government did not handle the students well. For example, Ma called a huge press conference on March 23, which he ended after three questions — although huge protests from the press corps forced him to continue.
During the Sunflower movement, Wang quite rightly came to the fore and protected the students against the police. He also insisted the original agreement between the KMT and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) be upheld and that the CSSTA be examined item-by-item.
The disputes between Ma and Lien are understandable. Lien is an old KMT warhorse who, with his “pedigree,” has had a very smooth career as the first so-called “Taiwanese” to be an ambassador, minister of foreign affairs and premier.
Unfortunately, he believes he is owed such things. Of course, Taiwanese have repeatedly rejected his candidacies in elections and he has never won a single election.
Lien now hates Taiwan and works for China. Calling Taipei mayoral candidate Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) a “bastard” was totally inappropriate, as was his attack on Ko’s family as Lien claimed they were Japanese imperial officials, and his attack on reforms to make education more Taiwan-centric.
Lien’s attempt to have his son succeed him has failed comprehensively. Hopefully, the illegitimately wealthy Lien family will leave Taiwan’s political stage forever. If Lien loves China so much, let him go there to live.
Ma also has to consider his future as KMT leader. Ma asserts that he strongly believes in both “morality” and in the law.
However, his morality appears self-defined. What is the “morality” of attacking Wang when he is in another country attending his daughter’s wedding. What is the legality of revoking the membership of KMT candidates who have been indicted, but not convicted. What is the morality of granting positions in his administration only to people like himself — educated Mainlanders with virtually no experience outside Taipei.
Take for example Ma’s first and third premiers — Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) and Sean Chen (陳沖) — and his first National Security Council secretary-general, Su Chi (蘇起). Another example is his key adviser, National Security Council Secretary-General King Pu-tsung (金溥聰). These people, along with Ma, have considerable responsibility for the government’s failures in administration and governance.
Many democratic countries, including Taiwan, have accepted the convention that a leader should resign to accept responsibility for bad mistakes. Ma still has more than a year left in his second presidential term, but it seems appropriate that he resign the chairmanship of the KMT to accept responsibility for this massive electoral defeat.
The DPP has long maintained this tradition, and former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) resigned as KMT chairman in 2000 to accept responsibility for Lien’s defeat that year.
Unfortunately, the KMT has stopped respecting this norm. Lien was responsible for the 2000 presidential election, but he became KMT chairman.
As chairman, he was also responsible for the 2001 KMT legislative defeat, as well as for his own presidential bid loss in 2004. However, Lien did not resign, nor did he take accept responsibility, despite these losses being derived in large part from his mistakes.
Ma has pushed hard for certain types of reform, both within the KMT and in society as a whole. It is now time for Ma to demonstrate his reformist credentials by resigning as KMT chairman to take responsibility for the party’s disastrous showing in Saturday’s elections.
Who should be the new KMT chairman? Wang was badly defeated when he ran against Ma for the chairmanship in 2005. Furthermore, the KMT needs younger leaders and Wang is now in his 70s.
Perhaps the slim victory of New Taipei City Mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫) has preserved him as a potential new KMT chairman. Chu is relatively young and has had a very good record, both in local government and in the central government as vice premier.
Can he or some other younger person lead the KMT to some brighter days?
Bruce Jacobs is professor emeritus of Asian languages and studies at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.
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