As expected, New Taipei City Mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫) was elected Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman by a clear majority on Saturday last week, marking the end of an era in which President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) doubled as party chairman.
However, it is still unclear whether this means that the KMT’s travails have finished, as the repercussions of the party’s drubbing in last year’s nine-in-one elections are still being evaluated.
Indeed, the uncertainty over the exact reason for the KMT’s defeat is the biggest problem facing the “nation-building party.”
Less than six years ago, the KMT not only won the presidency with almost 8 million votes, it also controlled more than 70 percent of the legislative seats, to the extent that many political academics were concerned that the days of the dominant party wielding a long-term monopoly over politics had returned and that the party would use elections to maintain its dominant party status, just as the People’s Action Party in Singapore has done.
However, the reality has proved to be quite the opposite and this has happened far quicker than anticipated.
It is possible to ask how the Republic of China (ROC) will be able to continue to exist in Taiwan without the KMT to perpetuate it.
This is not because the party would have to overhaul itself if the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) returns to power, perhaps by changing its name to better reflect reality and thereby consigning the KMT name to history; it is more that, in democratic politics, there is no point in having a political party that cannot win elections.
This is the crux of the KMT’s problem, and the party is not going to be saved by introducing a Cabinet system of government.
In the aftermath of the prosecution of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) on charges of corruption, the DPP faced similar challenges concerning its legitimacy as a political party.
It managed to prove the legitimacy of its continued existence over the course of elections of varying size and significance.
However, the KMT is now facing a state of affairs more serious than the DPP at the time of its implosion in the 2008 presidential election.
With the exception of the cloud of suspicion hanging over Ma relating to alleged acceptance of illegitimate political donations, the greatest challenge at the moment is the phenomenon of Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲).
If this political whirlwind continues unabated, the 16 years of the combined tenure of Ma and his successor as Taipei mayor, Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌), will be stripped away, leaving the way clear for a new political order.
If Ko, presumed pan-green on the political spectrum, unites the New Party and People First Party (PFP) to create a new political force — with the tradition of the enlightened despotism of former president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) and the principle of “diligence in government and compassion for the people” (勤政愛民) espoused by PFP Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) — and Ko secures a second term as mayor, they should make a go of replacing the KMT to become the nation’s second-largest party.
Former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) had a dream, too, and that was for Taiwan to have a democracy, in the long-run, composed of two locally grown parties competing with each other.
This is unlikely to come about if fragmentation of the KMT occurs.
The localization faction spearheaded by Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) will not be able to topple the court of Ma and his closest aide, National Security Council Secretary-General King Pu-tsung (金溥聰).
It is more likely to be achieved through a new political order in which the KMT is sidelined, allowing a new two-party system in which both parties are homegrown.
This would be something of a historical paradox: The DPP steps aside to let Ko form a unified battlefront and lay siege on the KMT, but in so doing also allows what in the future could well become its greatest opponents to getting a foothold.
The amplifier effect of the single member electoral system is the barrel of a gun aimed at the old political order, and Ko is the trigger.
The letter of congratulations sent by Beijing to Chu on his ascension to KMT chairman might well have expounded upon the merits of the so-called “1992 consensus,” in the hope that he will follow on from where Ma left off in terms of helping Beijing suppress Taiwan’s independence.
China seems to have forgotten the Herculean achievements democracy in Taiwan has already won, and that it might not be Chu, from his court in New Taipei City, who holds the balance of power with the DPP, but the “pan-white” camp that has hoovered up the KMT’s votes.
It is possible that a different north-south divide might emerge in the future: No longer pan-blue versus pan-green, but white versus green instead.
Hsu Yung-ming is an associate professor of political science at Soochow University.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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