What does the emergence of Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱) as a potential presidential candidate for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) portend? On one hand, it means the crisis for the more-than-century-old KMT could mark a turning point for the party’s institutionalization. On the other hand, Hung’s hawkish views on the idea of “one China,” combined with her rise to prominence, could herald the party’s demise if it takes no exception to Hung’s ideology.
The KMT had not needed or used an institutionalized primary system since the nation held its first presidential election in 1996. Over the course of five elections, the KMT’s candidates emerged from a consensus in the party — all candidates had been serving as chairman except President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who resigned in 2007 due to a legal investigation against him, but was re-elected as chairman after 2008.
KMT Chairman Eric Chu (朱立倫) has repeatedly said that primary rules should be resolutely followed to set a precedent. The party would suffer serious damage should it break the rules, as it would mean a return to its prior tradition of arbitrary rule. Hung is a candidate borne of transparent procedures — with a few small changes that have nevertheless been made on the way — and would help dispel concerns about the KMT’s arbitrariness.
However, Hung being tapped as the KMT’s presidential candidate would say a great deal about the predicament in which the party would find itself in. She is definitely not the party’s first choice. Should she secure the candidacy, it would insinuate that the rift between Ma and Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) remains unbridgeable, to the point where the president would rather have Hung represent the party than risk Wang taking his place.
Even without the intrigues of the Ma-Wang power struggle, Hung’s potential candidacy is also the result of the KMT’s heavyweights foreseeing an uphill battle and what the implications of losing would mean for their political careers, and consequently choosing not to run.
The infighting between Ma and Wang hints at the unsolved, entrenched Mainlander-local problem in the KMT. Hung’s background makes her a suitable choice for the party hardliners’ needs, but at the same time pushes the KMT away from the general public.
While it is true that the KMT has never before faced a presidential race as controversial as next year’s election, the disappearance of the party’s “A-list” politicians from the primary limelight has left Hung, a wholehearted believer in the party as the guardian of the Republic of China (ROC) — which in their line of thought can, but does not necessarily have to be, synonymous with Taiwan — to pick up the baton and stand firm against an opposition that calls for Taiwan-centered values.
“A-listers” are the party’s stars for a reason. They are vote-sensitive enough to show they care about political trends. However, Hung espousing the ideology that the ROC is China and her strong antagonism to the idea of Taiwanese independence are not likely to serve the party well in the election, considering the nation’s recent political mood.
She might even make compromises to this ideology due to pressure from KMT legislative candidates in the months leading up to the election.
Will Hung be the one to lead the party and the nation to what she calls the “correct way,” or will she help further marginalize the KMT in a society that is showing little patience for unrealistic irredentism? Only time will tell.
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