Former deputy legislative speaker Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱) has been elected the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) chairperson, making her the first female chairperson in the party’s more than 100-year history.
Hung takes the party’s reins at a particularly troubled time, in the wake of an electoral rout, and if she is to steer the party back to health, she will have her work cut out for her. The situation she inherits is even more dire than the one president-elect Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) had to deal with when she became Democratic Progressive Party chairperson eight years ago.
Hung faces three major tasks: resolving internal party divisions, dealing with party assets and setting a direction for the party. If she takes even a single misstep, she could be consigning the party to years of obscurity.
The KMT is a foreign political party. At first, it was composed — members and leadership alike — entirely of non-Taiwanese. It was a case of “us versus them,” with the two sides never coming together. The KMT was like a square peg facing a round hole.
Late president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) initiated a move toward “localizing” the party, an initiative continued by his successor, former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝).
However, after Lee left office, the party reverted to its old ways. The makeup of the party meant that Hung, originally from China, was a shoo-in for the job. It is noteworthy that even after the three government transitions over the past 16 years, the party has completely failed to keep up with the times and has become increasingly out of touch with the public.
Now that Hung holds the reins, it is expected that the pro-localization faction will either leave the party or become alienated within it. If Hung does not address the problem and try to steer the party toward a more stable, moderate direction, the KMT will find itself on a narrow path, with increasingly curtailed options.
In her cross-strait policy, Hung goes even further than the principle of “one China, different interpretations,” favoring instead “one China, same interpretation.” This is even more at odds with mainstream public opinion than President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) preoccupation with the so-called “1992 consensus.”
Hung is always at liberty to stick to her guns and maintain the party’s pro-unification stance, but she might well find that would be unacceptable for most Taiwanese, and neither would it find as much favor with Beijing as the more avidly pro-unification New Party.
Of course, the KMT could get into bed with the New Party, but that would further erode its standing and it would no longer be able to lay claim to being a major political force in Taiwan.
The KMT’s assets have also come under much scrutiny and criticism. In the past, the party could obfuscate the issue, as it had control over both the executive and legislative branches of government. It did not need to overly concern itself with what the opposition or the public thought of the issue.
That is no longer true. Both branches have changed hands. The Legislative Yuan is already at the review stage of legislative proposals aimed at dealing with the KMT’s assets.
At this point, if the KMT does not do something about its assets of its own volition, it will be forced to do something. If it opts to be more active, it would at least be able to control the situation to a certain degree and would be able to retain its dignity. If it is forced to hand over its assets, it would be left with nothing. These are all problems that Hung will have to tackle, if not sooner, then later.