A bill dealing with the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) “ill-gotten” party assets has finally passed into law — legislation that some have have promoted for two or three decades.
The Act Governing the Handling of Ill-gotten Properties by Political Parties and Their Affiliate Organizations (政黨及其附隨組織不當取得財產處理條例) passed its third legislative reading on Monday after an 11-hour review.
This is an important milestone in Taiwan’s political development. On the surface, Taiwan has already implemented party politics and democratic elections, but in practice, it has all been a matter of unfair competition. The KMT has been relying on its party assets, massive party organization and staff, and incalculable political-economic social resources to gain an unfair advantage. This made it difficult for the opposition to challenge its status as the ruling party and allowed the KMT to remain in power for a long time.
Fortunately, the underdog does sometimes win, and that has helped change the political situation in Taiwan.
From weak demands at the beginning to the current strong public calls pushing the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to take the lead and resolve the issue as soon as possible, this historic moment is likely to be the beginning of the rebirth of the KMT. It is also likely to be the beginning of fair competition between political parties and the first step toward transitional justice.
When addressing each article of the bill on Monday, legislators from the DPP and opposition parties engaged in debate. It was easy to hear who was right and who was wrong. Society at large made its decision on the party assets issue long ago, and voters have made it clear that money cannot be swapped for votes. Although previous KMT chairs have known that the issue would have to be addressed sooner or later, they were unwilling to give up the party’s vast riches, and the measures they implemented were too little, too late, and the party has now run out of time.
The party’s assets have been an important weapon for the KMT, but they have also been an albatross around its neck. In the elections of the past few years, opposition parties have used the issue as a way to win sympathy among the electorate, which has translated into votes in elections.
However, the KMT’s unwillingness to address the issue is also responsible for this outcome. Taiwan has given the KMT too much time and too many opportunities to clean up and resolve the issue, but the party was still unable to provide a concrete response to public demands during its time in government. The public is fed up with waiting, and as the DPP has now gained full control over the government, the KMT has missed its last opportunity to settle the issue with dignity.
The party has been reduced to chanting slogans such as “inappropriate,” “unconstitutional” and “White Terror” on the legislative floor, as it is unable to put forward a credible argument while it waits to be cut down to size.
The KMT legislative caucus’ original plan was to resist until the very last moment, but the momentum is gone, and even the party’s own legislators wanted to bring things to a close as soon as possible. KMT legislators only questioned the title of the act and some of the articles, while other issues were handled via the regular voting process — making it clear that they understood that it is only by ridding themselves of the curse of the party’s assets; reviewing the party’s policies and demands; learning how to adapt to the new situation; and moving closer to mainstream public opinion that the party would be able to stage a comeback.
If the KMT’s upper echelons or others in the pan-blue camp are unable to let things go and instead continue to accuse others of settling scores, the party will be unable to turn the crisis brought on by the loss of its assets into an opportunity for rebirth. Such a party will never be able to make a comeback.
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