A phrase that often comes out of the mouths of authoritarian nostalgists is: “Democracy is messy and inefficient.” However, it also seems to resonate with some Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) members who are upset about the party headquarters’ poll-based primary election mechanism.
At an event at the Legislative Yuan on Monday to announce the establishment of a youth coalition, a group of prospective candidates for city and county councilor seats in November’s elections questioned the KMT leadership’s decision to go to the trouble of conducting opinion polls to select the party’s candidates, rather than simply picking someone “with the greatest chance of victory.”
Citing the primary for the Taoyuan mayoral elections as an example, the coalition members said that despite three independent surveys to gauge support for aspiring candidates, one of the hopefuls still cried foul after coming in last in the results announced on Wednesday last week.
“The party is undemocratic when it should be democratic, while pretending to be democratic when it should not be,” the coalition said.
Although it was not immediately clear, the argument was actually a plea for the KMT headquarters to nominate New Taipei City Deputy Mayor Hou You-yi (侯友宜) without subjecting him and two other hopefuls to a lengthy primary process.
The coalition’s rationale was that a democratic primary mechanism could divide the party and eat into the campaign time that the party’s eventual candidates would have to rally support.
In the past, the KMT either skipped primaries and directly nominated candidates, or conducted primaries that selected candidates based on public opinion polls or used a combination of voter and membership surveys.
The problem is that it sometimes ended up fielding candidates who had strong backing within the party, but were not liked by voters. Most importantly, it reinforced the deep-rooted image of the KMT as an undemocratic party.
For that reason, KMT Chairman Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) insisted on holding public opinion poll-based primaries for all mayoral and commissioner races in this year’s elections, saying it would be the fairest method and the least controversial.
Democracy is a system where the majority rules, the minority shouts and the goal is to achieve maximum consensus in the decisionmaking process.
The time required for deliberation and compromise is significantly reduced when only one person rules, but this does not allow other voices or options that are not to that ruler’s liking to be heard, throwing change out of the equation for good.
That kind of system might work in China, where true democracy is a foreign concept to many. However, Taiwanese have become so accustomed to the concept of democracy and the need to reach a collective consensus that any establishment representing the opposite values is bound to gradually grow irrelevant.
Would coalition members really be pleased if Wu were to select the party’s candidates based solely on his own preferences? Hardly. Unless he picked the ones that they like.
That means, with or without a primary, people are going to be unhappy. At least in a democracy, the unhappy are usually in the minority.
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