The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) failed its midterm exam at last year’s nine-in-one elections and many were expecting it to also fail its final exam in next year’s presidential election. Unexpectedly, however, the support rating of Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜), the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) presidential candidate, has slipped and he is now lagging behind President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) by more than 10 percentage points.
More seriously, Han was challenged within the pan-blue camp by Hon Hai Precision Industry Co founder Terry Gou (郭台銘) and KMT Legislator Wang Jin-pyng (王金平). The chances that the KMT would regain power are slim and even its legislative campaign has gone from optimistic to pessimistic.
Some thought the DPP was about to collapse, but as it turns out, it is the KMT that is at risk. There is opposition against Tsai within the pan-green camp, but that has little effect on the DPP.
On Sept. 12, the KMT published a front-page ad cosigned by 31 party officials and heavyweights in major newspapers, calling for unity, hard work and saving the Republic of China, urging Gou to cooperate with Han.
Faced with this major move, Gou’s spokeswoman quoted him as saying that the KMT places party interests over national interests, which runs counter to Gou’s intention of returning to the party. He then announced that he was withdrawing from the KMT that day.
Before former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) took over as KMT chairman in 2005, the party always had more momentum than the DPP. When the KMT lost a national election, its loss was small, but when it won, it won big.
The reason for this was the difference between the pan-blue and pan-green camps. Under the past authoritarian KMT government, Taiwanese who were more unwilling to compromise opposed the party, while those who chose to stay in the party were more willing to.
The clear differences in Taiwanese identity between the two groups meant that those in the pan-green camp shared hardship rather than joys, while each was a boss, but no one was a leader. Those who remained in the KMT were more inclined to compromise and lacked political ideals, making it easier for them to work with the pro-unification camp.
Because the KMT is an authoritarian party, a member who wants to stand out has to be recommended by a superior, and must have good relationships with superiors and subordinates, and pay attention to party ethics.
After more Taiwanese who were willing to compromise joined the party, they formed a strong political group. However, when Ma became chairman, his discrimination against local factions triggered internecine strife, which led to the party’s collapse in the 2016 elections.
After regaining power that year, the DPP’s support rating quickly dropped, as it was disconnected from mainstream opinion. Based on the KMT’s political ethics, the pan-blue camp should have been able to easily recover political ground, but Han’s rise after last year’s local government elections ruined its party ethics.
Han’s die-hard fans and Han himself believe that he saved the party and therefore they no longer take the party’s leadership seriously, causing its ethics to collapse.
With the dissolution of its party ethics, it will be difficult for the KMT to rebuild support in the short term, so the chances that it will win next year’s presidential election are extremely slim.
Chen Mao-hsiung, a retired National Sun Yat-sen University professor, is chairman of the Society for the Promotion of Taiwanese Security.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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