Fri, Jan 17, 2020 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: KMT needs to reform to survive

After the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) landslide victory in the elections on Saturday, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) might have been expected to let the dust settle before calmly reflecting on where it went wrong. Instead, after just four days, the party released a report on the causes of its poor electoral performances.

Calling Wednesday’s report a rushed job would be an understatement.

The report listed seven reasons for the KMT’s drubbing: a failure to control the discussion on cross-strait relations; an incorrect campaign strategy; “malicious Internet armies” running smear campaigns against its presidential candidate, Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜); internal conflict; a lack of unity; failing to win over young voters; and a weak list of legislator-at-large nominees.

As would be expected from such a hastily prepared report, it provides a generic and superficial analysis.

While Han was certainly a poor choice for a presidential candidate — a figure of fun among young Taiwanese, relentlessly mocked as a caobao (草包, “country bumpkin”) for his frequent gaffes — the KMT’s problems run far deeper than its candidates, its strategy or a failure to control the narrative.

The crux of the problem is that its roots are planted firmly in China. Its raison d’etre is to govern China, which it did from 1928 to 1949 in the form of the Republic of China (ROC).

In 1949, after a series of military setbacks during the Chinese Civil War, Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) was forced to beat a hasty retreat to Taiwan. Like a houseguest from hell, the KMT, along with the entire ROC government, moved to Taiwan, lock, stock and barrel.

The “generalissimo” initially viewed Taiwan as a temporary home from which he could launch an operation to retake China, but by the early 1970s, he and the party realized that the game was up.

Yet to this day, dyed-in-the-wool KMT members and supporters still identify as Chinese, not Taiwanese, and resent being forced into asylum in this “backwater of the Chinese empire.”

It is a feeling that runs deep throughout much of the party.

Although defeated militarily, the KMT never gave up on its spiritual home, which explains why it favors unification with China and fought Saturday’s election as a pro-unification party. If you cannot beat them, join them.

If the DPP can demonstrate over two terms of majority government that it can govern at least as effectively — if not more — than the KMT, then what is the point of the KMT?

By supporting a negotiated surrender to China, the party has reneged on the most fundamental duty of government: to protect the safety of its people.

Another problem for the party is that young Taiwanese feel no tangible connection to China. As a consequence, the majority identify as Taiwanese, not Chinese — and favor independence. As older voters gradually die off, the KMT’s support base could become eroded to the point that it becomes unelectable.

However, the party’s younger generation might still be able to wrestle control from the old guard and set in motion dramatic reform. Some are already arguing that the KMT must jettison the so-called “1992 consensus” to survive.

For the time being, though, the party remains culturally and psychologically wedded to China. It might prove impossible for the KMT to hold itself together as competing factions pull it in different directions.

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