The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairperson by-election took place yesterday. Only about 9,000 — less than 3 percent — of the more than 300,000 party members who were eligible to vote are younger than 40. Thus, a lack of next-generation candidates has become the KMT’s biggest crisis.
However, this alienation from the youth was not created in a day.
During my term as head of the Taichung Department of Social Affairs, Taiwan was affected by the financial crisis, and this had negative effects on a number of households. In early 2009, a resident wrote a letter to then-Taichung mayor Jason Hu (胡志強), asking him to open a “food bank” to help families in need, but department staff knew little about how to run a food bank.
Fortunately, a man surnamed Ma (馬), a social worker who worked with homeless people, introduced the department to a man surnamed Hsu (徐), who was the head of a group that operated a food bank in a remote area.
After Hsu demonstrated food distribution in Taichung, the city quickly set up a food bank, pantry and eight distribution stations. This was the original model for food banks that can be seen in every city and county nationwide today.
When Junior Chamber International Taiwan (JCI Taiwan) selected Ten Outstanding Young Persons in 2011, I recommended Ma for the prestigious annual award because of the practicality of the food bank.
This allowed me to witness the non-governmental organization’s strict selection system.
After Ma passed the document review in the first round, JCI Taiwan staff visited his colleagues as part of the second round to verify the authenticity of the documentation — a very careful process. Unfortunately, none of the candidates from the social welfare category were selected that year.
Lin Yi-ying (林依瑩), who won the Ten Outstanding Young Persons award in 2010, was also recommended by the Taichung City Government.
Lin, who was chief executive officer of the Hondao Senior Citizen’s Welfare Foundation, received the award for launching the 2007 “Go Grandriders” campaign. By thinking out of the box, she brought a new look to senior citizen welfare.
I was impressed by the selection mechanism for the Ten Outstanding Young Persons, so before the 2016 presidential and legislative elections, I suggested to a friend working at the KMT that they invite winners of the Ten Outstanding Young Persons, Ten Outstanding Young Women and Ten Outstanding Young Farmers to be placed on the party’s legislator-at-large nominee list.
However, my friend said that party heavyweights had already recommended between 200 and 300 names, adding that there would be no room for outsiders, as not even all insiders could get on the list.
The answer stunned me.
For example, Lin was listed as a legislator-at-large nominee by the New Power Party in 2016, and she was appointed Taichung deputy mayor by then-Taichung mayor Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) later that year.
Since Lin Chia-lung lost his re-election bid two years later, Lin Yi-ying has been providing services to Aboriginal communities, and her accomplishments are impressive.
The intention is not to emphasize that there are more “heroes” among the young. However, inviting the Ten Outstanding Young Persons, women and farmers selected by JCI Taiwan, and members of the Ten Outstanding Young Women Association and the Taiwan District of Kiwanis International is much better than picking legislator-at-large nominees based on the KMT leadership’s personal preferences.
Most of the young people selected have no political affiliations, and many are not even interested in politics. Those who are willing to enter politics only want a platform and an opportunity to participate in society.
As the KMT pushes them away, some of them might be recruited by other parties. No wonder the gap between the KMT and the young generation keeps widening.
Only by constantly recruiting new talent can a political party renew itself. A party should take the initiative, so that new blood continues to fill its ranks.
Chang Kuo-hui is a former director of the Taichung Department of Social Affairs.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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