EDITORIAL: Change is coming even to the KMT

Wed, Apr 27, 2011 - Page 8

In the past, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) election candidate nominations have really been mere formalities, held largely for appearance’s sake. Basically, the party decides who it wants to nominate and the nominee is rarely challenged. Just a few days ago, the KMT Taipei City branch conducted a poll to nominate the legislative candidate for the Zhongshan (中山)-Songshan (松山) electoral district, and what a show it turned out to be. In the end, it was Legislator Lo Shu-lei (羅淑蕾) who emerged as the victor, beating fellow Legislator John Chiang (蔣孝嚴), one of the party’s bigger names, by a paltry 0.578 percent of the vote. Chiang cried foul, accusing Lo of landing some low blows during the campaign, to which Lo shot back and said that losing by even one vote is still losing. The KMT has now decided to honor the result of the poll, noting Chiang’s complaint, but going with Lo’s victory.

This primary was particularly riveting because the two candidates are high-profile politicians. Chiang is part of the third generation of the Chiang dynasty, deputy chairman of the KMT, a former foreign minister and former secretary-general of both the presidential office and the party. You can’t get much more establishment than John Chiang. Lo is a People First Party (PFP)-recommended pan-blue legislator-at-large. She is a media darling known for her straight talking and criticisms of the government of the day. She has caused a few headaches in her time, but she has entertained quite a few people along the way, too.

Guns out at high noon is a bit of a departure for the KMT. It is more used to having local vote captains orchestrate the whole affair, which in the past has tended to feature rather tame name-calling. This time, however, it seems to have lifted a page from the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) book. For example, in the telephone polls to choose its presidential candidate, several DPP contenders courted controversy by using a system in which callers could only support one candidate. Some KMT contenders followed suit and the two legislators duly went at each other, hammer and tongs. Chiang sallied with acerbic remarks about Lo being “blue skin stretched over green bones” and of “fighting the blue camp whilst flying its flag.”

Chiang’s comments may well reflect the opinions of many within his party. Over the past two years, Lo has launched many an attack on the government during TV interviews. This has set tongues wagging within the KMT, with many members questioning how Lo, as a legislator-at-large, can get away with being so scathing against their party. She is, they say, more DPP than the DPP, and have called, on several occasions, for her to be expelled. However, as a representative figure for the PFP, Lo has blue skin stretched over orange bones, not green. The KMT dare not castigate her too fully, mindful of the importance of the pan-blue alliance.

Lo knows full well that she cannot be nominated again as legislator-at-large. Surprisingly, by daring to challenge the KMT deputy chairman in these primaries, Lo has set a precedent, the effect of which may well snowball. First, her victory demonstrates that family background or status within the party are no longer cast-iron guarantees and that no-one is above the internal democratic test.

Second, it shows the importance of the media in internal party politics. No longer is it sufficient to make the right noises in legislative sessions or be seen to be helping the electorate in one’s district. Nowadays, one also has to show one’s face on TV. Exposure translates into votes. Democracy, for all its strengths, can also have a dumbing down effect.

The KMT noted Chiang’s complaints so he could let off some steam. However, the significance of Lo’s victory runs deeper than her defeat of Chiang. It is a symbolic shift for politics, heralding the winds of change blowing through the KMT.