Now that the possibility of ending annual year-end bonuses for retired military personnel, civil servants and public school teachers — which have no legal basis — is being mooted, these retirees, traditionally considered to be the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) cast-iron support base, have started talking of staging protests. Uninterested in the legalities of the matter, they are reluctant to relinquish handouts they have become accustomed to within the party-state system. Several retired generals have stepped up to complain about corruption and the dignity they feel has been taken from them, and have said how disappointed they are with President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九). They say they regret having voted for the wrong person and have angrily declared that if the government abolishes the annual bonus, they will make trouble and do not rule out staging protests on the streets.
Leaving aside arguments of whether the payments are justified or proper for a moment, there are two reasons that the KMT is able to cling on to power and the idea of the “Republic of China on Taiwan.” The first is ideological, born of indoctrination via the nation’s education system and its media; the second is more concrete and more important even than ideology: vested interests.
This is also why the KMT has found it so easy to shift from an anti-China position to becoming pro-China and even to collaborate with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). When the Chinese nationalism of the CCP replaced the Chinese nationalism of the KMT, the CCP took the mantle of representing the Chinese people away from the KMT. Now, many retired military personnel, civil servants and teachers are going back and forth to China. Similarly, people in the entertainment industry and academia, previously so fervently critical of communist China, have become so much more amenable to it. Why? Because of what China represents, and because of what these people can get out of it. Is it any wonder that the KMT wants to cling on to its association with China?
Are the retired generals’ threats real, or are they just all talk, an attempt to intimidate the KMT? Are they going to be like the proverbial eunuchs in a brothel? Whatever the case may be, now that Taiwanese have been left entirely unimpressed by the KMT, it is not their votes the government is relying on. No, this KMT government is relying on the cast-iron vote of retired government employees, having cobbled together benefits that do not even have a legal basis. Is this not exactly what the Civil Servants Election And Recall Act (公職人員選舉罷免法) is referring to when it talks of “asking for expected promises or delivering bribes”?
If these “cast-iron voters” do turn on the KMT, it is very possible that they could be doing a great service to Taiwan’s democratization process, regardless of whether that was their intention. The KMT has bound them to the ROC with ideology and their own vested interests so that it could cling on to the “ROC on Taiwan,” and in so doing it is making them put the party before the state. This can only be to the detriment of the country.
So to these retired employees, go on then: Kick up a stink, bite the hand that feeds. If they have the backbone to do it, they will be setting themselves free from the double grip of ideology and vested interests that the KMT has on them. Then together Taiwanese can change this government and rebuild the nation. Getting rid of corruption and having their dignity returned is only possible if they set themselves free from the pernicious structure of the party state. Taiwan only has a chance of being a real country if it rejects the party state and sees it dismantled.
Lee Min-yung is a poet and political commentator.
Translated by Paul Cooper