The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) set up shop a century ago. It is time to seriously reflect on where it goes from here now that it is facing possibly huge defeats in next year’s seven-in-one local elections and the 2016 presidential election. At the time of the 2008 presidential elections, former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) had a popularity rating of 18 percent, the same as President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has now.
Ma has no cause for complacency just because he received 91.85 percent of the votes in the KMT chairmanship election. The high support level was probably all part of his campaign team’s strategy, the goal of which was to give people outside of the party or other party members the false impression that Ma’s towering support remains unchallenged.
However, there is a yawning gap between his popularity rating within the party and his popularity rating among the wider public.
With the elections looming, there have been scenes of incensed protestors laying siege to the Ministry of National Defense over the death of army corporal Hung Chung-chiu (洪仲丘) and protests against the forced demolitions and rehousings in Miaoli County’s Dapu Borough (大埔).
As chairman, Ma’s popularity only serves to highlight, by contrast, the fact that he cannot seem to put a foot right as president. Ma has got what he wanted — he still has the party chairmanship to bolster his influence as president, but the public cannot see him solving their problems. There is a glaring contradiction between his awful showing of 18 percent in public opinion polls and his glorious support of 91 percent within his own party.
The first reason that Ma consistently fails to get the approval of Taiwanese, despite all the efforts he makes, is the paucity of range within his inner circle. He chooses premiers and ministers with personalities much like his own. We never hear them explain the whys and wherefores of government policy, neither do they care to defend them. They prefer to thrust their heads in the sand, feeling that less is more. Whenever something blows up they just deal with it by apologizing and offering their resignation.
The second reason is that there is a huge discrepancy between how the government proceeds and what the public perceives or needs. With the signing of the cross-strait service trade agreement, for example, the government produced a report that nobody really accepted, and which in no way dissipated the doubts and suspicions the public harbored over the agreement.
Many doubts concerning the findings of this report have been raised. Nobody, from ordinary members of the public to people who work in the service industry, actually trusted the report’s conclusions.
With Hung’s death, all his family and the public want to do is hear the truth about why and how he died. However, three weeks after the tragedy, the government has yet to come clean.
Ma should be aware that votes for him in the chairmanship election fell by 20 percent from his first victory. This should set the warning bells ringing. In 2009 he got 285,354 votes, and this year he received 202,750. Election results are a social science that should be studied in a systematic way with rational judgment. The party should not ignore the results because of its sense of duty in getting the chairman re-elected to a second term.
The KMT needs to interpret the 20 percent drop in the number of votes in a systematic way. It shows that Ma’s support within the party has waned by a significant degree, suggesting that there ought to be a repositioning of Ma’s political leadership style, otherwise the president and party chairman will become a liability.
The party should view this as a serious warning in terms of its future dealings with rival political parties.
In recent presidential and vice presidential elections there has been less than 10 percent on average between the vote counts for the ruling and opposition parties. In the last election, there was only a six percent disparity between votes for Ma and former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文). The KMT needs to take a thorough and systematic look at this.
To go with the drop in voting numbers for Ma in this month’s party chairmanship election, eligible voter turnout also dropped by 28 percent. However, he is complacent because he retained a high support rating of 91.85 percent. This support is dramatically different from the disapproval rate of 70 percent and approval rate of 18 percent that Ma consistently scores in public polls.
The KMT need to consider the implications of the election results and approval ratings alongside a 2.7 percentage point increase in invalid votes as a percentage of the total votes cast, a swell in the protest vote phenomenon, the gradual increase in the number of party members dissatisfied with the way the party chairman was elected and the rapid rise in disaffection with Ma. Where is the KMT to go from here?
From the perspective of an economist, policies can be seen as input variables and their effects as outputs. Between these inputs and outputs there are other variables — effects, efficiency, correlations, trends. If the variables we choose as inputs are flawed, the policy produced is unlikely to be favorable. The time and resources to amend the input variables and the policy direction will be wasted.
People like Ma, the premier and ministerial-level government officials who are responsible for controlling and devising the nation’s major policies cannot approach policymaking in the spurious manner that they have been doing.
Unless the KMT finds an answer to where it is going it will lose the reigns of power again.
Kuo Chen-hero is an assistant professor of economics at Soochow University.
Translated by Paul Cooper