Last month, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) held its chairmanship election amid internal conflict. On Sunday, the party's Central Standing Committee election was a complete shambles. But no matter how controversial or messy the elections turned out to be, the party declared many times that it would reform itself.
In his inaugural speech, Taipei Mayor and KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (
When I heard the KMT speaking of reform once again, I, as an historian, could not help but chuckle. This seemed as likely as a pimp preaching the importance of chastity, or a tiger becoming a vegetarian.
Looking at the KMT's history and its past convictions, how could I in all seriousness say that this party understands what reform is all about?
I doubt that there is a single democratic initiative from outside the party that the KMT has not opposed since it lost power in China. But has the KMT itself ever proposed democratic reforms?
In the early 1990s, Ma opposed abolishing anti-sedition legislation. He also opposed direct presidential elections when the idea was first broached, and then made the ridiculous suggestion that presidents be "directly elected" by "electoral representatives." I said sarcastically at the time that if an indirect election could be called a direct election, then perhaps we might soon see "natural" artificial food coloring and black-and-white color TVs.
To accommodate the democracy movement, former president and KMT chairman Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) pushed ahead with democratization and localization, but he was eventually forced to leave the party. Lee made a great effort to rejuvenate the KMT, but he was thrown out by hardline forces within.
This clique of people continues to resist localization. Members even competed over who could be more "anti-Taiwan-independence" during the KMT chairmanship election. When was the last time we saw political parties in the US trying to oppose the independent status of that nation? And what possible reforms could such a group of people bring about with their anti-democracy track record?
Indeed, how does a political group whose values are in turmoil engage in any reform?
Let's take last year's election-eve shooting of President Chen Shui-bian (
Another example of Ma's flakiness can be seen in his campaign for party chairman, in which he said that only he could clean up the party and ridiculing Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) for being associated with "black gold" and election fraud. After being elected, Ma immediately toned down the rhetoric and expressed a willingness to accept this tainted rival as a vice chairman. This flip-flop attitude does not suggest the slightest commitment to reform.
Reformers need to meet two conditions: first, they must to some extent be revolutionaries, willing to put aside convention and not simply be reactionary -- and be creative. More importantly, they must let go of established interests and be willing to change deep-set thinking and practices.
The KMT has had such people in its ranks, but the current line-up is conspicuous for an utter lack of such characteristics. Looking at the KMT's history, we discover that they it has always been "reactionary." And Taiwanese who joined the party largely did so out of opportunism and naturally formed "vested interests."
The inflexible ideological framework of the KMT, with its outmoded ethnocentric nationalism and a "greater China" ideology, has not changed very much since the party's inception. Clearly, reform is not in the KMT's nature. It is impossible to ask a tiger to become a herbivore.
The second basic condition for reform is that you must know what reforms you are going to implement. In the case of the Meiji Restoration in Japan and the 100 Days of Reform instigated by Kang Youwei (康有為) and Liang Qichao (梁啟超), all had a clear list of objectives. That's why the reform movement could proceed. But in the case of the KMT, there is no sign of any reformist agenda.
Normally, when reform is called for, it is because of long-established corruption within a system. Is the long-established corruption in this country the result of 50 years of KMT rule or five years of DPP rule? The current government, has been unable to purge the nation of the political malfeasance that became entrenched within the system during 50 years of KMT autocracy.
So who is capable of doing it? Certainly not the KMT.
Lee Hsiao-feng is a professor of history at Shih Hsin University.
Translated by Daniel Cheng and Ian Bartholomew
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