The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has been criticized in the past for being too soft to pursue its dictatorial agenda, and yet too cowardly to promote democracy. This was seen once again in its selection of a nominee for the Hualien County commissionership.
The KMT first decided to suspend the Hualien County commissioner primary and appoint former minister of health Yeh Ching-chuan (葉金川) to run in the election. However, faced with opposition from within the pan-blue camp, the party was forced to step back and restore the primary — with a change. Instead of the standard practice of holding a two-stage primary — consisting of public opinion polls and voting by party members — the KMT made an exception for Hualien County and held a public poll only. This shows that the KMT lacks the courage of its convictions: It wanted to impose its will on the people, but backed off when confronted by opposition. At the same time, its determination to secure Yeh’s participation in the election by changing the primary system displayed its democratic shortcomings.
Holding a primary that is based on public opinion polls is clearly custom-made for Yeh as he is better known than the other candidates. As Yeh has never worked in local government, it would also be harder for him to win a primary based on a party member vote. Even pan-blue media outlets have criticized the KMT for employing such a tactic, hinting that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) may be directing things from behind the scenes.
Although Ma has yet to assume office as KMT chairman, he already controls the party. His move to place his people in important positions has aroused fears among other factions in the party. Since winning last year, Ma has spared no effort to prepare for the next presidential election.
The KMT has abundant human resources on which it relies to gain votes. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), in contrast, can only depend on its political ideology to win votes. The larger an electoral constituency is, the less influential human resources are. Thus the DPP has more leverage in large electoral districts, while the KMT dominates in small electoral districts.
Campaigning has become the main electoral strategy for the DPP. In the 1996 presidential race, candidates Lin Yang-kang (林洋港), Peng Ming-min (彭明敏) and Chen Lu-an (陳履安) ran the liveliest campaigns, but KMT presidential candidate Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) still garnered 54 percent of the vote. It was the KMT’s massive human resources that helped him win. Some people said Ma’s victory was unprecedented, but they forget that there were only two candidates in that election, whereas there were four candidates in 1996.
The KMT’s presidential election losses in 2000 and 2004 stirred the passion of its supporters, leading to its landslide victory over the DPP last year. Both the KMT and Ma attributed the success to his charisma. As a result, Ma has placed less importance on winning support from local factions.
While the last presidential race was not a great success for the KMT, it was a significant failure for the DPP. Corruption in the KMT had raised public expectations of a change when the DPP took over in 2000, but the DPP’s upright image has steadily slipped over the years. The DPP also relied on mistakes that the KMT and China have made to win votes, but many Taiwanese have forgotten the political persecution by the KMT. Unable to arouse the public, the DPP finally lost its support.
The KMT’s success does not come from its image, but rather its contacts and networks. Ma, however, continues to build on his personal image, abandoning those networks that once gave him victory.
Chen Mao-hsiung is an engineering professor at National Sun Yat-sen University.
TRANSLATED BY TED YANG
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