On July 3, Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) and Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) traveled to Kaohsiung to support the election campaign of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislator and Greater Kaohsiung mayoral candidate Huang Chao-shun (黃昭順). Wang said that Huang already has three terms as a Kaohsiung city councilor and six terms as a legislator under her belt, and has developed good relationships in the region, all of which make her the best candidate for the job.
The KMT is under no illusions as to the uphill struggle it faces in Kaohsiung and a victory would be considered an impressive achievement. Wang and Huang are very close and the former is going to pull out all the stops to help her win. Generally, this kind of electioneering has meant appealing to grassroots supporters, but in Kaohsiung it is more an attempt to forge unity between local factions.
It is common knowledge that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in Kaohsiung is plagued by infighting and that there is little chance of unity being achieved any time soon. Even if Kaohsiung County Commissioner Yang Chiu-hsing (楊秋興) was willing to bury the hatchet with Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊), the same can not be said for their respective teams, because quite a few from Yang’s team only joined him after being rejected by Chen.
The KMT has its own less well-known problems with factional infighting. Whereas the DPP’s disagreements have been played out in public, those of the KMT have so far remained hidden under the surface. Outsiders are not privy to the details, but it is often those problems hidden from the light of day that are hardest to resolve and which can go undetected or misdiagnosed.
None of the mayoral candidates nominated by the KMT, or any KMT members who have stood for the position in Kaohsiung since the city became a special municipality, have been native to the city. Huang Chun-ying (黃俊英) can perhaps be counted as semi-local. Huang Chao-shun is the first Kaohsiung local to stand for the KMT, a situation that came about because factional divisions left the KMT with little choice in the matter.
In the past, the party had to choose between the Chen (陳), Wang (王) or Chu (朱) clans, and favoring one of these was always guaranteed to infuriate the other two. This forced the KMT to look further afield for potential nominees.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s things changed and the Chen faction withdrew from the political scene, followed by the Wangs and the Chus. This left room for Huang Chun-ying to step into the fray, and his first candidacy for mayor marked the end of the old KMT factions at a time when no new ones were strong enough to take their place. With these troublesome factions out of the way, party central command had more influence over what happened on the local level, giving Huang more room to breathe. However, this period also saw the rise in influence of the DPP. In 2002, Huang lost, albeit by a small margin, to the DPP’s Frank Hsieh (謝長廷). Nor was Huang able to win the mayoral election next time round, although he did contest it. Even though the DPP’s power had all but collapsed at this point, the new KMT factions failed to throw their weight behind Huang due to much unpleasantness during the primaries.
The new KMT Kaohsiung factions are centered around a core of experienced legislators, each with his or her own support networks and contacts. Naturally, the party center also has its own network in place. If it could unite all these factions and consolidate the various networks under one roof, that would create a formidable force able to give the DPP a run for its money. The question is whether such a degree of unity is at all possible. Huang Chao-shun is, by nature, quite a divisive person and even though she can count many within the blue camp as allies, she has also made quite a few enemies during her career. The lack of room for maneuver makes the prospect of factional unity much less likely.
The pan-blue and pan-green camps enjoy similar levels of support in Kaohsiung City, but the political landscape in Kaohsiung County favors the pan-greens. When the two are consolidated the pan-greens are likely to retain the advantage. The KMT, therefore, considersd Kaohsiung a challenge.
The Yu (余) faction backed Chen Chu during the DPP primaries, and will probably do the same in the election, but she cannot really count on the support of Yang’s team, which could be problematic. It will not, however, benefit the KMT’s cause if the party proves unable to sort out its own internal factional problems. Without some semblance of factional unity the KMT’s chances of pulling off an upset in Kaohsiung are minimal at best.
The DPP’s factional infighting has long been public knowledge and the party is going to find it difficult to resolve matters before the election. The pan-blues, on the other hand, look the picture of harmony on the surface and it certainly appears that the DPP has the bigger problem. Consequently, some pundits are predicting that the mayoral election will be a run-off between a united KMT and a divided DPP and that the KMT could well win. Clearly the situation is not as simple as it is being portrayed and the KMT still has much work to do to get its own house in order.
DPP supporters are an independent bunch and it cannot necessarily be assumed they will follow the dictates of the local factions. No one is suggesting the factional infighting is not damaging, but it is not as serious as it can sometimes appear. The situation in the KMT is different. Its supporters tend to toe the line and infighting could have much more serious implications for the party’s electoral prospects.
Chen Mao-hsiung is a retired National Sun Yat-sen University professor.
TRANSLATED BY PAUL COOPER
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