Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) politicians have been wringing their hands over the situation they have orchestrated. Behind the scenes, party machinations have fomented dismal electoral prospects for its legislative candidates, by appointing a feisty and unrelenting presidential candidate. Still, a cabal of party heavyweights appear to be suspiciously aloof during the ongoing turmoil.
In contrast, the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) trajectory has soared at the hands of DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and her platform. The good fortunes of the party have encouraged its members to envision self-rule for Taiwanese.
The KMT’s electoral prospects began to corrode during President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) second term in office.
After consecutive electoral victories — twice in Taipei City mayoral elections and twice in presidential elections — the party had nothing to show in exchange for the public’s faith in it except hollow platitudes, while ethnic Taiwanese had had enough. The stain-proof coating of “bumbling” Ma’s, as The Economist put it in 2012, charismatic charm had worn bare.
In the meantime, a generation who never experienced the KMT’s pre-democratic era practices of repression and fear came of age, giving rise to the Sunflower movement. Protesters occupied the main legislative chamber in March last year to halt the ratification of the cross-strait service trade agreement, which was perceived as a sellout of the nation’s economy to China.
The public act of defiance spurred independent candidate Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) to win the Taipei mayoral election and secured a landslide victory for the DPP in the nine-in-one elections last year. Taiwan’s political paradigm was shaken.
In recent years, the KMT has offered nothing to pro-democracy Taiwanese, except a nightmare scenario of “now or later:” A swift and violent military takeover by the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) or a tortuously slow absorption of the nation’s culture and economy by the PRC.
The Sunflower movement has demonstrated that the public is not willing to be bullied by the ruse employed by the KMT.
When it was time for the KMT to nominate a candidate to face Tsai in January’s elections, party bigwigs locked themselves away and abdicated responsibility for the party’s future.
The KMT nominated the lone victor of the drubbing it received in the local elections, New Taipei City Mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫) as KMT chairman. Then it undemocratically — in the broad sense — chose Deputy Legislative Speaker Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱) to be its presidential candidate. She has so far proven herself to be democratically tone-deaf, preferring to turn up the volume on the KMT’s traditional authoritarian posture, which Ma never dared to publicly brandish.
The KMT claims Hung was nominated through democratic means, but a true democracy chooses and elects candidates via elections that are perceived as fair, providing equal opportunities to all stakeholders. Public opinion polls can be easily manipulated. Winning a popularity contest that is measured by pollsters when nothing is debated or communicated with the public is a far cry from winning an election. Doing so proves that candidates have the ability to attract voters, organize an electoral campaign and mobilize support.
Had the KMT availed itself to the open process, it would not have been “surprised” with the cross-strait platform Hung has espoused since her nomination.
As far as specifics regarding Hung’s nomination goes, it is illusory to find a single poll attributing anywhere near a 30 percent approval for anyone connected with the KMT during the months before or since her anointment by pollsters in July.
Yet Hung passed three internal polls with flying colors, reaching an approval rating of 46 percent. This far exceeded the 30 percent minimum threshold “democratically” mandated by the KMT to become the party’s presidential candidate. This qualified her as an ideal candidate, but it only demonstrates what happens when open electoral primaries are forsaken for backroom politics.
From the KMT’s pulpit, Taiwanese, or taike (台客) — inferior, low-class and uncultured people — are to be neglected, as opposed to the inner party cadre descendant from northern Chinese heritage, where its power originates and belongs.
The KMT, vanquished from its homeland, is only one generation removed from the perceived omnipotent rule over the great nation and culture of China and only 20 years into their perception of the seemingly unwieldy democratic processes developing in Taiwan. It is unsurprising that it struggles to meet the needs and standards of a modern democratic society.
So, when Hung, as reported in the Taipei Times, upon her nomination as the KMT’s presidential candidate, victoriously claimed that, “we cannot leave Taiwan to be governed by lies and populism, the KMT is a glorious party with a history spanning more than 100 years that founded the Republic of China, and raised Taiwan from the wretched colony it was,” it became inevitable that the path to an electoral failure would loom over the KMT’s inner power brokers.
The KMT’s only hope of retaining the presidency and a legislative stranglehold was either to continue to bait Taiwanese with their intimidating alternate reality of “vote for us or anger the Chinese government,” or follow a mutinous change of course.
It is seen that the party has chosen the latter, as the former no longer carries the weight it once did.
To right the act of nominating Hung as the party’s presidential candidate, the KMT has convened an extempore party congress to rescind her candidacy. It is expected that the KMT will repeat its backroom nomination processes and force Chu, who shunned entering the presidential race, to replace Hung.
Upon the inevitable drubbing at the polls, as is convention with Taiwanese politics, Chu would accept a losing leader’s fate and commit a symbolic seppuku by resigning from the KMT chairmanship. His public persona would be crushed and his inherited political career would be parked in a cul-de-sac for the foreseeable future.
To identify the ringleaders responsible for the KMT’s chaos, one need only look at the people who were responsible for the commissioning of the self-professed “democratic polls” that anointed Hung. This might also reveal who is to inherit the KMT’s networks and massive coffers in the election’s aftermath.
On the bright side, KMT puppeteers appear to be giving voters the opportunity to elect a homespun Taiwanese president and legislature.
Taiwanese might at last unshackle themselves from the existence they have been subjected to since the arrival of Dutch and Spanish invaders in the 17th century, and for the first time ever, realize self-rule of their homeland.
The greatest milestone of a nation, emancipation, might be at hand.
Wayne Pajunen is a political analyst and commentator.
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