It is understandable how the passage of the Act on Promoting Transitional Justice (促進轉型正義條例) on Tuesday last week has made the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) very antsy.
The enactment, aiming to review and address the legacy of injustices left by the former KMT authoritarian regime from Aug. 15, 1945 (when Japan ended its colonial rule of Taiwan) to Nov. 6, 1992 (when martial law on the outlying islands of Kinmen and Matsu ended), stipulates the rectification of unjust verdicts under martial law, the removal of public displays of authoritarian symbols commemorating dictators, and the retrieval of ill-gotten party assets and political archives held by political parties and affiliated organizations, among other things.
The law has no doubt touched the nerve of the KMT, as it deals with many things that the party holds dear to its heart, including former president Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) — who is enshrined in the KMT charter as the “Director-General of the Party” (國民黨總裁) — its party assets and its political archives, which it has repeatedly barred from review by Academia Historica and the National Archive Administration.
The KMT would do well to remember the words of former US president John F. Kennedy, who said: “When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ (危機) is composed of two characters — one represents danger and the other represents opportunity.”
If the KMT’s leaders are wise enough, they would realize that the act’s enactment and implementation present the party with an invaluable opportunity to turn over a new leaf.
For decades, especially since the nation’s democratization in the early 1990s, KMT members have carried with them the “original sin” of the party’s authoritarian past. Whenever elections roll around, KMT candidates, instead of focusing on expounding their campaign platforms on how they hope to serve their constituencies, are put on the spot having to defend their party’s former leaders, if not its ill-gotten assets.
This “original sin” — stemming from the party’s despotic past, which brought agony and suffering to many during the White Terror era — is a major reason why many Taiwanese find the party untrustworthy.
The new law presents a chance for all KMT members to rid themselves of this historical burden and allow prospective candidates to truly and fairly compete with their electoral opponents as they would no longer be viewed by voters through history’s lens.
The first step is easy: All the KMT has to do to demonstrate that it has been reborn and kept pace with progress and changes in values is to proactively assist the government in implementing transitional justice measures set forth under the law.
According to a poll by the Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation in July last year, only 16 percent of respondents said they liked the KMT. The poll also showed that while the DPP led other parties in terms of public image, as it was perceived as the party that best represents the interests of Taiwanese, the KMT was viewed as a party that represents the interests of Chinese and rich people.
As Academia Historica director Wu Mi-cha (吳密察) has said, the KMT can borrow from the impetus of the transitional justice process and win support by showing commitment to its efforts.
“If this is done well, then no individual or party will be held accountable for past crimes,” Wu said.
Taiwanese are known for their graciousness. If the KMT could take concrete action to prove it is making a genuine effort to carry out transitional justice, strengthen pro-localization consciousness and realign itself with mainstream public opinion, it might have the chance to redeem itself in the eyes of the public.
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