Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Johnny Chiang (江啟臣), tasked with reforming the party and returning it to the viable political force that it once was, is faced with a Gordian knot. The complexities of the job ahead go beyond appealing to a younger generation of voters.
Chiang might have to decide between jettisoning much of what the party originally stood for and preparing it for a return to the Presidential Office, or doubling down on its founding purpose and representing what is increasingly, in the current state of Taiwanese politics, a minority view.
The KMT, as the founding party and self-proclaimed champion of the Republic of China (ROC), held sway over the nation for decades, initially under martial law as an uncontested authoritarian regime, and then as the architect of the nation’s economic development and — albeit forced by a grassroots pro-democracy movement — democratization.
It has not fared well in the post-democratic period, with the exception of its landslide victory in 2008 that was, at least partially, attributable to the perception among the electorate that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) under former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) had become corrupt.
When the KMT had control over the curriculum, media, judiciary and parameters of public discourse, the ROC ideology was sustainable. This is less true after the DPP has had the chance to partially dismantle the KMT’s old party-state apparatus, amend parts of the curriculum and influence public discourse.
Another important trend has been the “natural independence” phenomenon, caused by a generation that has an increasingly higher proportion of people who identify as Taiwanese, not Chinese. A recent survey found that 83 percent identify as Taiwanese, while only 5 percent identify as Chinese.
On Tuesday last week, Chiang perfectly summarized the complexity of the situation, saying: “I was born and raised in Taiwan. I am Taiwanese… From the perspective of blood origin, culture and history, I am also Chinese... On the basis of the ROC Constitution, I am an ROC national.”
He added that the Constitution defined the territory of the ROC — including China — and that the model, short of constitutional amendments, would remain unchanged.
In doing so, he has wedded himself and the party to a vision of the ROC, as encapsulated in the Constitution, which is wildly at odds with objective fact and reality.
If he could abandon this conception and follow a more realistic vision for the nation, appealing more effectively to the majority view of the electorate and to the younger generation, he might stand more of a chance of returning the party to the Presidential Office.
To complicate matters, Chiang must be mindful of representing the party’s young members, many of whom did not vote for him in the March 7 chairperson by-election. His rival, former Taipei mayor and KMT vice chairman Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌), did slightly better among those younger than 40. Chiang enjoyed far more support among 60 to 69-year-olds — garnering more than 40 percent, compared with less than 10 percent for Hau.
Another problem is that some young KMT members have views that differ from those of the wider electorate. Some have said that the KMT should return to the concept of the ROC safeguarding a “Free China.”
Concerned that the party has drifted away from being a defender of democracy and become too close to the Chinese Communist Party, they want the KMT to return to this vision and to articulate it more effectively.
The question is, can Chiang bring these contradicting trends — stronger identification with Taiwan and a newly reinforced affiliation to the ROC and KMT of the past — under one tent?
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