In the immediate aftermath of the presidential and legislative elections, there were calls for Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Eric Chu (朱立倫) to step down to take responsibility for the results. He has said that he would not do that, apologizing for the presidential election defeat, but saying that the voices for him to stay were louder than those for him to resign, and that he would continue to weather the challenges of the elections of legislative speaker and deputy speaker, and to prepare for opposition in the new legislature.
Precedent demands that he resign. Former KMT chairman Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) did so in January 2020 following President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) landslide victory against KMT presidential nominee Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜). Chu himself did so in January 2016, having lost the presidential election to Tsai, just as Tsai took responsibility for the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) drubbing in the 2022 local elections.
Despite the precedent, there is much to be said for a political leader staying the course in trying times, and not scuttling off when the party is in disarray, and yet the party is not in disarray. Despite its failure to capture the presidency, the KMT has done very well in the legislative elections and would likely have a majority had it not been for the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP).
The KMT does not have a legislative majority, but is, by a hair’s breadth, the largest of the three parties in the legislature. If Chu can convince the TPP to side with it in major votes, it can stymie the DPP’s agenda, although it is yet unclear whether it can necessarily depend on this support.
Then there is Chu’s record as chairman. Despite his comments about how hard he has worked and how much progress the party has made under his leadership, he has been neither particularly effective nor politically astute. Although the KMT did well in the legislative elections, it also lost a significant section of support to “new kid on the block” the TPP. Chu’s failure to do better against it at the ballot box or to tame it in the ill-fated “blue-white alliance” negotiations must be laid at his feet.
Chu is known for his frequent appeals for party unity. That he has to call for it so often is precisely because there has been so little of it. He has held up the party’s performance in the election campaign as evidence of progress, hailing “unprecedented unity” within the party and among KMT supporters.
When he says this, he is presumably disregarding KMT vice presidential candidate Jaw Shaw-kong (趙少康) criticizing the shortcomings of its presidential pick, New Taipei City Mayor Hou You-yi (侯友宜), in his post-election assessment of the loss, the decision not to invite former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) after he strayed from the party line during a pre-election interview with Deutsche Welle, or the large number of former KMT supporters who abandoned the party altogether and voted instead for the TPP.
In terms of unity, you can look at Chu as either long-suffering, hapless or falling short.
After unity, he stressed the importance of the KMT working on behalf of Taiwanese as opposition party. It is important that it does so, because TPP Chairman Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) is showing few signs of being a reliable, steady or dutiful leader.
Unfortunately, the KMT has a record of wanton obstructionism in opposition, and in rewarding failure and electoral rejection. From Chu’s sponsorship of ousted former Kaohsiung mayor Han for legislative speaker, it seems that we can only expect more of the same from Chu’s continued leadership.
In the test of whether he should stay the course, he has fallen at the first hurdle.
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