Languishing under dismal popularity levels and internal divisions that threaten to tear the party asunder, the KMT seems poised to shoot itself in the foot as the party gears grind to a halt over their choice of candidate for the 2016 Taiwanese presidential election. Factional leaders clearly rue the decision of the party to place Deputy Legislative Speaker Hung Hsiu-chu at the forefront of the electoral machine, and in light of her campaign’s inability to clear itself out of the doldrums of low voter popularity, held an extemporal forum this past week to ruminate on the possibility of replacing her with New Taipei City mayor Eric Chu mere months ahead of the election.
This sort of public infighting amongst sections of the party demonstrates the depths of the desperation the KMT feels in response to its diminishing credibility among the Taiwanese polity, who are more boldly voicing their objections to the status quo that the entrenched KMT has so bitterly defended over the last few decades of democratization. The shift in the preferences of the population-at-large seem to reflect the start of a longterm trend in identity politics that will increasingly marginalize the once unrivaled KMT, a organization that seems intent upon staying its course rather than adapting to the tectonics that accompany the increasing influence the notion of a “Taiwanese” identity has had upon the population, especially those who have grown up in the period following the lifting of martial law. While electoral politics, particularly those of young, vulnerable democracies, have a notorious pendulum-like swing to them, the rising tempo of popular protest movements in Taiwan spell out a future in which a larger range of political voices will jockey for positions of decision-making.
Hung, for her part, doesn’t appear to want to go down without a fight, and issued a statement in response to the growing cadence of voices calling for her to relinquish the candidacy in favor of someone who would have a greater chance of overtaking Tsai Ying-wen. Stating her commitment to the future aspirations of the younger generation, she decried the move within the party to cast her aside and vowed to press forward with her campaign, which seems at this moment to have no serious chance to overcome the juggernaut that the Tsai campaign has put together as it rides the wave of voter opinion straight to the ballot box. One ponders whether the KMT has given any serious thought to its sustainability, or if it will remain content to fight over the scraps of an increasingly irrelevant status quo even as the floor falls out from under it.
Should the attempt to replace Hung with Chu eventually reach fruition, the move would undoubtably give rise to even greater controversy and bring into question the already seriously flawed logic of the KMT. The legality of ramrodding a candidate into the election so late in the game, after the filing deadline has already long since passed, remains dubious even to legal scholars, and would further the already popular idea that the KMT has a flagrant disregard for existing laws, deeming it appropriate to bend them whenever it suits the needs of the party. Additionally, seeing as Chu remains in the midst of his recently laboriously secured tenure as mayor of New Taipei City, a move to abandon his post and throw himself into the ring would call into question the KMT’s commitment to governance rather than politics, a claim that they retain only a tenuous grasp on at the moment.
The decay of a party this massive, which has historically controlled such a vast preponderance of wealth and power in Taiwan, cannot be taken lightly, and should these predictions become reality and the KMT begin to disintegrate, a huge void in the political discourse will inevitably open up, leading to the question of who will step up to the plate as the opposition. Clearly, career politician James Soong and his People First Party will remain only a passing distraction yet again this election cycle. The rise of a Third Force movement could eventually fill the gap, but the malaise of trying to unite so many minority parties encompassing vastly different political ideologies, coupled with the accusations that these parties serve only to siphon off votes from the more prominent DPP, places this possibility rather far in the future.
Let’s not schedule the funeral of the KMT just yet, though; a party with such entrenched interests and a vast amount of wealth held over from a long period of one-party rule will certainly not go down without a fight. If this factional fighting clears the path for Wang Jin-pyng or another powerful party leader to claim the helm of the party, a regeneration and unification under a new banner would not necessarily fall into the realm of fiction. However, in such a state of disarray as they find themselves now, the KMT will have to take quick measures to find this sort of unified message in order to have any serious chance at remaining relevant amidst the churning of a fundamental shift in voter preference.