The KMT’s Questionable Future: Where is it Going?
Monday March 1, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.
The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) remains in its discontented state of disarray, searching for direction. To any distant observer it may not seem that bad, but a closer look proves otherwise.
Start with the surprise return and acceptance of former member, Jaw Shaw-kong. After nearly three decades from his bold break with the party, Jaw has suddenly decided to come in from the cold.
In 1993, he had left the KMT to help form the New Party, a distraught group who felt that the KMT had lost touch with its primary goal of returning to China and bringing Taiwan with it of course.
The New Party grew but quickly peaked; it gained 21 seats in the 1995 Legislative Yuan and 46 seats in the now defunct National Assembly before suddenly running out of steam. It has not held any seats in the legislature for over a decade.
Yet, few KMT members, in accepting Jaw back, even thought to ask why this is so.
Instead, Jaw simply decided to come in from the cold.
Surprisingly, he is showing few signs of repentance, remorse or a change of heart. As soon as he was accepted back in the fold, he announced that he is considering a run for the party chair and also willing to carry its banner in the 2024 presidential elections.
Do KMT members really imagine that his return is a positive sign? Are many suggesting that he is the next messiah? What is their central thought?
More has followed pouring gasoline on this bonfire of the vanities.
Recent two-time loser par excellence Han Kuo-yu quickly endorsed Jaw for party chair. Han, for anyone who has been out of the nation, is the same one who won the Kaohsiung mayoralty in 2018 and almost immediately afterwards decided that his imagined popularity merited abandoning that position and running for president last year.
Unfortunately, reality entered and proved that it was not the best of decisions for Han or the party. He was trounced in the presidential election and then suffered the further ignominy of being recalled as mayor.
Should not questioning have followed this? Do party members see Han’s endorsement of Jaw as a positive thing? Or, did no one see this coming?
The KMT seems to consistently falter while maintaining a short-term memory.
Did the party learn nothing from the debacle of Hung Hsiu-chu its initial pick in the 2016 presidential election?
So now Jaw has returned from the cold with the implication that he did so to “save the party,” and this is followed by his accepting the endorsement of two-time loser Han.
However, the twists, turns and mysteries do not end there.
Former president, Ma Ying-jeou has also decided to step in and provide informative direction. Some might think this is propitious as Ma won the presidency both in 2008 and 2012.
However short-term memory again wins out.
Does no one remember that Ma got the Bumbler nametag right after his 2012 victory? Why was that followed by the ensuing destruction of his Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement dreams and the KMT’s wipe out in the elections of 2014?
Ma clearly further showed his true colors in 2015 when he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Singapore. At that crucial first-ever meeting he dared not even mention the catchphrase he touted in relation to the bogus “1992 consensus,” that the KMT holds to “one China” but with a different interpretation from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) of what that “one China” is.
All this past baggage is what besets KMT Chairman Johnny Chiang, who is trying to hold the ship together, update it and get it moving forward.
On the surface a united effort between Ma, Jaw, and Chiang would seem propitious. It brings all the sections of the KMT under one roof, but questions linger: Who will take the lead? Who will define what constitutes the one roof that they are under?
Nature abhors a vacuum, even in the KMT leadership. So, if no strong leader emerges, past losers will return to fill that gap. This has been the continuing story and challenge for the KMT from 2000 when they kicked out former president Lee Teng-hui.
Another challenge is the KMT’s dwindling base in an increasingly Taiwan-centric nation. If the KMT is relying on the old guard to consolidate and build that base, it is putting its eggs in the basket with a proverbial gaping hole in its base.
Young KMT members are caught in this situation and are at a loss as to what banner to follow.
The “three principles” of founder Sun Yat-sen are worthy principles but how are they to be applied when members prefer to pursue a lost motherland dream over true democracy?
When the KMT lost China to the CCP, it was not because of the three principles. It lost because the KMT leadership failed to put them into practice. They preferred power, privilege and entitlement to democratic principles.
The KMT needs revamping and a new paradigm; and so it remains on Taiwan as diaspora in exile. The only way it can go back to China is as Quislings eagerly abandoning the three principles to enjoy crumbs of privilege and prestige on the continent.
Somehow, this new needed paradigm must combine the idealism of the past with the reality of the present.
It will be a challenge for whoever becomes the KMT chair in July for it is Taiwan, not China, which has government of the people, by the people and for the people.
Perhaps the KMT could find inspiration from the story of Roman poet Virgil in his epic, Aeniad. As Troy fell, Aeneas and his fellow Trojans escaped into exile. After travails, they eventually founded Rome, but they did not call it “New Troy” nor did they ever dream of returning to the old Troy. They settled where they were and made it their new home.
Some might argue that China has changed from the China out of which the CCP drove the KMT. That is true but the CCP’s capitalist China is still far from being a democracy governed by Sun’s three principles.
China is not going to change nor will Beijing accept any dialogue while Xi is in power. Dictators don’t dialogue, and a younger Xi is set to outlive Ma and Jaw.
One only has to look at Hong Kong, which had been promised 50 years of democracy but did not even get a whisper of dialogue when it asked for what it was promised.
The KMT’s election hopes lie in painfully abandoning its China dream and becoming fully Taiwan centric.
Who will take the lead and how can a new paradigm be developed?
Ma would be incapable of formulating such a paradigm; and the same holds for Jaw. Any dreams that either have would only work if Taiwan were in dire economic straits and a Faustian bargain with China were the only hope. The current reality is the opposite.
If KMT members really believe in the three principles, they must learn that they already exist in Taiwan and China is not open to missionaries with that message.
The young Turks in the KMT are searching for something more realistic to follow. If I were to offer unwanted advice it would be this: Re-elect Johnny Chiang as chairman and let him work at revamping the party. He could also run for the mayor of Taipei next year as a testing ground to see if how much real management ability he has.
As for a presidential candidate in 2024, the best KMT person on the horizon thus far is New Taipei City Mayor, Hou You-yi. He has not been sucked into the “one China” dream and has a more practical bent of getting things done.
And Ma and Jaw? Would they be up to the painful analysis of why they carry such losing cachet?
However, why should the KMT listen to this? It only promotes a balanced democracy in a world where the self-determination that Taiwan has achieved is increasingly valued and on the rise.