by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: 張暟芯/FairMedia
IN HIS SPEECH acknowledging defeat in 2016 elections and resigning as chairman of the KMT, Eric Chu vowed that the KMT would become a respectable opposition party after its defeat to the DPP in both presidential and legislative elections. This defeat was unprecedented, seeing as the KMT has never lost control of the legislature, if the KMT lost control of the presidency during the eight years of Chen Shui-Bian’s presidency. Now it has lost both the presidency and legislature. And the KMT remains only in control of 35 out 113 legislative seats and six out of twenty-two of Taiwan’s counties and cities.
But what will happen now with the KMT? Certainly the KMT will need a new chairman after Chu’s resignation after the defeat of his presidential bid. Even during Eric Chu’s speech acknowledging defeat, within the KMT members and supporters gathered, reportedly some were shouting at Chu to shut his mouth, that he had no right to talk after leading the KMT to such a heavy set of losses. Still other members were shouting to kick Wang Jinpyng out of the party, blaming losses on Wang of all people!
Ma Ying-Jeou speaking at the KMT campaign rally held the night before elections
It would seem that the KMT is still internally fractured. This is along the lines of party divisions, between the Ma Ying-Jeou-led “Mainlander” faction and Wang Jinpyng’s “Taiwanese” faction, which is by comparison to the Mainlander faction more localized. Wang is himself close to some members of the DPP.
But in the past year, we have also seen the resurgence of deep blue extremists, of whom the Hung Hsiu-Chu presidency encouraged. Eric Chu replacing Hung Hsiu-Chu as presidential candidate of the KMT, in spite of that this still would not allow the KMT to defeat the DPP, may well have been a factional move for fear that deep blue extremists would seize control of the party under Hung Hsiu-Chu or that Hung’s presidential candidacy would irreparably damage the image of the KMT beyond repair.
Eric Chu is himself a member of the Mainlander faction but, as compared to the deep blue extremists which arrayed themselves behind Hung Hsiu-Chu, he is certainly more moderate. Yet between Chu as representative of the status quo of the Mainlander faction and deep Blue extremists such as Hung Hsiu-Chu and her supporters, neither would be willing to localize the KMT in any way, such as by relenting and allowing Wang Jinpyng’s Taiwanese faction to guide the party. So it is that some in the party would even like to lay the KMT’s recent defeats at Wang Jinpyng’s doorstep.
Chu, his running mate Jennifer Wang, and other members of his campaign bowing in apology for their loss. Photo credit: KMT
Who, then, will replace Eric Chu as chairman of the KMT? Certainly, those of us who enjoy seeing the KMT suffer would like to see Hung Hsiu-Chu make a triumphant return and assume chairmanship, thereby steering the KMT to its doom. It could also be that Ma Ying-Jeou will return to the chairmanship. Ma resigned last year in apology for the defeats of nine-in-one elections, which led to Eric Chu’s being named chairman of the party despite that normally the ruling KMT president serves as the chairman of the KMT at the same time. But as Ma still has some time left in his term as president of the ROC before Tsai Ing-Wen assumes presidency in May, Ma could just become chairman of the KMT again.
But who would take over after Ma’s presidency ends? Or does Ma just continue to occupy the chairmanship of the KMT? Despite his resounding unpopularity with Taiwanese society writ large, Ma still occupies a position of power within the KMT and will continue to do so after his presidency ends. Yet it would be bizarre for Ma to continue to lead the party.
And there are no strong contenders for who would take over. Hau Lung-Bin, the past mayor of Taipei before Ko Wen-Je and vice chairman of the KMT, was floated as a possibility. But with his recent loss in his run for legislator in Keelung, followed by resigning from his position as vice chairman of the KMT, Hau seems to have been ruled out. Who else does the KMT have? Regardless of who, the KMT does not have heavyweights on the level of Eric Chu or Wang Jinpyng to take over the chairmanship, broadly reflective of the KMT’s issues in raising up new talent through party channels to eventually assume positions of leadership when needed.
The KMT released a campaign ad on January 1st, stressing that Hung Hsiu-Chu continued to endorse Eric Chu for presidency. That the KMT would do so is not insignificant
In the absence of anyone else to take over chairmanship, it may be that another unknown will be raised up from obscurity. This would be in that Hung Hsiu-Chu rose up from nothing because of the power vacuum as to who would be the presidential candidate of the KMT when neither Chu or Wang were willing to declare candidacy for fear of provoking internal conflict within the party. If the party is lucky, unexpected new talent may emerge. But, more than likely, as we saw with Hung Hsiu-Chu, this probably would not be the case. Apart from backlash against Wang Jinpyng which would make it impossible for him to become chairman, Wang is probably too old to really serve anyway.
Whither the KMT, then? The KMT remains in crisis. Will it collapse? If it did collapse, it remains what would arise to replace it, since it is not as if the present members of the KMT would simply be taken up by the rapture and evaporate from Taiwanese politics. Present KMT members would likely reorganize under new form.
It is further a question as to what would happen to the KMT’s substantial party assets, which have been known to exist for a long time but have only recently become an object of scandal. The KMT is now attempting to dispose of many of its party assets in order to pretend they never existed. But the party assets may actually be one factor holding the KMT together. What would happen to the party assets if the KMT were to fold? However, the KMT may be held together to some degree by party politicians wanting access to its party assets. It is equally possible that the party assets may be a factor contributing to a future internal crisis which would lead to the KMT’s collapse. In a scenario in which the KMT were to violently tear itself apart through internal crisis, for example, as prompted over the struggle to find a suitable party chairman, party members might find themselves fighting over the party assets.
The Minkuotang, also known as the Republican Party or MKT, is the newest of the KMT splits. The MKT was formed in April of this year, as a response to the crisis of the KMT during the Sunflower Movement. The party’s campaigning was marked by notably large financial resources, despite the small size of the party. Photo credit: MKT
At the very least, while it may be too early of a collapse for the party as a whole, we may see another mass flight from the party. In moments of internal crisis in which a section of the party felt that the party was abandoning its traditional principles, the KMT has spawned various splinter groups, inclusive of the People First Party, the New Party, and most recently the MKT (Minkuotang). We may see another such flight in the future, perhaps, although it remains to be seen along what lines splits would occur, and under what auspices another KMT splinter group would organize. Such a flight might accelerate the crisis of the KMT, leading to a scenario in which the party abruptly splinters, or it may just contribute to the gradual fragmentation and disintegration of the party over a protracted period of time.
Regardless, it does appear that the KMT has a limited lifespan at this point. Maybe, as Nietzsche said, when you see something about to fall, you should give it a push.