Photo Credit: Hung Hsiu-chu/Facebook
Is The Problem Really Hung?
THIS ELECTION CYCLE many were celebrating the fact that the KMT campaign seemed a lost cause in the belief that Hung will prove to be an easy contender for Tsai, giving Tsai the edge over her in the presidential election. Indeed, there was not much contesting this belief either, seeing as that Hung has proven to be out of line with mainstream opinion in Taiwan, which includes her hardliner radical stance on Taiwan’s future relations with China as well as her constant slips of the tongue that gave her opponents an easy time attacking her.
It is a pity then, that during the course of Hung’s candidacy, much of the world looked upon this set of events as Taiwan gearing up for its first “female” presidential election (putting aside James Soong, whose chances of winning are slim at best). Arguably, until Hung’s recent ouster, most international coverage of Hung’s campaign focused only on this aspect. Nevertheless, out of the array of factors at work in the internal politics of the KMT, it is interesting to consider what went wrong with KMT’s entire presidential campaign, from the moment they choose to elect Hung to represent the party, to the present moment when they decided to replace her.
Before the emergency summit on Saturday, rumors of Hung being possibly replaced circulated through the web and mainstream media. Hung supporters had begin creating events on Facebook and posting supporting messages calling on the KMT to halt its plans and support Hung for presidency. But this was not the first time the possible replacement of Hung had been widely discussed. Earlier in September, rumors had been circulating that Hung disappeared from several campaigning events because there were plans by the KMT to replace her with another candidate. This time round, though, rumors were true. At the meeting on Saturday, 812 of 891 delegates voted to remove Ms Hung, and the following day later, Eric Chu was certified to run for presidency.
The reason KMT justified this drastic move was that Hung’s views on cross-strait relations made voters uneasy. But it should come to notice that she is not the only KMT endorsed presidential candidate that holds such views. In fact, this is a relatively normal view among conservative KMT supporters. Several, such as Hau Pei-Tsun has made it public and quite official as a political position, Hau stating during the nine-in-one election that unification is Taiwan’s ultimate goal, or should I say, KMT’s ultimate goal.
Of course, what Taiwan need now is less cross-strait jargon, because under Ma’s eight years of tenure cross-strait relation has failed in improving the lives of many Taiwanese, especially the disenchanted youths feeding themselves on a salary of 22,000 per year. Not to mention, we can point to how Taiwan international status has diminished greatly under Ma’s administration. As a result, though leveraging a campaign on its ability to maintain more stable cross-straits relations compared to the DPP used to be to the KMT’s advantage, this is no longer the case.
Still, what made Hung look weak was not only her pursuit of certain non-mainstream policies, but the fact that she was pushed out into the limelight because nobody in the KMT wanted to shoulder the responsibility. If Hung’s campaign highlighted the KMT’s failures, the KMT fails entirely as a party hardly because of a one woman’s doing.
The KMT failed to resolve longstanding factional tensions under newly assumed chairman Eric Chu. The very reason why Hung even became a viable political candidate was because Ma, the puppeteer of KMT, still did not want a non-Chinese as KMT presidential candidate, given that Wang Jinpyng is “Taiwanese” and “non-Chinese”. Within the KMT itself lies an Chinese ethnic faction, the so-called “Mainlander Faction,” although one need also point to that a good number of Taiwanese still think that ethnic cleavages have been aggravated only during the Chen administration. On the contrary, this has always been a deep-rooted problem left unrecognized, or unwilling to be recognized, by Taiwanese.
Yet in these several months of KMT imbroglio, while Taiwan watches how Hung struggles with her waning polls and how KMT legislative candidate are quick to distance themselves from the party as to not be seen as having the same ideological ties as Hung, the KMT still failed to learn from its lesson that the problem lies with poor leadership—be it under Ma or Eric Chu. Therefore, replacing Hung as the presidential candidate with him is not going to salvage the KMT’s current predicament.
With Hung as the forerunner of what is to come for the KMT, the KMT will once again see a humiliating loss with both the presidential and the legislative election. Several KMT members had chosen to alienate themselves from the party and avoid putting the party emblem in their campaigns, so to distance themselves as far away from the radical Hung—who only die-hard conservative KMT supporters support. It will thus be interesting to see if these legislative candidates will be less hesitant to publicly affiliate themselves with the KMT with the switchover to Chu. If they remain hesitant, so much for KMT members putting the concerns of the party before personal interest.
Eric Chu: The KMT’s Last Hope?
CAN IT BE that all this was a conspiracy that was staged by the KMT to garner sympathetic support for the KMT? Maybe it is that the only conceivable justification KMT supporters can give themselves now is sympathy votes? As quoted by Chu himself: “I will actually come under more pressure and criticism for my decision not to run as opposed to if I decided to run. But I know my intention is to keep the KMT from focusing on only one election. We need to find our party’s essence and rebuild the party’s unity.” Certainly, there have been some who have asked this question, rhetorically so or not.
With the replacement of Hung, the KMT has been trying to make it appear as though its recent problems were because of Hung, putting out the case that the problem lies with a weak Hung and not a weak KMT. Now, Eric Chu seems to be the salvation to KMT, the Jesus brought down to wash away the sins committed by the rest of the party. Thus, Chu’s Jesus-like rhetoric that, “I am the chosen one to shoulder responsibility after all this disaster.”
Making Chu seem like the only hope for the party now can resonate well with the emotions of the KMT supporters. Putting aside his barely managed win of little more than 20,000 votes to the DPP’s Yu Shyi-Kun running for mayorship of New Taipei, Chu’s more moderate stance and good records of winning several elections can be appealing to the more moderate voters. As to reneging on his promise to the residents of New Taipei City, if he has enough resources to spend advertising on how being in the central power will promise more resource to the New Taipei City residents, it may not so damaging to his reputation after all. However, the odds of Chu winning is still relatively low compared to Tsai, given that he has failed to prove his leadership after KMT’s humiliating defeat during nine-in-one elections.
This may be far from a real concern for Chu where his personal interests are concerned, however. If Chu is acting like he is the KMT’s Messiah, come to save the party from up on high, if he crucified during the polls he will eventually live again—like many KMT politicians who have materially benefited from political power, Chu and his step-father are quite wealthy after years of being in the office.
So, Why Hung in the First Place?
WHY WAS IT, then, that Hung became KMT presidential candidate to begin with? Many theories have been spun out from commentators and the public, such as that Eric Chu did not have any presidential plans to begin with, that this is a product of the animosity between Wang and Ma, and that this was because of timing in order that the KMT can still hold on to New Taipei City.
We might point to how Wang Jinpyng was not allowed to become the presidential candidate of the KMT. Out of the four possible contenders, Wu, Wang, Chu, Hung, Wang has no ties to any mayoral responsibilities, and he is meeting the end of his two-term tenure as the head of legislature, seemingly waiting to be replaced. Moreover, Wang has never been associated with overly radical pro-Chinese beliefs, and his Taiwanese background makes him an appealing candidate to a waning “mainlander” KMT population in Taiwan.
Yet, given all his qualifications to represent the KMT, the animosity between Wang and Ma has thwarted Wang’s presidential aspirations. The ambitious Wang has always been seen as Ma’s greatest opponent. Wang has resented Ma’s popularity and success given his “ethnic” disadvantage, and the fact that Ma has done whatever he could to prevent Wang from ascending to power. Hence, Wang could only use his influence in the Legislative Yuan to consolidate his own power and faction, making him the most perceivable threat to Ma’s authority and power. So Ma will not stop at preventing Wang from running. Hung, a female legislator and a member of Ma’s faction, seems to be the perfect sacrifice.
The ugly feud between these two politicians was publicly exposed by the media back in 2014, so more the reason for Ma to deny Wang of any chance at presidential ambitions. If, at the height of tensions with Ma Ying-Jeou in 2014, he had been driven out of the KMT, he would have been the first local Taiwanese presidential candidate to be driven out of the party after what happened with Lee Teng Hui. Yet during the 2014 Ma-Wang showdown, Ma was dealt with a heavy slap in the face by Wang, as Ma failed to oust Wang out of the party, even with the KMT’s kangaroo courts. Wang and Ma has always been at odds with one another, and Ma’s failed attempt made it seem that Ma was bent on revenging himself Wang out of personal hatred—which is not appealing to many of the KMT’s Taiwanese supporters—and made Ma seem even more inept at dealing with the country and party politics. Regardless, Wang would still be too divisive figure for a KMT which has no ability to Taiwan-ize.
Announcing a presidential candidate in the middle of July made it hard for Chu to step down from his mayoral position, which leads us to wonder, why did Chu run in the first place? If not Chu, who else to run for the mayor of New Taipei City, the most populated city and the largest pan-blue holding? The logic seemed to have been that if Chu were to not run and the KMT were to lose it to the DPP, it will serve Tsai, the already foreseen presidential frontrunner, as it would be seen as her achievement that the DPP is able to win New Taipei City from the KMT under her leadership. Chu could still pull out to run for presidency and keep his mayoral position if he were to lose—and at least keep New Taipei City, the only large city that KMT still has control over.
In Taiwan, the law states that the mayor of a city cannot take more than 90 days leave of absence during his term. The announcement of Eric Chu as presidential candidate plays extremely well to the timeline of the KMT in positioning Hung to displace Wang, and for Eric Chu to keep his possibilities open. Shortly after the announcement that Chu will be running, Wang is now enlisted onto the list of potential legislative candidates. All of these factors seems to conclude that the entire drama the country has been witnessing is because Ma cannot allow Wang to run for presidency, cannot allow the other factions to defect on him, and Eric Chu is merely a puppet of Ma.
Either way, this spells disaster for Eric Chu. While the general public pinned their hopes originally on Chu, Chu, for reasons untold chose not to take up the position initially. Now that has decided to run, his opponents have already garnered enough resources and momentum to attack him, and it will be hard for him to shake away his image of impotency, and the lingering memories of his deliberate ousting of Hung. Wang, of course, had no say in this power play, all because the KMT, till today, cannot relieve itself of its ethnic baggage. Even in the protest of ousting Hung outside KMT headquarters, supporters were still screaming, “Chu, you Han traitor (漢奸)!”
Really? A Han traitor?
THE AFTERMATH of the Sunflower Movement has led to the awakening of the public to vote the KMT out of office. Slogans such as “If the KMT does not fall, Taiwan will never be better,” circulated around Taiwan during the mayoral elections last year. This suggests an inevitable loss for the KMT as never once did such campaign emerge from the public itself. In the past, only the KMT came up with the slogan, “If the DPP wins, ROC will be destroyed.” In a twist, the KMT sees itself in a situation similar to 1940s, in that it has lost the trust and faith of civilians.
Regardless, KMT will not be looking at a pretty election in January—and who knows—it might spell the end of Eric Chu’s political career as well, at a rather young age.