by Brian Hioe

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Photo Credit: NOWnews

As we enter 2016 and elections near in Taiwan, this is the first part of a two-part article about KMT candidate Eric Chu and DPP candidate Tsai Ing-Wen and their respective predecessors.

IT IS PROBABLY already clear that Eric Chu will not be the next president of Taiwan. Thus, rather than fret about the possibility of a Chu presidency which will not come to be, we might concern ourselves with why exactly Eric Chu is running in the present. Because it appears as though Eric Chu does not offer anything substantially different than Ma Ying-Jeou, in spite of the past year’s backlash against Ma’s policies.

Does Eric Chu himself have any real expectation of winning the presidential election? It is hard to say, certainly, Chu may really only be aiming to cut the margin of losses for the KMT in order to save face. In part, we might also speculate that Chu would replace Hung Hsiu-Chu as presidential candidate of the KMT as a factional move within the KMT itself, in light of that the Hung candidacy made it a very real possibility that deep blue KMT extremists would seize control of the party. The reaction of some within the KMT to the Sunflower Movement and a year of demonstrations against the undemocratic actions of the KMT would be to decide that instead of reform, the KMT needed to go back to the good old ways, then all this would pass by like a bad dream.

PhotoCreditUDN:林俊良Hung supporters fighting with the police outside KMT headquarters in October, after trying to prevent cars carrying members of the KMT Central Committee from leaving. Photo credit: UDN/林俊良

Yet it may be significant, in fact, that Eric Chu, too, offers nothing substantially different than Ma Ying-Jeou. Chu, like Ma, is largely an individual who rose to a position of political prominence within the KMT on the basis of a relatively clean, uncorrupt image combined with family ties. Nevertheless, it is that when Chu became presidential candidate of the KMT, Chu had a chance to make some effort at salvaging the image of KMT by making some conciliatory gestures towards reform. Of course, it goes without saying that such an effort would not have been very sincere, but Chu had his opportunity and he did not take it.

This seems to be an indication that internal reform within the KMT was impossible. There the strange lull in which no strong KMT presidential candidate presented itself—leading to the power vacuum that allowed for the meteoric rise of Hung Hsiu-Chu from relative obscurity—both Eric Chu and Wang Jinpyng were waiting in the wings hoping that the party would ask them to be presidential candidate. But neither was willing to disrupt the status quo within the KMT too much by actively declaring that they were seeking presidential candidacy.

A Wang presidential candidacy was out of the picture, with the continued reluctance of the KMT to Taiwan-ize in spite of all indications being that eventual extinction for the party is on the horizon without significant reform. Chu, solidly belonging to Ma Ying-Jeou’s Mainlander faction, would thus become presidential candidate instead. This signifies no shift of status quo within the KMT has occurred. If Chu’s defeat seemed all but certain on the basis of that he did not reflect any change from Ma Ying-Jeou, is it that the KMT is apparently totally blind to its need to localize or die?

Certainly, there are some indications that the KMT is quite often rather blind to public opinion, as we see in that Ma Ying-Jeou would suddenly announce a meeting with Xi Jinping in spite of the few months remaining in his lame duck presidential term, the first meeting of a PRC and ROC head of state in some seventy years. Some saw the meeting as an attempt to show Taiwanese voters that the KMT is the only party in Taiwan able to negotiate with China. Although the meeting may not have actually provoked as many negative responses from the Taiwanese public as expected, it is surprising that the KMT would undertake a risky move at the last-hour such as the Ma-Xi summit.

PhotoCreditOoi Boon Keong:TodayOnlineMa Ying-Jeou and Xi Jinping meeting in Singapore in November. Photo credit: Ooi Boon Keong/TodayOnline

However, assuming that the KMT has not totally unhinged as a political party, it may be that no substantial shift by the KMT has occurred in policy because the KMT has made the rational consideration that the current tide of backlash against it will pass. This is different from how deep blue extremists such as Hung and her supporters wish for a return to the nostalgic glory days of the KMT, but the belief that holding to the present course is what will provide for the survival of the KMT.

We can see Chu presidential candidacy in this light as signs of the KMT as entering a “holding pattern”. The Chu presidential candidacy perhaps having never stood any real sign of victory from the beginning, after Chu took over from Hung Hsiu-Chu as presidential candidate. But that Chu also did not make any attempts to change course from Ma Ying-Jeou’s presidency or even act as though it was attempting to do so. It may be that the the Chu presidential candidacy is attempting to preserve the trajectory of the Ma Ying-Jeou administration in hopes that there will be another shift in public opinion which will allow for the KMT to take power again in 2020 on a platform not substantially different from the platform Ma Ying-Jeou ran on in 2008, after the Chen Shui-Bian presidency.

Perhaps the KMT is banking on the Tsai administration being in some way divisive of the Taiwanese public as the first DPP presidency under Chen Shui-Bian was. Or, if the KMT itself realizes that Tsai Ing-Wen will not be a second Chen Shui-Bian, it may be that the KMT is counting on China to react aggressively against Tsai as it did agains Chen in the hopes that this will tip the balances of the scale in its favor. It is probably true that even after the past year’s protest against the CSSA, AIIB, and other economic deals signed with China, the KMT still intends to put in policies aimed at drawing Taiwan closer to China in the name of economic pragmatism. So, then, will the ghost of Ma Ying-Jeou continue to haunt Taiwan even after his presidential term is about to end, even if it almost certain that Chu will not be able to take the presidency.