by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: UDN

WITH SUCH massive public backlash against the KMT in the past year and the defeat of the KMT in 2016 presidential and legislative elections, political infighting within the KMT has grown increasingly severe. Infighting is between Ma Ying-Jeou’s Mainlander faction and the Wang Jinpyng’s Taiwanese faction, internal struggle within the Mainlander faction between deeper Blue elements and relative moderates, and conflict over who will be the next party chairperson. It would be that the KMT is internally tearing itself apart.

As the quip often goes, the KMT no longer has young people within the party. This would be another factor behind the crisis of the KMT, with the party’s actions in recent years having alienated much of Taiwan’s young. This has been a product of the KMT’s attempts to draw Taiwan too close to China than many find comfortable or on the basis of perceived corruption through the KMT’s sizable party assets or KMT politicians who have made themselves wealthy through using their political connections.

However, the KMT still maintains a sizable and active youth section. Interestingly enough, despite the fact that the DPP absorbed many young people drawn from post-Sunflower civil society for the Tsai campaign, the DPP has never been able to build a comparable youth section to either the KMT or TSU.

And it is that in the KMT’s moment of crisis, young people within the KMT are calling for internal party reform in order to rescue the party—with some surprisingly sympathetic responses from post-Sunflower youth activists. The Grassroots Alliance (草協聯盟) and leading figure Hsu Hsiao-Chin (徐巧芯) have been much discussed in Taiwanese civil society as of late.

12438987_1657805537833511_186480344653052203_n (1)Grassroots Alliance logo. Photo credit: Grassroots Alliance

The Grassroots Alliance is an organization formed out of the youth section of the KMT. The Grassroots Alliance calls for internal reform, including resolving the party assets issue in a manner satisfactory to win back the trust of the Taiwanese public, defending social welfare and labor rights, and moving towards a vision for a pluralistic society in Taiwan. The Grassroots Alliance has also called for transparency in the election of the next KMT chairperson, at times directly criticizing candidates for chairperson who seems like they will carry on old forms of politics.

At the same time, the Grassroots Alliance has stressed that it does not wish to change the name of the KMT from the “Chinese Nationalist Party” to the “Taiwanese KMT”, likely indicating a continued sense of identification with China. The Grassroots Alliance is currently holding public events with the aim of recruitment and establishment, probably aiming to build something parallel to Sunflower movement and post-Sunflower movement activist organizations Taiwan March, the Black Island Youth Alliance, and Restoration of Taiwan Social Justice.

Namely, it is that after the Sunflower Movement, young KMT members realized that their party was out of step with the times and that it had no ability to appeal to young people. Lin Chia-Hsing (林家興), a current member of the Grassroots Alliance, during his tenure as head of the KMT youth section made a number of appearances at Taiwanese civil society events in order to try to close the gap between the KMT’s views and the majority views of Taiwanese civil society.

Though among Taiwanese youth activists, Lin became known as an individual who was able to speak the same language as the Sunflower Generation and was on certain social issues on the same page as youth activists—for example, regarding labor issues—this was at times strained. Lin would seemingly be allowed to appear at civil society events and make speeches because of his insistence on doing so, but Lin’s speeches were always strangely short-circuited by incongruous references to KMT party ideology. One suspects that Lin’s speeches were being vetted by his KMT superiors, undercutting his attempts at trying to appeal to his peers of the Sunflower Generation.

It is probable that the members of the Grassroots Alliance are young people from KMT families, raised on KMT party ideology from birth.  Thus, these young people cannot help but have a sense of unconditional loyalty to the party, as instilled in them since childhood. But, naturally, as young people who are peers with the Sunflower generation, they realize the KMT’s inability to appeal to young people and the disconnect of the party from the present. They may also be aware that the KMT is quite tainted as a political party in the present, but have a sense of pride in the party as a result of their upbringing, and a nostalgia for the perceived glory days of the party. Lin Chia-Hsing, for example, has in comments cited the past history of the KMT as a revolutionary party but that the party right now is far from a revolutionary party. At the bottom of this sense of loyalty to the KMT may also be the continued sense of identification with China.

Interestingly enough, even firmly pro-independence members of Taiwanese civil society and youth activism have at times been sympathetic to these young people in the KMT. Youth activists probably would be happier to see the KMT done away with more than anything else. We see this with the rise of activist projects directly targeting the KMT after the Sunflower Movement such as the Appendectomy Project—whose name in Chinese punned on that the KMT needed to be removed from Taiwan like an infected appendix—and the popularity before 2016 elections of the slogan that if the KMT does not fall, Taiwan cannot progress (國民黨不到,台灣不會好).

IMG_20160109_141505Young volunteers at the KMT rally held in Taipei on January 9th, during election season. Photo credit: Brian Hioe

But though activists may be firmly unsympathetic to the KMT, they are also cognizant of that young people in the KMT have been raised on party ideology since birth and that this, too, is a form of cultural identification and personal identity. This may be another sign that Taiwan’s current young may have moved beyond ethnic identity politics in the post-Sunflower political paradigm.

And it is that members of the Grassroots Alliance has been targeted most often not by their peers on the other side of the political aisle, but by older members of the KMT. The Grassroots Alliance and its key figures have been attacked from the beginning through claims that members have been brainwashed by the DPP or are “light green.” One imagines that, given the absolute loyalty of young members of the Grassroots Alliance to the party as a matter of personal identity, it is not exactly pleasant for members of the Grassroots Alliance to come under attack by the party when their calls for reform seem rather earnest in nature and done with the best interests of the KMT in mind. If this is the way the KMT treats their young, perhaps we can see why efforts at reform have been stymied, and why the KMT has such difficulty grooming young leaders and advancing them to positions in which they could take power as the next generation of the party—meaning possible extinction as a party when there is nobody left to carry on the party torch.

Will the Grassroots Alliance succeed in reforming the KMT? This seems unlikely, unless in the struggle for party chairman, a KMT heavyweight throws his or her backing behind them as a way of shaking up the party and accruing credibility to their power grab for chairmanship. And it currently seems unlikely that any party heavyweight would be willing to take such a risk. But perhaps it is that the young people of the Grassroots Alliance are trapped between a rock and a hard place where they realize that the KMT has no future if it does not drastically change its present course.

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