by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: KMT

THE ASSOCIATION of the KMT and organized crime does not seem set to fade anytime soon in the popular imagination, with membership drives in recent months which have been accused of allowing elements of organized crime into the party without due scrutiny. Relatedly, the KMT has also in past weeks seen unexpected elements enter the party in droves, as in a wave of over six hundred hostesses from Taichung hostess clubs who joined the party, quite likely at the behest of gangsters who own the establishments they work at.

Recent party membership drives are very likely due to upcoming KMT party chair elections, which will take place in late May. The race for KMT party chair is shaping up to be heated one between incumbent Hung Hsiu-Chu, longtime party heavyweights Wu Den-Yih and Hau Lung-Bin, as well as lesser known contenders such as Steven Chan and Han Kuo-Yu. At stake, too, is the question of who will be the KMT’s presidential candidate in 2020 presidential elections, seeing as the KMT party chair is usually also the KMT’s presidential candidate but because of the unpopularity with the Taiwanese public of all current candidates for KMT party chair, this practice may come to an end.

However, Hung, the current chair of the party, is seen as behind recent membership drives which have allowed elements of organized crime into the party in order to increase the percentage of the membership which will vote for her. Indeed, such moves by Hung would not be surprising, seeing as Hung generally does not seem to realize the tainted image of the KMT with the Taiwanese public.

Hung Hsiu-Chu. Photo credit: Hung Hsiu-Chu

Instead, Hung has taken a hard line on issues in which it would be more politically savvy for the KMT to relent on, including on the issue of the KMT’s illegal party assets, dating back to the land seizures that took place after the end of the Japanese colonial period. The party assets issue is one which has long been damaging of the KMT’s reputation in Taiwan, contributing to the party’s image of corruption and the general sense that the party conducts the handling of its finances in a way unanswerable to the Taiwanese public.

Hung has also demonstrated how out of touch she is with the current sentiments of the Taiwanese public through continually decrying the specter of “cultural Taiwanese independence”, although the Tsai administration has long since illustrated that it plans to hew to the ROC framework and ROC constitution in the interests of public stability. As such, it is not too surprising if Hung fails to realize that allowing elements of organized crime into the party will be damaging of the party’s overall reputation.

Yet perhaps Hung labors under the belief that the end justifies the means. Hung previously came under fire within the KMT for forcing the passage of rule changes to party elections which moved up the date of the party chair election and integrated the autonomous “Huang Fu Hsing branch” of the party into regular party branches. These were moves aimed at giving Hung’s opponents less time to prepare for party chair elections and limiting the power of both the Huang Fu-Hsing branch and the pro-localization faction of the KMT. Namely, the Huang Fu-Hsing branch, which consists of military personnel and their relatives, was seen as likely to side with Hau Lung-Bin, who enjoys the favor of the “Old Soldier” faction of the KMT as the son of former general Hau Pei-Tsun. Likewise, the pro-localization faction was seen as likely to side with Wu Den-Yih, who is benshengren. Merging the Huang Fu-Hsing branches into regular party branches limits the power of both sides.

Photo credit: Hung Hsiu-Chu

Hung accomplished the passage of these changes to party election rules through pushing them through a meeting of the KMT central standing committee in which many members refused to attend, this in order to protest Hung’s plans to make such wide-reaching changes to the KMT’s internal function in an undemocratic fashion. Though Hung was roundly criticized for her actions after the fact, a bizarre public apology in which Hung revealed that she normally wears a wig stunned her critics into backing away. Although certainly one of the most bizarre incidents in Taiwanese political history in the past few years, in retrospect, the Hung wig incident may have been a brilliant political move.

Nevertheless, Hung has illustrated her willingness to take undemocratic actions or morally questionable actions in order to maintain her current position as chair of the KMT. This is no different about recent membership drives which have allowed elements of organized crime into the KMT. But perhaps this state of affairs is demonstrative of the true nature of the KMT.

Organized crime ties have been part of the history of the KMT dating back its association with the Shanghai “Green Gang” in Republican era China, to when the KMT first came to Taiwan and to up the present,. These include the use of gangsters to silence political dissidents, as in the murder of Taiwanese journalist Henry Liu in 1984 in California by members of the Bamboo Union gang, or the killings of numerous other dissidents. Again, this is also a tactic which dates back to the KMT’s time in China, with the use of the Green Gang to carry out purges of political enemies of the KMT in China, as in the 1927 Shanghai Massacre of Chinese Communist Party members who were then allied with the KMT in the war against imperial Japan, but who were unexpectedly turned on by their KMT allies, who prioritized killing ideological rivals before staving off foreign invasion.

“White Wolf” Chang An-Le. Photo credit: Rico Shen/CC

In the post-authoritarian period, the association of the KMT with organized crime continues, as seen in the close relationship of Ma Yi-nan, the sister of Taiwanese president Ma Ying-Jeou, with “White Wolf” Chang An-Lo. Chang is one of the orchestrators of Henry Liu’s murder rumored to be the former head of the Bamboo Union gang, who has reinvented himself as a extreme pro-unification politician after returning from a period of exile in China in order to escape persecution. Chang seems to continue to act at the behest of the KMT, with actions to intimidate student demonstrators in protests both before and after the Sunflower Movement, as well as during 2016 presidential elections.

Recent membership drives demonstrate that the KMT continues to have substantial ties with organized crime. So whether then or now, it may be that the KMT has not changed at heart, as a party willing to do whatever it takes in order to maintain power. This is what present actions within the KMT reveal.

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