by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: KMT

THE DEBACLE of KMT chair elections is illustrative of the party’s internal crisis, as well as the means by which the party is highly unlikely to overcome its current crisis, no matter who wins the race. Namely, KMT chair candidates have as of late taken to doubling down on accusations of vote-buying, bribery, and fraud within the election process after it was found that many of petitions submitted by chair hopefuls to qualify for the election contained false signatures or repeat signatures between multiple petitions. Furthermore, in the past several months in the run-up before the race, the number of KMT members registered as eligible to vote in chair elections has increased drastically.

Candidates for KMT chair have to collect the signatures of the three percent of party members who are qualified to vote in the chair election. But although there should only be 470,000 members of the KMT qualified to vote in chair elections, the total number of names on the petitions submitted by chair hopefuls was 720,000. Moreover, while there were only 227,000 members of the party eligible to vote in chair elections in January, this has drastically jumped to 470,000 by April. Indeed, in past months, the party has seen a large number of unusual members enter the party, such as Taichung hostesses who are thought to have entered the party on the orders of their gangster bosses.

Current party chair Hung Hsiu-Chu. Photo credit: KMT

Part of the KMT’s crisis at present is because of indecision within the party about how to win back the trust of the Taiwanese public and clear up the party’s reputation for murky internal dealings with organized crime and other unsavory elements of Taiwanese society, as we can see in the blowback against the party evidenced in the results of 2016 presidential and legislative elections. Nevertheless, with the party currently embattled between different internal factions, any KMT chair hopeful needs to come in on a mandate of hope and change if they hope to be able to unify all of the party’s warring factions under their leadership.

One way to do so would be to win the chair by riding on a wave of support from the party grassroots. This is may be one reason why candidates for KMT chair may have resorted to questionable tactics in gathering signatures to qualify as a candidate in the race for party chair. Likewise, the current KMT chair race is unusually large this time around, with six candidates participating, seeing as usually the party establishment settles on a leader internal and they take the position of party chair with little opposition during chair elections. As such, potential candidates for chair may have been feeling the heat in terms of competition, raising the incentive to try and resort to under-the-table tactics in gathering signatures to qualify of the race.

But one imagines this will not help the party’s reputation for opaqueness, whether with the Taiwanese public writ large, or internally within the party. In attempt to defend themselves from charges of corruption and to attack rivals who may have engaged in illicit action, chair candidates as Hau Lung-Bin, the current vice chairman of the KMT, have offered rewards for whistleblowers about incidents of polling bribes.

Hau Lung-Bin. Photo credit: Rico Shen/CC

Even before the present controversy over potential fraud, vote-buying and bribery, the race for KMT party chair has already been marked by controversy over how democratic it would be, seeing as current party chair Hung Hsiu-Chu, who is seeking reelection, seemed to take steps aimed at ensuring that her rivals would be at a disadvantage using her current position and this led to outcry against her from within the party. In particular, Hung is seen by some as behind the recent membership surges into the KMT, and Hung has had to defend herself from charges that her petition for qualifying for chair races contained an unusually large number of disqualified signatures.

It remains to be seen as to who the winner of the party chair race will be. But either way, KMT chair races seem set to accentuate the party’s internal crisis, and whatever the results of the race, it seems unlikely to better the party’s reputation with the Taiwanese public.

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