Monday, October 5, 2009

The Problem is Factional Style, not Factions

The Problem is Factional Style, not Factions
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
October 5, 2009

After being out of power for eight years, the Kuomintang has finally regained power. But it now faces a serious crisis with its political support at the local level.

The KMT lost the Miaoli County legislative by-election, and the Yunlin County legislative by-election. Yunlin County Magistrate Chang Li-shan announced her withdrawal from the election. The KMT failed to win passage of its referendum on legalized gambling in Penghu. This was only the beginning. Factional infighting soon erupted in the Hualien, Taitung, Hsinchu, Nantou and Chiayi county elections. This is shaking the very foundations of the party, and its structure is in danger of collapse.

The Conventional Wisdom is that the problem is with "local factions." But that is only half the answer. Democracies throughout the world must cope with local factions. Factions can actually help political integration. They can actually help the public evaluate party performance. The real problem is factional style, quality, and image. The faction headed by Chang Jung-wei, the "King of Yunlin," is now ridiculted as "qing pu gong / zheng wan peng" (hogging everything for itself). Lin Ping-kun is the "King of Penghu." What government and business interests stand behind his investments in the gaming industry? Voters have their doubts. The Chang/Lin merger crystalizes public perceptions of the KMT's factional politics. Chang and Lin are both "non-partisan." Yet they are able to hijack the KMT. Such factions are clearly tails wagging the dog.

In 2008 the central government experienced a change in ruling parties. The main reason Chen Shui-bian and the Democratic Progressive Party lost power was their handling of corruption and Taiwan independence. They lost the people's trust. The KMT was presented with an opportunity to regain power. Now, however the KMT's local political machine faces a test of legitimacy. Kuang Li-chen in Taitung, Fu Kuen-chi in Hualien, Chang Yung-wei in Yunlin, and Lin Ping-kun in Penghu all represent the same problem.

Why has the KMT's local political machine broken into so many pieces? Let's compare the KMT to the DPP. One. The DPP's rise was due to national level political campaigns, to a strong, clear-cut political platform. Therefore its first and second generation political leaders have national level name recognition. They characterized themselves as "spokespersons for Taiwanese values." By contrast, the KMT central government and local government have long been two separate worlds. Local political leaders have long been concerned only with the distribution of political benefits. Almost none of them are "spokespersons for Taiwan." Almost none of them offer spiritual or ideological inspiration. They represent no political values, only the distribution of political benefits. This is one reason why the KMT finds it difficult to upgrade the quality of its local political leadership. Two. The DPP has national level political factions such as the Justice Alliance and the New Wave Faction. To a considerable extent, these national level political factions are able to moderate and control local factions. By contrast, today's KMT lacks the ideological fervor to generate political factions. The party's central leadership suppresses political factions, even as it remains incapable of restraining local factions. Three. The DPP's political factions have a training function. For example, they help city and county council members to become national legislators, their assistants to become council members, national legislators to become county executives and city mayors, and their assistants to become national legislators. Local KMT factions, on the other hand, are predominantly family enterprises that help spouses or offspring run for office, or worse, allow the family to hog everything for itself. Therefore the problem is not factions, but factional style. The public has seen Wang Yu-yun and Yu Teng-fa style factions come and go. The Chang Jung-wei and Lin Ping-kun style factions will also eventually run their course.

Take Yunlin for example. The KMT can no longer consider Chang Jung-wei its spokesperson. By the same token, Chang Yung-wei is no longer the KMT's political tool. This is not a question of who is willing to do business with whom. Society has evolved to the point where such games are no longer acceptable.

President Ma has assumed the party chairmanship. The central government is already stretched to its limits. It is in no position to deal effectively with the fragmentation of its local political machine. Chang Li-shan, Fu Kun-chi, and Kuang Li-chen are giving Ma headaches. Former Hualien and Hsinchu county executives have opposed the party's primary candidates. As we can see, the KMT Central Committee is neither able to deter local political bosses, nor inspire the party leadership to do better. Chang Jung-wei is hardly alone. Anyone can confidently declare "I no longer want to do business with the party leadership."

The KMT cannot eliminate local factions. But it should ask itself a fundamental question. Why are local DPP leaders, even low-ranking ones, afraid to criticize the mess Chen Shui-bian left behind, while simultaneously boasting that they represent "Taiwan's values?" Why can't bona fide, local KMT grass-roots leaders claim that they represent "Taiwan's values" and "Taiwan's spirit?" Why can't they extricate themselves from their quagmire? Why are they content to do nothing except distribute benefits? When the KMT handles local disputes, why can't it appeal to the voters on a higher level, and force local political bosses to back down? Why is even Chang Hui-yuan able to "campaign on behalf of his son" and hold the KMT leadership in utter contempt

Both are Taiwanese. So why are "DPP Taiwanese" more equal than "KMT Taiwanese?" This is a question for which the KMT has no answer. Even if it had an answer, it feels no urgency concerning the answer. But this is one of the most fundamental questions confronting the KMT, and one for which it must find an answer, sooner or later.

2009.10.05 11:58 am










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