Five Cities Elections: KMT Nominations Most Critical
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
February 5, 2010
For the sake of the Five City Elections, the KMT recently changed the staff of its local party headquarters. It actively began recruiting private sector talent. It is making a genuine effort. But its organizational reform efforts may not yield results in time. A short term backlash may undercut its campaign momentum. Most important of all, its nominees must be acceptable to grass-roots voters. The candidates may not be deficient in any respect. They must boast both clean images and governing ability. Only then can they create synergy during the election.
After years of thinning out, KMT party strength is considerably diminished at the grassroots. Compared to its early years, the KMT has fewer human resources, less equipment, and is smaller in scale. When party officials conducted field visits in the past, it was all pomp and circumstance. They were the equals of county executives and city mayors. Their decisions were final. County executives and city mayors could only nod. Even central and local level elected officials were at their beck and call. But the golden age for authoritarian political parties has passed. Today when party officials conduct field visits, they must bow and scrape, and often get the cold shoulder. When nominees for local elections find themselves at loggerheads, they ask central party officials to mediate, not always with success.
Times have changed. Officials from party headquarters have become a nightmare for party workers. They may have devoted a lifetime to the party. But the highest level to which they can probably rise, is local party headquarters chairman. But their positions have now become crosses to bear. In recent years, such positions have become a place to put party officials out to pasture. Outgoing legislators who want to run but who are unelectable, candidates who were pressured to withdraw, and anyone who unsuccessfully sought office, can be placed in these support positions. Such support positions are sources of friction due to post election grievances and local or clan interests. Mediating between the heads of local factions Is even more difficult.
During the January legislative election, the first thing KMT Secretary-General Ching Pu-chung did was to fine tune personnel assignments at local party headquarters. His intention was clear. Swap out unsuitable party officials. Replace them with new people who don't hold old grudges. The advantage is that without old grudges they need not consider personal feelings. The disadvantage is they have no name recognition. They couldn't appeal to peoples' feelings even if they wanted to. But at least old hatreds will not be directed at the new officials. How much front line fighting ability will the newly appointed officials actually demonstrate? We will have to wait and see. Ching Pu-chung should plan for the worst. Local party mediation is a hands-on process. It is unnecessary to trouble the party chairman.
Next, Ching Pu-chung recruited outsiders to conduct an evaluation of the party's use of human resources, and to recruit campaign volunteers for the Five Cities Elections. Judging by past elections, the Democratic Progressive Party, whether it was in the opposition or in office, made far better use of volunteers than the KMT. Young DPP volunteers wrote songs, choreographed dances, and set up websites. Old DPP volunteers engaged in word of mouth campaigning through radio and television talk shows, in the parks, and local farmers markets. These volunteers were campaign workers during the election, and party supporters after the election. They do not seek official assignments. While the KMT was in the opposition for eight years, it began studying this approach. But it never got the hang of it. To recruit older volunteers it always had to mobilize. The most spontaneous of volunteers were older women. But even they were recruited through womens' groups. Youth groups were once an important force behind KMT strength. Youth groups shone at public relations during the Kuan Chung era. But it is far more difficult for young people to rise through the ranks of the KMT than the DPP. The most successful example of a volunteer effort in recent years was the Red Shirt Army. But that was a spontaneous movement. The Chen corruption case outraged the public, creating a supportive social climate. When the Chen corruption case ended, the Red Shirt Army lost its rallying point. Its supporters each had their own political preferences. This political force is unlikely to play a key role in the future.
Ching Pu-chung hopes to use outside forces to transform the party, and to consolidate its volunteer forces. This is an important part of the KMT's effort to change itself into a "campaign machine." This is forward and creative thinking. It is also more in line with the new social and political climate. The reason it has led to criticism has to do with Ching Pu-chung's nominees. They are too controversial. Their character, values, and personal styles have led to fault-finding. Ching Pu-chung has only himself to blame for not investigating his nominees in advance. He must ask these "party outsiders" to talk less and do more, and let the results speak for themselves.
But no matter how one changes one's organizational structure, they remain internal political party matters. Strengthening party efficiency does not equate with election success. The KMT must strengthen itself as an election machine. Election victory must be its highest goal. If one cannot win elections and remain in office, then any party transformation loses its significance. Therefore in the face of any election, the party's nominations remain the key to its success. Loss of political momentum because legislators fought each other during the legislative by-elections is not a major problem. The Five Cities Elections are a far more serious matter. Winning or losing will immediately affect the 2012 Presidential Election.
The DPP is slighter weaker in the central Taiwan region. But it is stronger in the two southern cities. It has many strong candidates. In the north its "Princes" are readying for battle. By contrast, the KMT has no heavy hitters in the south. The New Taipei City Mayor may have trouble winning re-election. The party is unaccustomed to internal debate. It is unable to put forth qualified candidates. Even pollsters are having trouble taking the political temperature. The nomination process and candidates may be flexible. But for the sake of momentum it would be better to present its roster of candidates, and engage in public debate. Election controversy is nothing to fear. Only lively public debate can create momentum. In order to win the Five Cities Elections, the third and most important thing the KMT must do is encourage its leading candidates. The "Princes" of the party must have to the courage to say: I stand behind you!