KMT Must Confront Faultline at Leadership Level
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
November 30, 2010
Executive Summary: During the recent five cities elections, the outcome of the mayoral race between Blue Camp candidate Jason Hu and Green Camp candidate Su Tseng-chang took everyone by surprise. Jason Hu won his bid for reelection. But his margin of victory was so narrow his victory was an embarrassment. Ironically, it is the KMT that finds itself in a state of crisis. It went from ruling party to opposition party, then from opposition party to ruling party. Through all of this, the KMT's leadership crisis persisted, unchanged. Now that unfilled positions have appeared at the grassroots level, how long can one expect stability at the central government level?
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During the recent five cities elections, the outcome of the mayoral race between Blue Camp candidate Jason Hu and Green Camp candidate Su Tseng-chang took everyone by surprise. Jason Hu won his bid for reelection. But his margin of victory was so narrow his victory was an embarrassment. Su Tseng-chang was unsuccessful in his bid for Taipei Mayor. His margin of defeat was so wide, it too was an embarrassment. The falling and rising fortunes of Hu and Su, reflect the crises and opportunities faced by the two parties. The DPP has been presented with new opportunities, Su Tseng-chang may have been defeated. But DPP heavy hitters keep coming, one after the other. Ironically, it is the KMT that finds itself in a state of crisis. It went from ruling party to opposition party, then from opposition party to ruling party. Through all of this, the KMT's leadership crisis persisted, unchanged. Now that unfilled positions have appeared at the grassroots level, how long can one expect stability at the central government level?
In fact, the KMT's leadership crisis is advancing relentlessly from south to north. Jason Hu won by a paltry 30,000 vote margin. His opponent, Su Chia-chuan, the DPP's candidate for Greater Taichung City Mayor, lost. But he put on an impressive performance. Soon afterwards, he announced his intention of remaining a Taichung resident. Two years from now, he may become Tsai Ing-wen's running mate in her bid for the ROC presidency. He may even make a bid for the presidency himself. Suppose he attempts a comeback four years from now, and once again challenges Jason Hu? Will Hu be able to squeak by yet again? That is hard to say.
The reason why isn't necessarily whether Jason Hu did a good job. No matter how well a local official might do his job, nine years is a long time. Two more terms would be another eight years. For voters, "change" is always better than no change. Su Chia-chuan offered "change." People were impressed. After all, "change" is the main theme of democracy. During the first six years of Hu's nine-years in office, the DPP controlled the central government. He could not move upstairs. He could not return to the central government. The Ma administration has been in office over two years. Hu killed himself in Taichung holding down the fort on behalf of the KMT. Yet the KMT failed to arrange a successor for Hu, merely because he was in office? How could the KMT be so foolish?
The KMT found itself out of power for eight years. During this time, it learned what it was like to be out of power. Yet after the KMT regained power, the public was frustrated to discover that they KMT was still unable to offer the public people of talent. Nominees for cabinet members and elective offices were mostly tired old warhorses. If one repeatedly brings them out of retirement, and puts them back in the game, what young person is going to want to join the party? This is true at the cabinet level. This is also true in Tainan and Kaohsiung, where the DPP has ruled for at least 12 to 16 years. How much fresh talent has the KMT cultivated during that time? After Kuo Tien-tsai was defeated in Tainan, all he could do was return to teaching. He is unlikely to become involved in politics again in this lifetime. Huang Chao-shun campaigned hard in Kaohsiung. She suffered a painful defeat. During the next four years, Jason Hu will have to contend with another challenge from Su Chia-chuan. Does the KMT have anyone who can challenge Chen Chu, who has been in office for 12 years?
Kuo Tien-tsai is an academic who took up politics. Huang Chao-shun, on the other hand, is a member of a political dynasty. She got her start by campaigning at the grassroots level. From where else can the KMT recruit talent? The victorious candidates in the five cities elections were Hau Lung-pin, Chu Li-lun, and Jason Hu. All three were academics who took up politics, When they took up politics, the KMT still had a plan for cultivating new talent. Does the KMT still have a plan for cultivating new talent? Does it still allow ambitious elites in diverse fields to learn step by step how to serve their party and their country?
Following the five cities elections, local politics underwent a major change. The Blue north Green south strategic scenario does not appear as if it is about to undergo change in the near term. But the DPP has an abundance of fighting spirit. The Green south will relentlessly advance northward. Chiayi County was once an alien landscape for the DPP. But the DPP stopped at nothing. It went all out and recruited Chen Ming-wen. Chiayi County is now DPP country. Chiayi County is fast becoming an alien landscape for the KMT. Has the KMT ever taken the time and effort to consider whom its candidates will be for the next five cities elections?
An election is held on Taiwan virtually every year. The content and style of elections, large and small, are never the same. One cannot draw definitive conclusions based on past campaigns. But the one constant is the candidate. The candidate remains the most important variable during an election. The right candidate is half the game. But for whatever reason, the KMT invariably gets this half wrong. No wonder every election is an uphill battle.
The five cities elections are over. The 2012 presidential election and legislative elections are looming. The DPP has Tsai Ing-wen and Su Chia-chuan, Consider the results of the five cities elections. The DPP may have lost seats. But it received 400,000 more votes than the KMT. The DPP has experienced a massive surge in political momentum. By contrast, the KMT has taken on a sickly pallor. Leave aside the question of whether Ma Ying-jeou can rebuild the momentum the KMT enjoyed during the 2008 presidential election. The KMT is going to have a hard time maintaining its absolute majority in the Legislative Yuan. It will be all it can do to maintain a 51% majority. The KMT is consoling itself on passing its "midterm exam." But has it given any thought to how it will perform in the finals?
During the recent elections, DPP campaign propaganda adopted centrist rhetoric. It eschewed the "ethnic" (community group) antagonism and reunification vs. independence cards. The net effect was relatively appealing. If this is how the DPP intends to run its 2012 election campaign, President Ma will face a completely different campaign team as he makes a bid for re-election. How many fresh faces can Ma Ying-jeou present to the public? How many new appeals can he make to attract voters dissatisfied with the status quo? A campaign team must be able to pass the torch from one member to another. It must be able to demonstrate vitality and fighting spirit. Otherwise, how can it meet challenges from other political parties? During the five cities elections, the voters demonstrated wisdom. They used their votes to send a message to the two major parties. Wherever one finds opportunities, one invariably confronts crises. As long as one sees the crises, as long as one resolves the crises, one will always be presented with fresh opportunities.