Things have taken a dramatic turn in the KMT with the re-emergance of Jaw Shaw-kong (趙少康) in the party.
Who becomes the next KMT chair is critically important.
It will determine who leads the party into the 2022 local elections–and if the chair survives that–this person will in all likelihood be the KMT’s next presidential candidate.
This person will also set the tone for the party ideologically.
Will they set them on a path of electibility–or double-down on their existing ideology which is widely unpopular with mainstream voters.
That got them crushed in the last two national elections.
President Tsai will be term limited out in 2024, and Taiwan People’s Party chair Ko Wen-je is sniffing around a run.
The KMT has been able to pretty reliably count on between 30 and 40 percent of the electorate.
In a head-to-head race against a scandal-free DPP candidate, the KMT candidate will probably lose if they continue on their current ideological path.
However, a messy three or four way race, a scandal-plagued DPP candidate or a candidate championing a reformed KMT ideology that is more Taiwan-centric–or some combination thereof could win the presidency for the KMT.
So who the next KMT chair is is a big deal.
And it’s getting interesting to boot.
If your Game of Thrones fix hasn’t been scratched, look to the KMT.
The next KMT chair election is late this July.
Let’s take a look at some of the potential candidates and the intrigue surrounding them.
The struggling reformer: Johnny Chiang
Current KMT chair Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) is most likely to run for re-election.
Being relatively young and Taiwanese, he doesn’t have much gravitas in the party or institutional backing.
He does have the backing of many Taiwanese in the party, and his ties to the Taichung Red Faction, a local patronage faction, could gain him support from those elements in the party.
There is a tradition in both major parties in Taiwan that following a serious defeat–like that earlier this year–the chair steps down to take responsibility.
They then elect what is essentially viewed as an interim chair to serve out the rest of the term.
In the wake of the last election, the KMT was seriously demoralized.
Chiang put forth ideas that addressed their loss of mainstream support and trying to reverse the near-total collapse with younger voters.
He has tried to reform the party, but his most crucial effort–to rid the party of the 1992 consensus–failed.
Chiang has tried to tout success with recruiting younger people into the party, noting that 2020 saw an increase of members under the age of 40 increase by about 40 percent.
The problem: That is an increase of only 3,545 members–nothing in a party with membership roughly around 350,000.
In short, the membership under the age of 40 has gone from less than 3 percent to roughly 3.5 percent.
Being effectively an interim chair position anyway, and with none of the heavyweights in the party wanting the job in the midst of crisis–he won the job.
But with a potential full-four year term on the horizon–and traditionally (it was even the rule until recently)–the chair will be the presidential candidate.
So the knives are out, and he’s going to have to face off against party heavyweights.
He’s not doing well in polls, either with the general public or with party members.
The party elders and party institutions aren’t likely to back him because he’s young (at 48 he’s a toddler by KMT standards) and Taiwanese.
In short, he’s got to pull off some big wins or make some powerful friends between now and July.
But he may have just well done that, as we’ll see.
The Elephant in the Room: Hou Yu-ih
New Taipei Mayor Hou Yu-ih is the most popular politician in the country by a fair margin.
Formerly Taiwan’s top cop, he comes across as strong, determined but friendly and dedicated.
The 63 year-old has bucked his party at times, and keeps friendly relations with DPP politicians and the DPP administration.
That both helps him get things done for his constituents, and also lends him an air of being above the fray and practical rather than ideological.
He rarely comments on national issues, but when he does it is with a deft hand.
A good example is until the very end of then KMT-presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu’s campaign, Hou refused to campaign with him, stating he was “too busy with his job as mayor”.
That was a devastating dig at Han that simultaneously pointed out Han’s hypocrisy in running for president mere months after being newly elected to be mayor of Kaohsiung on a platform of working hard for the city, underscored Hou’s dedication to his own job and let Hou keep some distance from the upcoming disaster that was unfolding.
It was a slick political move without coming across as one.
He has this particularly Taiwanese gift with politics that those descended from the 1949 arrivals from China rarely have: The ability to speak one way about something, but communicate something else entirely.
He hasn’t, however, shown any interest in being party chair.
If he intends to run for president in 2024, he’s got some challenges to deal with.
First, he’ll have to decide whether to run for re-election as Mayor of New Taipei in 2022.
The catch here is that less than a year-and-a-half separates that election and the presidential one.
The primaries begin mere months after mayors take their oaths of office.
If he does run for mayor, then makes a play for president, his own words against Han could come to haunt him and tarnish his carefully crafted image.
His past could also be an issue.
For example he was the officer in charge on the raid on free speech icon Nylon Deng, who self-immolated rather than be arrested.
He was also the officer in charge during the South African military attache hostage crisis.
He also will run up against the party elders and institutions, who–if Want Want China Times is any indication–don’t trust him and don’t want him as their candidate.
However, he may be too popular to ignore.
If he makes a move this year and runs to be party chair, that will be a big deal.
The Sphinx: Wang Jin-pyng
Former president of the Legislative Yuan–normally referred to as the speaker in English–Wang Jin-pyng is a bit of wild card in the mix.
Where Hou Yu-ih has that Taiwanese ability to speak one way about something, but communicate something else entirely–Wang is the grand master.
It’s unclear what his stands are on the issues, he mostly speaks in vague platitudes–but his personal battles with the party elites, most notably in the form of then President Ma Ying-jeou, are well known.
The ultimate wheeler-dealer backroom dealmaker, Wang has vied for the chair before, but lost to Ma Ying-jeou.
He also was making a run for president in the last election, but was overrun by Han Kuo-yu, after Han stabbed his former mentor in the 2018 mayoral upset in the back.
His power within the party probably peaked in early 2019, after unifying the local patronage factions behind the KMT candidates and took Han under his wing, leading to the stunning KMT sweep of that year’s local elections.
He had, however, unwittingly created a monster he could no longer control, and Han fans took over.
At 79 he’s aging, and with health problems, he’ll probably think twice about a run.
However, he can’t be entirely ruled out as either a candidate, or a power broker in the process.
Ma Ying-jeou, the once and future king?
Former President and former KMT Chair Ma Ying-jeou has been very active recently, suspiciously so.
He’s been taking part in events, making speeches, releasing slick videos, flooding social media, taking plenty of reporter questions and taking every opportunity to press the flesh.
It is also widely thought he’s recently had plastic surgery around his eyes, and it was botched–giving him a somewhat maniacal look.
He’s recently taken to frequently wearing sunglasses.
He hasn’t publicly declared any intention to run for anything, but his high level of activity suggests he’s up to something.
It could be as simple as he wants to keep active and keep influencing the party and Taiwan politics.
Or not, and he’s planning a comeback.
A comeback attempt would probably end in disaster if he ran for president.
While once upon a time seemingly untouchable, his presidency ended badly, and he’s not well remembered by the public-at-large.
His cozying up to China in the end produced few positive results, and led to the massive pro-Taiwan Sunflower protest movement, which was triggered by the KMT trying to ram an economic agreement with China favoured by his administration through the legislature.
He’ll also be 74 in 2024.
In the end it will come down to whether he thinks with his head, or his ego, in deciding to run.
Eric Chu, the also-ran to run also?
It is pretty obvious to everyone that 59-year-old former New Taipei Mayor Eric Chu is planning to run for chair, a post he previously held in the runup to the 2016 election.
Initially, he avoided being the party’s presidential candidate, which was probably smart considering the post-Ma political climate.
However, when it was obvious that their candidate Hung Hsiu-chu was going to go down in flames, the party dumped her and put in Chu.
He then went on to go down in flames, and resigned as chair to take the blame for the KMT’s disastrous loss.
A two-term New Taipei City mayor, he has been in recent years the KMT’s second-most popular politician, though that merely puts him as middling in the top 10 overall.
Considered half Taiwanese, he married into a powerful family, and seems to have the trust of the party elites and institutions.
Within the party, his stances appear to be kind of mid-blue.
He’s not as vocal on Chinese ethnonationalism issues, such as Han Kuo-you or Ma Ying-jeou, but he’s consistently vocal in his support for the Republic of China and Taiwan.
In general, though–he simply dodges these issues as much as he can.
Unlike others, such as Ma Ying-jeou, who expressed open opposition during the period when Johnny Chiang was trying to get his reforms through, Chu expressed support for Chiang’s efforts and hard work–but declined to declare he supported any specific critical reform.
I suspect Chu understands what is wrong with the KMT, and knows what would play well with the public–but seems to be wary of doing anything that might offend the party elites.
My suspicion is that he was hoping that Chiang would get the hard stuff done to make the party electable first, keeping Chu’s hands clean and allowing him to swoop in and reap the rewards.
He’s not known for bold, courageous moves–so if he won he’d likely push for incremental changes, not the bold revioning of the party that is needed to be competitive with the DPP.
There has been talk of him partnering with Johnny Chiang in an arrangement which would see Chu support Chiang in his re-election bid for party chair, and Chiang would support Chu in a run for president in 2024.
This arrangement would make some sense, and if Chu can get Hou Yu-ih–his former deputy–and Wang Jin-pyng on board, this could swing the party towards Chiang and Chu.
Han Kuo-yu, the longshot turned bigshot turned wildcard
Han Kuo-yu, the KMT rising superstar whose star grew dimmer as the KMT’s presidential candidate in the last election, and who was unceremoniously dumped as mayor of Kaohsiung in a recall election only a few months later, is a another wildcard.
A red meat, fiery ROC Chinese ethnonationalist, he is widely reviled by pretty much everyone under the age of forty–but does have a solid base of fans in the 45-65 demographic, particularly with women.
That’s his own demographic, he’s 63.
He ran for KMT party chair before, and got roundly defeated–but he was a relative nobody at the time.
Since then, he has built an army of fanatical “Han fans” and there were reports that in the runup to the presidential election he was actively trying to pack the party with his members.
If the numbers were correct, he possibly added 5 to 10 percent to the membership direct from his base.
That would be on top of all the existing party members who are passionate about him.
What percentage of the KMT’s membership remain Han fans?
That’s an excellent question, and only a run for party chair run would fully reveal that.
However, Han just did something interesting, he encouraged Jaw Shaw-kong to enter the race instead.
But it remains unclear if the party will be willing to change the rules to allow Jaw to run.
If they don’t, then this could mean Han could–in partnership with Jaw–make a run.
Return of the 70-year-old “Golden Boy”: Jaw Shaw-kong
In the last show we discussed the bombshell announcement that media personality and Broadcasting Corp of China chair Jaw Shaw-kong is rejoining the party after nearly 30 years and intended to run for party chair.
If you thought that was a weird bombshell out of the blue–literally–events in the last few days have made that seem tame.
KMT Chair Johnny Chiang has said he plans to appoint Jaw to serve as a member of the party’s Central Executive Committee (which is sometimes translated as the Central Review Committee or Advisory Committee).
That removes one barrier to him running for KMT chair.
The KMT, however, has not yet decided if it will revise current party rules requiring membership of at least one year to allow Jaw to take part in the chairmanship election slated to be held later this year.
That requirement in a similar case was waived for Terry Gou in 2019, allowing him to join the KMT primary to run for president.
There is some reporting that Chiang, after being quiet on the issue, is saying that he opposes changing the rules as it would “turn off centrist voters”.
However, he’s been going out of his way to welcome and flatter Jaw.
Chiang said in a statement “Mr Jaw’s return to the KMT at this time will certainly help to strengthen the KMT’s power, social support and influence.”
He added “It is also deeply meaningful for the unity of pan-blue forces.”
It was at this point that a mysterious “survey conducted by the pan-green camp” appeared.
Thinking that perhaps the Taipei Times was being lazy, I went digging in the local media to find the source–which it turned out was the pan-green media outlet SET News, which also simply said it was from the “pan-green camp”.
Not knowing the provenance of the poll, it’s really hard to tell how reliable it is, but it was reported on across the political spectrum.
Here is the Taipei Times description of the poll:
“A joint bid to lead the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) by media personality and Broadcasting Corp of China chairman Jaw Shaw-kong (趙少康) and former Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) would receive the highest support among KMT supporters.”
The key to that sentence is “KMT supporters”.
Jaw and Han are both strong Chinese ethnonationalists, with Han more of a populist and Jaw a bit more polished–but their ideology is full-on old school KMT.
It’s worth remembering that Jaw was a founder of the New Party, and though he left politics before it went totally off the deep end and pro-Beijing, it was a strongly ROC Chinese enthnonationalist KMT splinter party.
This, as we’ve discussed many times on the show, is way outside of today’s current political mainstream.
Pairing these two up would be nothing short of disastrous for the party.
That is why many on the pan-green side on Twitter posted comments like “yes, please let this happen!” and “this would be great!”.
The article goes on:
“The survey showed that while the general public preferred former New Taipei City mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫) as KMT chairman, polling of KMT members showed their preference for Jaw.
However, if Han were to enter the race, but not Jaw, KMT supporters showed a preference for Chu, giving him a lead of 4.3 percentage points over Han, it showed.
If the general public were to choose between Chu, Jaw, Chiang and Sean Lien (連勝文), a former Taipei mayoral candidate and son of former vice president Lien Chan (連戰), they also preferred Chu, with Chu leading at 41 percent and all other candidates following at less than 20 percent, including Jaw at 18 percent, it showed.
However, self-identified KMT supporters, when asked the same question, gave Jaw the lead at 41.9 percent, followed by Chu at 34.9 percent and Han at 29 percent, the survey showed.”
Again, let me point out the provenance of this poll is iffy, but if true there is a lot to unpack here.
Two things to note: notice the differences between the general public and KMT supporters.
He’s only got 18 percent support with the general public.
The other: What the heck is Sean Lien doing in this poll, and not Hou, Ma or even Wang Jin-pyng!?
Lien has a snowball’s chance on hot July day in Kaohsiung of winning this thing, and only got 4.8 percent support in the poll.
Chiang, by the way, got a paltry 7.1 percent.
According to this poll, Jaw has jumped to the top of pack within the KMT.
There is some cross-over between supporters of Han and Jaw, so it seems that these two as a team could command a majority.
However, a tie-up between Eric Chu, Johnny Chiang, Wang Jin-pyng and Hou Yu-ih would be formidable, if a bit unwieldy, counterbalance.
So, back to the chair race.
Jaw–in theory–poured cold water on my speculation the other day on the show regarding 2022: He reportedly told reporters that if he does not qualify for this year’s KMT chair election, he was unlikely to run in the next chair election.
However, if the KMT does do badly in the 2022 local elections forcing the chair to resign, some will beg him to run–and as politicians often do in Taiwan, he’ll say he reluctantly has to oblige.
This statement was likely intended to put pressure on the party to allow him to run this year, rather than a statement of fact.
He’s also been recently quoted as saying “being the chair isn’t that important”.
Wait, what!? All this buildup, what the hell is he up to?
He then dropped his second bombshell, he’s definitely going to join the KMT presidential primary to run in 2024.
He even, in an about-face, had some nice things to say about Johnny Chiang, saying that he had performed well this year, especially in regards to the anti-ractopamine pork demonstrations and the recent recall campaigns of rival politicians.
The irrepressable political commentator Clara Chou, commenting on Jaws repeated bombshell announcements said: “Next week are you going announce a run for king of the universe?”
Jaw, already teamed up with Han, could be eyeing bringing in Chiang–which would split the opposition and broaden his appeal to Taiwanese.
That would be an odd mix ideologically, but it would make strategic sense.
We’ll just have to see how it plays out.
The KMT presidential primary will be held in 2023, which gives him plenty of time to prepare–unlike Terry Gou’s shambolic campaign in 2019–and to build alliances, raise money and use his talk shows and media outlets to promote himself as a potential future president.
That will definitely make life difficult for the other potential candidates–at least for awhile.
It also, however, means plenty of time to lose friends and make enemies.
Jaw also recently raised eyebrows with comparing the DPP with the Boxers in China.
Presaging much of the KMT’s current line on the DPP being authoritarian, he apparently 26 years ago called the fledgling DPP “Nazi fascists”, which is a bit rich considering his martial law era start in politics.
He also just said that the “Chinese Communist Party and the DPP are very similar in many places.”
He is, however, known to be a good talker–his years in the media and on his talk show Situation Room mean he has a degree of practice that Han never mastered.
Jaw isn’t as likely to have the same “every man” appeal that Han did at his peak.
But, the combination of the two, does reach into demographics each would struggle with on their own.
Image courtesy of SK Jaw Time FB page