With days to go before Taiwan votes in Saturday’s presidential and legislative elections, all indications are that President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) is set to win a second term in the country’s highest office.
Polls have been wrong before, of course, and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) supporters should take the energetic support for Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) candidate Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜), including last month’s rally in Kaohsiung, as a warning not to rest on their laurels. Tsai’s recent spike in the polls could be down to Han’s irresponsible request for his supports to lie to pollsters, rather than any material gains for her own campaign.
Assuming that Tsai does emerge victorious on Saturday, however, the KMT will suddenly be faced with an identity crisis.
There is an argument that if they can’t win this election—when, just months ago, almost everything seemed to be stacked in their favor—when are they going to win again?
The KMT, to put it lightly, has not convinced the voters of Taiwan it will protect the country from the CCP’s desire to rule over it – by force if necessary.
The KMT is viewed by many voters in Taiwan as being pro-China and pro-unification. There are certainly plenty of comments from senior KMT figures, including Han himself, that suggest an embrace of such ideas. But the official party position is a little more nuanced than this.
The KMT’s official party line is that it supports the so-called “1992 consensus”—a supposed agreement between the KMT and CCP that both sides agree there is “one China” but agree to disagree on what that means—but is opposed to the “one country, two systems” model which has failed miserably in Hong Kong.
It is worth noting that KMT opposition to the model became more forceful in response to the Hong Kong protests, along with a speech on Taiwan last year by Chinese leader Xi Jinping in which he equated the “1992 consensus” with “one country, two systems” to which the KMT took days to provide a coherent response.
The KMT is steadfastly opposed to Taiwan independence and claims to support the Republic of China (ROC).
Of course, it is worth examining the inherent flaws and falsehoods in the “1992 consensus”—which, after all, may not even be real—and the contradictions involved in the KMT, which once fought tooth and nail against the Chinese Communist Party, being so open to letting the CCP dictate the terms of their relationship.
Here and now, however, the key point is this: While the KMT is not officially arguing for eventual unification with China—and with the CCP—that is how many Taiwanese voters perceive their stance.
Poll after poll shows that an overwhelming majority of Taiwanese people are steadfastly opposed to unification. Most prefer to maintain the current “status quo” and either decide at a later date or move toward independence. And polls show that the little support that remains for unification with China—either now or in the future—has been plummeting for years.
This makes the KMT’s image of openness to warm ties with the CCP extremely problematic for the party’s future.
This election, however, feels like a de facto referendum on independence vs. unification—or, at least, a sovereign Taiwan vs. a Republic of China eternally bound to the CCP.
There is also a clear generational split in Taiwanese politics. KMT voters (and politicians) skew far older than those of the DPP. In the decades to come, it appears unlikely today’s DPP voters, many of whom have no personal attachment to China, will embrace warmer ties with the CCP.
The question, then, is which prominent figures appear in position to succeed Han Kuo-yu as the party’s scion. Do any of them have the qualities to reinvigorate the party and find an approach to cross-strait relations that’s palatable to the voters of Taiwan?
I would argue not.