Nikkei: Taiwan’s Nationalists face battle to remain electoral force

The KMT, known in English as the Chinese Nationalist Party, has lost the last two presidential and legislative elections to President Tsai Ing-wen’s China-skeptic Democratic Progressive Party. The KMT’s toughest task may be to win back young voters, many of whom fear that Chinese President Xi Jinping could become more aggressive in seeking to unify Taiwan with the mainland.

“We should bring up a younger generation and make some radical changes. I see this election as big failure by the Kuomintang rather than a victory for the ruling DPP and President Tsai,” Lo Chih-chiang, a 49-year-old KMT city councilor in Taipei who has initiated a party reform campaign, told the Nikkei Asian Review.

“The KMT has deviated from mainstream public opinion,” Lo said. “We have also neglected the fact that U.S.-China relations have changed a lot these past few years and have failed to make adjustments to reflect these dynamics.”

Seven KMT lawmakers and city councilors have already stepped down from posts on the party’s Central Standing Committee. Their demands included the resignation of Wu, and the removal from parliament of a retired general who attended a speech by Xi in Beijing.

Pao Cheng-hao, a pro-KMT professor at Tamkang University, said the party needed to adjust its China policy.

“It should face the reality that what the 1992 consensus embraces is different from what Xi Jinping said [in an aggressive speech about Taiwan early last year],” Pao told Nikkei. “Those old men must go. A big cleanse is necessary for the KMT to revive.”

The DPP has won four of the seven direct presidential elections in Taiwan since 1996. Once seen by the U.S. as potentially harmful to Taiwan Strait stability because of its pro-independence stance, the DPP are now backed by Washington as it becomes more wary of China’s global ambitions.

The KMT, however, are seen by some observers as leaning too closely toward China.

“The KMT has become synonymous with being pedantic and not up to-date,” said Yang Chih-dou, a 26-year-old party representative who attended an event calling for party reform on Sunday. “It’s become something that the younger generation make fun of… young people like me feel ashamed to let friends know we are part of the KMT.”

Syaru Shirley Lin, political economist at University of Virginia and Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the KMT could rehabilitate itself.

“The DPP cannot take [Tsai’s] landslide as a carte blanche” support from the people, Lin said, adding that the electorate included people who support unification or an economic alliance with China, as well as those who lost out in Tsai’s economic reforms and conservatives who do not like her socially progressive policies.

“[Tsai’s big victory] gives the KMT an excuse to restructure as every loss is an opportunity,” she said.

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