So, the KMT chair candidates battled it out down to the wire with their differing visions for the future of the party.
The results are in, a new chair-elect is making moves while waiting to assume office and the future of the party is now looking…as grim as ever.
But before we begin this look at the fallout from the race and peer into the KMT’s future, I’d like to thank our patron Nathan, for his significant boost to his contribution to Taiwan Report!
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The day of the election finally arrived, and the TV news was all hopped up and excited!
NEXT TV News splashed up a graphic showing just what a dramatic race it was, predicting an over 70% membership turnout in a battle royale between Eric Chu and Chang Ya-chung, and showing some poll that had them less than 1% apart.
Turns out that poll, to use the technical term, sucked.
In the end the turnout just barely passed 50%, which is respectable for an internal party election, but hardly showing the KMT membership either highly excited or filled with existential dread.
As expected, Cho Po-yuan’s result was clearly friends, family and school classmates and perhaps a few elderly people who mixed his name up with someone else.
Johnny Chiang was crushed, garnering only just shy of 19%.
And that 1% difference between Chu and Chang that NEXT bandied about?
Well, when the first results came in it actually looked like they were neck-and-neck, but as the afternoon wore on it was pretty clear Chu had it in the bag.
In the end, Chang only got around 33%, while Chu won it with a bit shy of 46%.
For Johnny Chiang this was just shy of a catastrophe.
I highly recommend checking out the piece “Johnny Chiang’s failure” on Frozen Garlic for an excellent post-mortum.
As the Froze notes, his Fengyuan-based district is actually pretty green-leaning, and with his abject failure on the national stage he could be vulnerable when he comes up for re-election in 2024, which would likely end his career.
Note, however, I said “just shy”.
He’s still got a few things going for him.
First, I suspect Chu syphoned off a lot of votes that might have gone to him otherwise in a bid to hold off Chang–not because he was himself terribly unpopular.
Second, and I’ll be coming back to this later, Chu is going to need him.
Third, he’s young, energetic and has time to turn things around by 2024.
And finally, fourth, he is really the only one who not only laid out a decent assessment of why the party is in the miserable state it’s in, he actually made an attempt to do something about it.
Of course, he was roundly defeated in his attempt to do so, but he, and his ideas, may make something of a comeback if the party continues its decline–which is exactly what I expect will happen.
As for Chang Ya-chung, his 33% showing is probably higher than his actual support in the party–after all his followers were ideologues who are often more motivated to turn out.
In reality, because of the 50% turnout, he actually only got just over 16% of the actual party voters.
I suspect in reality, he’s got maybe one fifth to one quarter of the party’s support.
Already, though, people are bandying about him being a possible candidate for Kaohsiung or even Taipei mayor.
He claims he isn’t thinking about either possibility, but the fact of the matter is he’d get destroyed in a primary against Wayne Chiang in Taipei, and if he won a primary in Kaohsiung, he’d get killed in a general election there.
His only real base is among deep, deep blues–which is so far out of the mainstream of local politics he’s not palatable to the general public.
He might, however, be a viable KMT chair candidate if Eric Chu steps down and there is a by-election–which as we’ll see is very, very possible.
KMT by-elections tend to end up choosing unusual characters.
At the very least for Chang, he’s finally boosted himself up to the big leagues in visibility.
So what about Chu’s win?
Well, it was high enough to be conclusive–but the fact is over 54% of the votes were for other candidates.
That’s a miserable result in a KMT chair race, and a feeble mandate.
In spite of being the favourite from the beginning, he only managed to limp past the finish line buoyed by a stirring chorus of “I guess he’ll have to do”.
Of course, he could turn it around by providing solid leadership and a clear vision forward.
After all during the second debate he broke with his usual “all things to all people” style and made a strong case for why he, and only he, was the one who would defend the ROC and hold off the “red unicationists” and save the nation from being annexed by China.
It was a stirring call to arms that evoked memories of the 1990s, when while the KMT may have talked about eventual unification, everyone knew they hated the Communists so much they would fight tooth and nail before ever coming under their heel.
In short, unlike the more recent history of the KMT, a party that could be trusted to keep the Chinese Communists at bay.
That’s a potentially viable future for the party.
So, freshly elected, and ready to point the way to the future, what does Chu do?
Bow obsequiously to Xi Jinping in the manner of Ma Ying-jeou.
One of the few favours that Xi granted Johnny Chiang when he became party chair is he refused to send a congratulatory letter–the first time in many moons the head of the CCP failed to do so.
Upon Chu’s election, Xi sent him a congratulatory note, which included the following, using a Taipei Times description:
“At present, the situation in the Taiwan Strait is complex and grim,” Xi wrote, calling for unity among “all Zhonghua (中華) sons and daughters” and expressing the hope that the two parties will work together to “seek peace for the Taiwan Strait, seek reunification for the country and seek rejuvenation for the nation.”
Within hours Chu had responded.
Now, pay close attention to that timeline.
Chu elected, Xi quickly sends congratulations and Chu quickly responds.
I can’t say for sure if Chu or the KMT was informed in advance that Xi would congratulate him, or they just assumed he would–but either way, Chu’s response was ready and seemed to echo Xi’s comments.
There is no way Chu would dash off a quick note off of the top of his head to Xi–it was pre-planned.
Here is what Chu’s response read, with some translation changes by myself modifying a translation widely shared around on the internet:
“In the past three decades, between our two parties cross-Strait relations through multi-level exchanges and cooperation at all levels yielded beneficial progress. In recent years, however, the DPP administration has changed the status quo across the Strait by adopting ‘desinification’ and ‘anti-China’ policies. That created a tough situation across the Strait and an extreme sense of insecurity among the people across the Strait”
“People on both sides of the Strait are the descendants of Yan and Huang (IE Chinese people). On the basis of the ‘1992 Consensus’ and ‘opposing Taiwan independence,’ we hope from now on that our parties can pursue consensus and respect differences, promote mutual trust and integration, enhance exchanges and cooperation, so that the peaceful development of the cross-Strait relations can move forward. This is beneficial to the people across the Strait and the promotion of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”
If you want to re-listen to that part go ahead, it’s as bad as it sounded.
In the second debate Chu pounded away at the point that he would insist to Xi that he respect the KMT’s version of the 1992 Consensus that includes “each side, different interpretations”.
Funny, no sign of that, though he did use his full party title and noted the year as 110 using the ROC calendar…but then helpfully put 2021 in parenthesis after it.
Now, there is a part of what I read above which the translator rendered as “pursue consensus and respect differences”.
That is one way of translating the words he used, which were 求同尊異.
There is another way to translate that, which is “seek unification while respecting differences”.
It’s that second translation I just provided that seems to be how it was read in China, and referring to it a spokesperson for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said “Regarding the differences between the two sides of the Strait, the Chinese side is willing to hold dialogue under the One China Principle to seek the path to resolution.”
Leaving aside her referring to the “Chinese side” which appears to suggest Taiwan is a different side, there is no ambiguity on their side how they interpreted that part of Chu’s letter–a call for unification.
Also note, almost right out of the gate, he blames the DPP and praises cooperation with the Chinese Communist Party.
Of course it must be the DPP’s fault because it is clearly them who have upset the status quo by flying bombers and warplanes in China’s air defence zones and limiting China’s diplomatic space.
Oh…wait…that’s what the Chinese Communists are doing to upset the status quo, not the DPP.
The letter clearly reads like his fellow Taiwanese compatriots in the DPP are more of an enemy than the CCP.
Think through the message that sends to the Taiwanese people about where his priorities are on defending their freedoms, independence and way of life.
He’s saying to the Taiwanese public he’s more interested in working with a brutal, genocidal and increasingly Orwellian party-state bent on annexing Taiwan than with the democratic government the Taiwanese people themselves elected.
In short, Chu’s letter was right out of Ma Ying-jeou’s playbook, and with that turn of phrase possibly even more playing into Xi’s hands.
So, what happened!?
In that second debate he totally seemed to break character, at least at the time it appeared that way, and seemed to be pointing a new way forward for the party?
I’ve been chewing on it, and finally realized there is a precedent in his behaviour for this.
In 2014, though everyone assumed he was going to crush You Si-kun (the current legislative speaker) in his bid for re-election as New Taipei Mayor.
However, he did something odd: He started playing dirty tricks like withholding rally permits for You’s get-out-the-vote activities late in the race.
In the end the election was dead close, and he very nearly lost it.
In other words, if he fears the race is close, he’ll pull out all the stops to win, no matter the cost.
It worked this time, his tough talk most likely firmed up support from wavering Chiang supporters and blocked Chang from gaining support too far out of his base.
But it doesn’t appear he actually meant any of it, and far from being a vision of a new, bolder KMT responsive to legitimate voter fears of a hostile state, it was just an internal party political manoeuvre to secure the chair job.
If Chu keeps this up, he’s going to accelerate the decline of the KMT.
Unlike in the 90s and 2000s, the party has a very weak stable of viable political figures with national stature.
Of those under 60, there are only two: Johnny Chiang, who he may have just mortally wounded and now will have to do what he can to save him, and Wayne Chiang, the Taipei legislator most famous for being good looking and the great-grandson of Chiang Kai-shek.
Maybe a few people would recognize Nantou legislator Hsu Shu-hua if you reminded them ‘you know, the MC at the Han rallies who liked to dress up as Wonder Woman’ or Changhua County Commissioner Wang Huei-mei, but neither are truly national in stature or potential at this point.
The KMT will continue to haemorrhage support among people under 40, including the few thousand that Johnny Chiang managed to recruit to the party if Chu doesn’t act fast to keep him in the fold.
The up-and-coming generation–by which in the KMT is people in their 60s–there are only three if we exclude the no longer electorally viable Han Kuo-yu and Hau Lung-bin.
They are New Taipei Mayor Hou Yu-ih, Taichung Mayor Lu Shiow-yen and maybe Eric Chu himself.
But that being said, Eric Chu led the party as both chair and presidential candidate in the 2016 elections, which was the biggest electoral loss in the KMT’s history and the worst political disaster for the party since 1949.
In the 2020 election Han Kuo-yu did far better than Chu, getting about a million and half more votes, and he wasn’t tainted with concurrently being the party chair.
So perhaps I’m overly discounting Han and inflating Chu–though Chu still does reasonably well in polling.
If Chu sticks to the course it looks like he’s going to follow, he’s going to drive the party further down in the polls.
He’s also got to look over his shoulder at the Taiwan People’s Party.
The TPP is now polling better than the KMT in the under 35 set and among college graduates, and in some polls are within only a few points of the KMT with the public at large.
The KMT is still far more powerful in resources, personnel, experience, networks and locally well-known figures and the TPP isn’t likely to dislodge them easily…unless Chu continues to drive the KMT into the dirt.
Chu has to ensure that there aren’t widespread defections to the TPP among his people, in spite of the fact that voters already appear to be doing do.
The more voters that bolt to the TPP, though, the higher the inducement for politicians and political operatives to bolt as well–bringing many of the current KMT’s advantages with them.
The TPP is increasingly carving a niche out for itself for voters who, for whatever reason, won’t vote for the DPP–but don’t trust or like the KMT.
If that letter from Chu to Xi Jinping is any indication, that number is likely to grow–vast majorities of the public hate the 92 consensus and distrust Beijing, including many traditional KMT voters.
So, as we move towards the 2022 local elections, Chu might just end up pushing more people away from the party.
True, local elections are usually on local issues and the KMT usually does reasonably well, but as we saw in the 2014 local elections if the public turns against the KMT in general, it could hurt them in the local elections.
Which brings us to Eric Chu’s promises on the 2022 elections, which if I recall correctly were to maintain the number of local counties in their control and to expand the number of the big six metropolises in their tent.
On the big six, he might pull it off–both Taipei and Taoyuan will be in play because their current mayors will be term-limited out, and both Hou in New Taipei and Lu in Taichung are currently looking pretty strong.
The KMT has a strong chance in Taipei, though Taoyuan is a mystery at this point and could go either way.
But for the rest of the country?
The problem for Chu is that the KMT won a big sweep in 2018, winning far more than expected.
Now they’re going to have to play defence in those areas, and the chance that they lose a few is pretty high.
If that happens, Chu will come under pressure to resign–especially if they lose big.
So, Chu is already off to a self-destructive start, and the KMT primaries for next year’s local elections are in some places already starting this month.
Even in the best of circumstances–which these definitely aren’t–he’d be in for a tough battle in 2022 and would have trouble living up to his promises.
To survive next year will be a big challenge.
And if he fails and has to resign, then what?
We’ll be right back where we started, with another KMT chair race.
Image courtesy of 朱立倫‘s FB page