KMT VP and party list

One of the questions that people often ask me is, given that they are trailing in the polls, how could Han Kuo-yu and the KMT turn the election around. I typically oblige, trying to spin the most realistic scenario that I can imagine. A few months ago, that scenario started with Hong Kong fading from the news headlines or Han Kuo-yu dazzling American experts in the closed-door meetings during his late October trip to the USA. Unfortunately for the KMT, these things aren’t unfolding that way. China is ensuring that Hong Kong remains prominent in the international news. Han cancelled his American trip, probably because he didn’t see much chance of realizing my optimistic outcome. One by one, the items on my list of things that might change the race are being eliminated, and Han still trails by a large margin in the polls.

This week, we saw another item checked off the list. Han announced his vice presidential choice, choosing former (caretaker) premier, Simon Chang Shan-cheng. Chang was leading Han’s policy team, and he is supposed to be the serious technocrat who will give Han some governing credibility. It isn’t a bad choice. It might convince some wavering blue voters, especially the so-called “intellectual blue” voters, that Han is qualified to be president, or at least that he might allow qualified and reliable people to make the important decisions. However, this is not a game-changer. No one outside the blue camp will be swayed. It certainly is not the type of choice that might jolt the polls. I don’t know who could have done that (Terry Gou?? Ko Wen-je?? Morris Chang??), but it definitely isn’t Simon Chang.

The only major set pieces remaining on my checklist are the presidential debates and election day mobilization. For the debates, Han might have a charisma advantage, but Tsai has a massive advantage in knowing all the details of government policy. I suppose it is possible that on election day the KMT will mobilize all of its potential supporters and the DPP will fail miserably at mobilization. However, it seems unlikely that the KMT could make up a double digit gap through mobilization. That leaves the unknown factors. I think the most likely unknowns are some sort of scandal or some sort of Chinese action, both of which are much more dangerous for Han than for Tsai. This is Tsai’s third presidential campaign; there aren’t likely to be many shocking skeletons in her closet. And overt Chinese interference is more likely to cause a pro-DPP backlash among voters than to convince undecideds to vote en-masse for the KMT.

I’m not going to say the presidential race is over, but I’m not optimistic for the KMT. I don’t see many realistic remaining paths to victory.

 

This week, many of the parties announced their party lists. This was not on my checklist of potentially game-changing moments. Very few voters can tell you anything about who are actually on the various party lists. At most, they get a vague positive or negative impression that a particular party’s list is pretty good or pretty bad. This year’s DPP list is a perfect example of ho-hum. There was some mild controversy and the list had a few last-minute changes. However, two weeks from now, most ordinary voters won’t be able to name a single person on the list, much less tell you specifically why it is fantastic or lousy. Even super-attentive voters will be able to tell you more about President Tsai’s cats than the #2 person on the party list.

The KMT list, however, might be controversial enough to break that normal pattern of anonymity. When the KMT announced its list, criticism was intense and nearly universal. (A guest on one of the political talk shows joked that he had never seen such agreement before on both the blue and green talk shows.) Everyone hated the list, though everyone had slightly different reasons for hating it.

The green side was appalled by the KMT’s decision to include several extremists with histories of repeating Chinese rhetoric. Three people were singled out. Ye Yu-lan was ranked #1 on the New Party’s list in 2016, and she has publicly advocated One Country, Two Systems. Former legislator Chiu Yi has long been one of the green side’s most hated figures. He has spent the past three years in China, where he frequently appears on talk shows supporting immediate unification and parroting Chinese talking points. Four years ago, he was #2 on the New Party list. Former general Wu Si-huai went to China, where he stood and sang the PRC national anthem at an event sponsored by the communist party. This action caused so much anger back in Taiwan that the legislature passed a law stripping pension benefits for retired military officers who engaged in such actions. He is basically the boogeyman inspiring the proposed law trying to deal with Chinese agents in Taiwan. He also led a group opposing pension reforms. The green side screamed that if a party list is supposed to be a statement of a party’s values, why was the KMT nominating overt collaborationists? Why was it nominating people who openly supported the PRC’s formula (one country, two systems) for cross-strait relations rather than the KMT’s official formula (1992 consensus)? What horrifying effect on national security could these people have if they obtained sensitive intelligence through their positions in the legislature? The green side is simply mortified by the KMT’s list. The green media has intimated that the PRC used various back-channels to coerce/persuade/order the KMT to put several of its choices on the list. The first day, these were mere hints and innuendos. However, more recent stories have made increasingly direct accusations of PRC involvement. The KMT has not indignantly denied anything. I don’t know whether there is any substance to the rumors, but I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t let my opponents make such explosive charges without a forceful response.

Maybe it isn’t shocking that the green side hates the KMT list. Far more surprising is that the blue side is also angry at the list. I’m not sure I have figured out everyone’s beef, but everyone has a complaint. KMT chair Wu Den-yi was originally scheduled to be listed as #8. However, when the final list was produced, Chiu Yi was unexpectedly added to the list in the #8 position, and Wu was pushed down to #10. After announcing the list, Wu cried (literally) about how shabbily he had been treated. #10 is still a safe position; the KMT should win at least eleven or twelve seats. However, Wu clearly felt insulted. [The rearranged lists also angered some of the other factions. For example, one of Ma Ying-jeou’s people was pushed from a safe position to a (barely) marginal position.] The blue talk shows, especially those from the Want Want media group exploded with anger at Wu’s placement. How dare he put himself on the list! How dare he put together such an awful list of old people!

Wu insisted that the list had already passed the KMT Central Standing Committee, so it could not be altered. However, within hours he had reversed himself. He called for an emergency meeting the next day, where he presented a revised list. The new list put him at #14, a very marginal position. It also removed Chiu Yi and made minor arrangements to a few of the other rankings. This list passed the Central Standing Committee, and then it was presented to an emergency meeting of the Central Committee. (Note: I am confused by why they needed this step.) Today, the Central Committee voted on each person. The vote was to veto, not to pass. With 189 people present, 95 “no” votes were needed to veto someone. In fact, there were “no” votes cast against every single person on the list. Everyone is angry about something. Even the least controversial person, Tseng Ming-tsung, got 13 no votes. Only one person was vetoed. Sorry, let me rephrase that. One person, Chang Hsien-yao, was even vetoed!! (Huh??) This is unprecedented. Chang, who was listed in a very shaky spot at #17, was a surprise addition to the revised list. He also has a longstanding spat with Ma Ying-jeou. Two other people were not vetoed, but they got more no votes than yes votes. (Holy Cow!!) Wu Si-huai, the controversial general, got 84 yes votes and 82 no votes. He remains on the list. (What the hell is going on??)

Again, voters usually don’t know much at all about the makeup of party lists. However, the KMT is taking extraordinary steps to try to ensure that people will have a general impression that this is a terrible list. They put extremely controversial people on it, and the DPP will be able to question the KMT’s commitment to Taiwan. Moreover, they engaged in vicious infighting and put it on the record that even KMT elites think that every single person on the list is questionable. For a couple people still on the list, MOST KMT elites think they are a bad idea. Han’s VP candidate, Simon Chang even said publicly that blue-leaning voters should consider voting for the PFP or TPP lists. Will this affect the KMT’s support? If I were the PFP, TPP, or any other blue-leaning list, I’d be eager to find out. More dangerously, the KMT doesn’t want any blue supporters on the losing side of this fight to feel so disgusted that they consider staying home or casting a protest vote for Soong. The more Soong takes from Han, the less enthusiasm blue voters will have. And if they stay away (again) on election day, the DPP will cruise to victory in most of the legislative district races. This is not something the KMT should be risking.

 

Let’s step back here and look at the bigger picture. I think the backdrop to this fight over the party list involves a bigger fight over who will lead the KMT after the election. It looks to me like, even though they hope to win, everyone in the KMT is preparing for a loss. Traditionally after a party loses, the party chair resigns to accept responsibility for the defeat. I think Wu was preparing to defy that pattern. He was going to try to put the blame for the defeat on Han’s ethical problems, Han’s poor performance as mayor, Han’s campaign aimed almost exclusively at the base, and Han’s position on how to deal with China. It was all Han’s fault! In the post-election world, Han would be exiled back to Kaohsiung, where he might even be removed from office in a recall vote. With Han neutered, the KMT’s power center would shift to the legislative caucus. During his first few years as party chair, Wu was somewhat marginalized because he didn’t have much control over the legislative caucus. By putting himself on the party list, Wu could become the leader of the caucus, effectively combining the party apparatus with the legislative caucus to produce one unified voice – his own – for the KMT. Brilliant! The only problem is that it isn’t working. Wu is quite unpopular with the general public and not terribly popular within the KMT. Even if he manages to make it into the legislature, it is looking increasingly unlikely that the rest of the legislative caucus would defer to his leadership. He was publicly humiliated and strategically defeated in this struggle over the party list. The other factions – probably mostly the Han faction but perhaps some other factions as well – want to force Wu out of the party chair. At the Central Committee meeting today, Han ally and #15 on the revised list Hsieh Lung-chieh promised that as soon as the election was over, he would run for the party chair. That must have been humiliating for Wu to hear. (In the old days, if such a low-ranking KMT member – Hsieh is just a Tainan city councilor – had dared challenge CKS or CCK to his face, he might have been arrested and shot on the spot!) Han’s position might be severely weakened the day after the election, but the Han faction is trying to make sure that Wu’s position is fatally damaged long before that. Right now, they’re succeeding.

Party infighting is a normal part of democratic politics, but it is unusual for it to break out so intensely BEFORE the election. There are only eight weeks to go; right now the parties need to present a unified front to the public. This is the kind of thing that parties usually try desperately to paper over until the day after the election. The KMT needs to be making up ground right now. Instead, it seems determined to try to shoot itself in the foot.

4 Responses to “KMT VP and party list”

  1. Shelley Rigger Says:

    I had two students in my office today and we were talking about this. They are both from Blue families. At the beginning of the semester their two sets of parents represented 4 votes for Han and 4 votes for the KMT PR list. As of today, there is 1 vote for Han, 1 vote for Soong, 2 votes for the PFP PR list, and two demoralized undecided voters. Meanwhile, I suspect both students would vote for Tsai if they were old enough to vote. Yikes!

  2. Kai Says:

    What a mess over there. Actually the green side should have no chance to win because of their obvious swamp of corruption and involvement in organized crime. Tsai herself with the fake PHD from London School of Economics would be just a joke in most countries. Incredible.

    • frozengarlic Says:

      Here’s a visitor from Imagination Land. Is it disorienting here in the world grounded in reality?

      • Kai Says:

        Just saying, I would not vote for that woman, even considering everything you wrote in your article is true. She’s just ridiculous. And the fact that they don’t have anyone better shines a bad light on the state of democracy n Taiwan.

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