Ma wins KMT party chair debate

I watched the KMT party chair debate this weekend, and I have a few reactions. This is going to be a sloppy post. I’m not going to be very careful about who said what because they all sounded pretty similar. No one said anything that someone else vehemently disagreed with.

There were four people on the stage, and conventional wisdom is that this is a race between Eric Chu and Johnny Chiang, with Chu probably leading. There was a clear winner in this debate, and it wasn’t any of them. The undisputed winner was Ma Ying-jeou. A year ago, Chiang was trying to move the KMT away from the 92 Consensus. Ma utterly squashed that move. From the debate, you would never know that anyone had even questioned the brilliance and absolute perfection of the 92C. Someone else will be elected party chair, but Ma still runs this party.

None of them were really serious about power. The first thing Chiang said was that he was not going to run for president in 2024. Great. You want to be the party leader, but you don’t want to seek the most powerful position? One of the legacies of the authoritarian state is that politicians, especially in the KMT, have to act like they are embarrassed by power. In a democratic regime, power is good. A politician tells people, “Our society has problems, and I have a vision about how to make things better. Empower me, and we will make society better for all of us.” No one in this debate presented a vision, and no one was unashamedly asking for power to make changes. They all seemed to think they were interviewing for a middle-management position. Their job wasn’t to lead the party, it was merely to run the machinery that would select the real party leader (who might eventually wrestle with Ma).

Why does this matter? The 92C drives almost everything the KMT stands for, and it is increasingly divorced from reality. They assume that if only Taiwan goes back to saying the magic words, China will revert to the Hu Jintao era and play nicely. The KMT can go back to telling the voters that the magic words don’t really mean anything and telling the CPP that the magic words are very meaningful, and both sides will just forget the past decade and buy into it. Never mind that the PRC stopped pretending to respect the 92C several years ago and now insists that the 92C is exactly their version of One China. Please also ignore that China is now a much less attractive place to ordinary Taiwanese. It isn’t growing as fast, Xi Jinping runs an intrusive regime, everyone is aware of what has happened in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, and China regularly threatens Taiwan with fighter jets. There are still Taiwanese who want interactions with China, but not as many as a decade ago. For an opposition party, that is the most important thing. The 92C is now an electoral disaster. The KMT can still win 35-40% with the 92C, but that isn’t anywhere near a majority. No mind. The KMT is going to approach all questions dealing with China with exactly the same ideas it developed back when Jiang Zemin was handing over power to Xi Jinping.

This isn’t the only area where the KMT party chair candidates had nothing constructive to say. One of the questions was about how to attract more youth support, since the KMT is currently extremely unpopular among everyone under 40. Several of them talked about returning to the spirit of Sun Yat-sen. After all, most of his followers were young. Yeah, the way to attract young Taiwanese worried about contemporary Taiwanese society is to go back more than a century and think about how Han nationalists in southern China put together a secret society to organize violent insurrections to overthrow the geriatric Qing dynasty. Great!! Anyway, what exactly is the spirit of SYS that many of them spoke so emotionally about needing to revive? If we follow the SYS spirit, how exactly do we distribute vaccines, generate electricity, or manage water resources? As far as I can tell, this SYS spirit that they all regard with such reverance just means “good.” “Do it gooder.” Well, that’s going to win the youth back. Their other great idea was patronage. A couple talked about reserving positions in the party for young people. Hey, that worked back when they were young! Back then, the authoritarian KMT party-state coopted young talent by giving them nice jobs. While I think that lots of young voters would be happy to get good-paying jobs, I don’t think they are clamoring for a return of the (corrupt) patronage machine (and the KMT doesn’t have that many jobs to offer these days). They want ideas about how to solve the problems facing contemporary society, not bribes for a select few or platitudes about an irrelevant statue. There was one other thing that Chu mentioned briefly: we can’t be afraid to talk to them in the ways that they understand. Let me translate: “We should use SnapTube and InstaLine. That’s what the kids want. Packaging!”

By the way, what went wrong in the last two elections? Why is the KMT now in opposition? The people on stage offered up the usual excuses. The DPP unfairly slandered them by painting them red, and the KMT messed up its nomination process. What could they do about this? They all thought that the chair’s most important job was to set up a better nomination process. In fact, the 2016 nomination process was a debacle, and there were some problems in 2020. However, in 2020 the KMT ended up with the candidate overwhelmingly preferred by party members, and he unified almost all of the opposition to the DPP around him. The KMT lost the election by 18%. Nomination isn’t their biggest problem.

My main takeaway from this debate is that the contemporary KMT is not serious about returning to power. Returning to power requires taking a hard look at what went wrong and making painful adjustments. No one on the stage was offering either. They were pandering to the desires of the deep blue party rank-and-file party members. But let’s not place all the blame on Chu and Chiang. They were doing what was necessary to win this party election (even if it will be a disaster in a general election). It’s the rank-and-file who ultimately are responsible. They have collectively decided that they would rather lose more elections and stay in the opposition than back away even a bit from Ma, the 92C, and their attachments to China.

Ma won this debate, and he will win the party chair election. Who is the loser? Again, I don’t think it was necessarily anyone on the stage. Things are lining up for Hou You-yi to be the KMT presidential candidate in 2024, so I think he was the biggest loser. If he runs, the KMT will not be an asset. He will have to drag the party and its unpopular positions through the campaign. Rather than lightening that load, the KMT seems to be intent on adding as much weight as possible.

3 Responses to “Ma wins KMT party chair debate”

  1. Joseph Says:

    The striking thing about the 92 consensus is how clearly it failed on the merits. In 2008 it seemed a lot of people supported Ma because they wanted to make more money, but after 8 years of KMT rule the promised economic revival didn’t happen. After Tsai became president the KMT and its supporters act like that failure never happened- they still insist that making nice with China will solve Taiwan’s economic problems, never mind that that strategy already failed.

  2. CKY Says:

    Word on the street is that Hou has repeatedly declined to run for the 2024 presidential election (granted, we know how that promise went for Ma), but if Chu wins the chairman (and especially if the KMT, under his leadership, achieves victory at the referendum late this year and the local elections in 2022), wouldn’t it be plausible he becomes the one to run?

  3. De verkiezingen voor de KMT’s partijvoorzitter laten zien hoe stuk de grootste Taiwanese oppositiepartij is – Sense Hofstede Says:

    […] om wie het goed zou doen bij het Taiwanese publiek. In plaats daar van proberen de vier kandidaten steun te halen bij de orthodoxe, China-vriendelijke krachten binnen de KMT. Dit werkt misschien om de hardcore […]

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