2015 Will be Decision Time for the KMT

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Sunday December 14, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

Events in 2014 have made it an ill-fated if not disastrous year for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and President Ma Ying-jeou. The year began in the courts with Ma losing the "September Strife" battle to oust Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng from the KMT and the Legislative Yuan.

In March, the Sunflower movement's occupation of the Legislative Yuan further derailed any hopes Ma had to establish closer ties with China via the cross-strait service trade agreement. In September, Hong Kong's "Umbrella movement" exposed whatever similar dreams China might have had of supporting Ma with the dodgy carrot of "one country two systems."

The tainted food scandal broke and the year wound down with the startling and resounding defeat of the KMT in the November nine-in-one elections. All in all, it was not a good year for the KMT.

For Ma's critics, the chickens had finally come home to roost for "his phoniness."

As the "Teflon man," Ma had long survived despite his reputation of being incompetent and the international moniker of "bumbler."

However, in the end he could not deflect the demands that he step down. While some even wanted him to step down from the presidency, he reluctantly did resign as Chairman of the KMT.

So what next? With the next year looming, Ma has plenty on his plate as he tries to both scrape together a limping lame duck finish and avoid charges for crimes and misdemeanors when his presidency ends. The real spotlight, however, will be on the KMT even if it does not yet realize it.

This is not about who the next KMT chairman will be. No, the election losses were more than just losses; they were harbingers of the continuing schizoid identity the KMT has and a challenge to its existence. For the KMT, next year will have to be a year of serious soul searching as both its followers and the people of Taiwan ask "Quo Vadis?"

The KMT's identity crisis has been long in the making. The party still continues to deny the reality that it is a diaspora, a diaspora that not only thinks that it never left China but thinks it still is China. To perpetuate its schizophrenic sense of history it relies on manipulative titles and shell game nomenclature.

For example, the KMT lost China but it did not "really lose" China because there are for the KMT, "two interpretations" of what China is.

There is the China, which the major nations of the world and China declare is China, and then there is the China which the KMT needs to pretend is China.

For the KMT, the 1947 Constitution of the Republic of China (ROC) remains the constitution of the real China even though the People's Republic of China (PRC) later developed its own constitution and denies the ROC's existence. Further, the actual land that the ROC Constitution applies to is primarily Taiwan and Penghu. Then of course, there is the fabricated 1992 consensus, which the ROC and the PRC allegedly agreed to but they really did not.

There are many more distortions, which the KMT tries to twist into justifying why it deserved to win last month's elections. However reality shows it did not.

This leaves the KMT diaspora with only two real choices. It can try to bargain and/or beg to return to be part of the oligarchical one party state of China or it can remain in a democratic Taiwan, which has never been a part of China. In Taiwan, it could try to forge a new identity. That is the hard reality that the KMT must face.

The party's current state of denial over their election losses has an all too familiar ring about it. When the KMT was losing China, Chiang Kai-shek resigned as President on January 21, 1949.

That is, he resigned but he did not really resign. Technically he could not be blamed for being the president who lost China, but he kept control of the army and did everything he could to sabotage the work of his successor Li Zongren.

Then on March 1, 1950, safe with the KMT diaspora in Taiwan, Chiang reclaimed the presidency of the ROC and even instituted temporary provisions, which would allow him to be president over a one-party state until his death in 1975. That is the link that the KMT uses to stake and justify its claim to China.

One can only wonder at what point the other KMT leaders--many of whom are still on Taiwan--actually realized and admitted that there was no way that Chiang was ever going to lead them back to victory on the other side of the Strait. When did they see through the rhetoric and slogans and come to admit that Chiang's Project National Glory (國光計劃) of the 1960s was a sham and a facade and doomed to failure?

This is the situation that the KMT finds itself in today as it chooses new leadership. It has lost more than an election. Its power base has dwindled; its leaders are exposed and it does not have a one-party state like Chiang had.

Will it still go with the old guard that in its rhetoric denies what really happened in the elections? Are there any among them that would be tempted to choose the path of Chen Yi and try to work a deal with China?

And what about their princelings? They have a few weak princelings. Will they decide to be Quisling princelings or to fit into Taiwanese society where they will have their wealth but no longer their status?

There must surely be a bitter taste in the mouth of some thinking KMT members as they try to reconcile the reality of their lives as diaspora. What choices are left? How will the party survive?

The world has changed. Both within Taiwan and without, Ma's credibility is lost. The PRC had tolerated him as a useful patsy but he can no longer serve that purpose. Any return to China will have a price.

Next year will bring the moment of truth as the KMT chooses new leadership. It could fully turn to be Taiwanese and begin to jettison the old ROC. It could even change the party's name to that of the Taiwanese National Party.

However denial still hangs heavy as all sorts of reasons for the loss are conjured up. The young are ungrateful. The party did not explain its position clearly enough; the voters are fickle etc. But the real question remains, can the KMT find a new direction? ***

***(As a footnote, the KMT did not find new leadership or new direction in 2015. The results would prove to be disastrous in the January, 2016 elections.)