Merit and Vision, the Needs of Taiwan's Democracy

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Thursday June 25, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

It doesn't take a political scientist to see the difference between the beliefs and expectations of privilege and entitlement found in a one-party state and opposing beliefs of merit and vision found in a democracy.

However, given the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) current struggles in determining its presidential candidate for next year's elections, it is becoming more and more evident that the party's learning curve on democracy still has a long way to go.

During the 2000 elections the KMT received a major shock when the charismatic former Taiwan provincial governor James Soong jumped rank over then vice-president Lien Chan to run for the presidency as an independent. If Lien would have foregone privilege for the party's sake, Soong would have won hands down and the party would have had the presidency for the next eight years.

However, Chan chose not to and this allowed Chen Shui-bian, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate to sneak in with 39.3 per cent of the vote. The KMT expelled Soong from the party and sabotaged his campaign with the Chung Hsing Bills Finance scandal. Nonetheless Soong still ran as an independent and almost won with 36.8 per cent of the vote. Lien Chan got 23.1 per cent of the vote.

Former president Lee Teng-hui has been accused of destroying the party by supporting Lien to head the KMT ticket. Lee stepped down as party chairman after the election and shortly after was expelled. Ironically the party then made Lien Chan party chairman even though Lee's support of Lien was supposedly the reason that he was expelled.

In 2004 Soong (now head of the People's First Party) was accepted by the KMT as its vice presidential candidate under Lien. Lien claimed one-party state entitlement to be president, but fate was unkind. The two lost by less than one per cent of the vote to Chen, even though in 2000 the combined tally of their votes had been nearly 60 per cent.

This time blame fell on sympathy garnered from the attempted assassination of Chen. That allegedly was how Chen got his 50.11 per cent. The party rolled on, ignoring the real lesson on how 10 per cent of the vote had been lost in the changing times between the two elections.

In 2008, Ma Ying-jeou, with a "knight in shining armor" image, won back the presidency with a landslide 58.45 per cent of the vote. However in 2012, even though Ma was party chairman, his vote share dropped to 51.6 per cent.

A growing public awareness of Ma's incompetence was replacing any hope of merit and vision that Taiwanese expected of him. Once again, most KMT did not sense the changes outside the party.

Fast-forward to November 2014, and the KMT wipeout in the nine-in-one elections. Ma was forced to step down as party chairman. His bumbling and ill-placed vision had done more to ruin the party than Lee Teng-hui, but did the KMT recognize it?

And now, after having held the presidency for nearly eight years and continued its decades-long dominance of the legislature, the KMT has no candidate of merit or vision for next year's elections. Thus far only a loyal lieutenant, Hung Hsiu-chu has voluntarily stepped forward to take the position of general.

Surely the party should ask, what happened? True, in a one-party state, the KMT could have easily found a successor, but in a democracy, the party found itself at a loss to field a viable candidate.

The KMT has not been able to produce a candidate with merit and vision in the past eight years. Why? It is one of the many questions that the KMT must answer if it has any intentions to develop democratically.

The KMT's recent debacle has happened under Ma's watch but what the KMT decides to do about Ma will have to wait for a later time. The party now needs to shed the lingering one-party state mentality of privilege, hierarchy and entitlement existing in its upper ranks.

After all the KMT as a whole promoted and relied on Ma's image to serve its needs and not those of the Taiwanese. Ma is not the only one not attuned to the needs and wants of the Taiwanese. . Back in party's "good old martial law days," the KMT's ability to control the media and prevent transparency allowed the creation of two myths that would be subsequently be destroyed in the Ma era. The first myth was that the KMT was the only party able to handle the economy.

This myth has been challenged first by current studies that show how the Taiwan Miracle was slowed by the KMT and second by the obvious faltering of the economy under Ma.

Ma's first term with the alleged economic whiz Vincent Siew as his vice president ended poorly. And now as the next presidential election approaches, the facetious "6-3-3" promise is sounding the death knell of the end of that myth.

The second myth is that the KMT is the only party able to deal with China and its expansionism. The KMT's attempted party-to-party negotiations with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have not only failed here but they have been at odds ends with the will of the Taiwanese.

Who is there outside the KMT who could believe that the party that lost both the Civil War and the war of propaganda to the CCP would be the one best able to deal with them in the current era?

In a democracy, the needs of the people and the political landscape continue to change as a country develops. For Taiwanese, any remnants of the "brainwashing" of the martial law era have worn off.

Today's public is more informed and alert even to changes in textbooks by the Ministry of Education, but if a party is still mentally locked in its past one-party state days it will remain out of touch.

What candidate will the KMT come up with? Is there any new blood that would be trusted with the party's ill-gotten assets? Will there be a back room deal? Denial and anger are evident, even as Ma tries floating ideas that he should return as party chairman. Whatever candidate is finally chosen, chances are the candidate does not have the merit and vision needed.