Future Books on the KMT's Coming Demise

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Sunday September 20, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

"The hand...that ropes the blowing wind / Hauls my shroud sail / And I am dumb to tell the hanging man / How of my clay is made the hangman's lime."

As the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) trims its sails for the January 2016 elections, Dylan Thomas's words are proving more than a warning. They are slowly becoming a prophecy, a prophecy of a doom so major and so haunting that afterwards a hundred books will cry out to be written.

What is the impending doom that now fills the shroud sails of the KMT? It's one that is worse than the shellacking of the November 2014 nine-in-one elections. It's one that portends a disaster so epic that the party may never recover. It bespeaks its final death knell. Yet even those that suspect its presence remain too dumb to tell the "hanging man" that it is there.

Myopia has always been a major problem of the KMT when it comes to self-analysis. From its very beginnings in 1911, the KMT has been a party that was never quite able to get out of the starting blocks. It could never find or establish the differences between belief in democratic leadership, and feelings of destined and privileged entitlement. Its history remains one of never facing the cruel analysis needed for change; it is a history found in a succession of tipping points and lost opportunities, of which more books will soon cry for recognition.

An effort towards introspection had certainly been made by the KMT after it lost China to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and had to flee to Taiwan in 1949. KMT leaders were then forced to ask, how could a party that allegedly had professed democratic ideals, and that possessed a better-equipped army not only lose to the Communist forces but also fail to win the hearts and minds of the Chinese people? The KMT never fully answered such questions.

Other tough questions also remained unanswered; the needed brutal analysis crucial for true reform fell far too short. Instead, party leaders soon resorted to cant, deceptive posturing and greed. It proved far easier for them to imprison dissenting followers than to answer the needed questions of reform. The why of that is another book that cries to be written.

Additional books concern the many millions who sacrificed and died for the party's ideals. These millions have received a perfunctory and shallow eulogy from the party's privileged leaders but their efforts were never really appreciated enough to dictate active democratic reform.

And so today, as the 2016 presidential and legislative elections approach, the death knell of the party's demise is sounding in three KMT leaders. Together they symbolically represent key party faults that prevented it from finding the soul of democracy. Those key faults and representations are respectively: Ma Ying-jeou, incompetence; Lien Chan, opportunism; and Hung Hsiu-chu, blind, inept belief.

On incompetence, Ma's official international tipping point might be seen in the November 2012 Economist article that named him, "Ma the Bumbler." This ironically came shortly after his re-election as president. However, any analysts who had closely watched his 8-year performance as Mayor of Taipei already recognized that he was more sizzle than steak, more image than performance. For them, it was only a matter of time before his exemplification of the Peter Principle would be exposed to all.

A problematic factor had been Ma's selection for advancement. In a one-party state selection always favors those elite who can talk a good game. Those chosen subsequently enjoy the protection of the party. That is Ma's background.

In a democracy, however, such a selection process eventually unravels. Thus now in his eighth year of the presidency Ma is finally seen as the one-trick pony, cute and clever in that one trick, but incompetent for global needs. Ma's blind trust in the party's past links to China have led him to continue to tie Taiwan's economic wagon to a China that has already "peaked" in its own one-party state growth. Ma's current slogans like the "Golden Decade for Taiwan" resemble Chiang Kai-shek's promises to retake the Mainland.

For opportunism, Lien Chan stands out as a good example of the many opportunists who flocked to the KMT ranks yet always had exit plans if the tide would shift. Never able to thrive in democratic elections, Lien has been smart enough to fall back on one-party state opportunities. In retirement he has served Ma well as Taiwan's regular representative to APEC, but he also has kept open links to those in power in China's one-party state. One can almost see a parallel between him and Chen Yi a man who loyally served Chiang Kai-shek in Taiwan even in the brutal crackdown of 2-28. Though later rewarded with the position of Zhejiang Province Chairman, Chen Yi would be executed when he planned to change sides.

Hung Hsiu-chu stands out as the perfect product of the KMT system. She is the ideal loyal foot soldier. Fully indoctrinated she has demonstrated her ability to memorize and recite the party's catechism. Unfortunately her ineptitude is revealed when she tries to explain literally the fuzzy nuances of its formulated beliefs. In the end, she has resorted to trying to force square pegs into round holes. For her, democratic Taiwan is so into "populism" that it is like Nazi Germany; her obvious solution is to return Taiwan to the one-party state dominance of the KMT. That she should end up as the sole candidate for the party's presidency, demonstrates its dysfunction; a book is there as well.

If the KMT's problems existed in only one of these three people, salvation could be possible. Together, however, as leader, the three are indicative of the culture that has dogged the party from its early roots. So deep is the culture that the remaining party echelons either lack the conviction or the ability to change it. The KMT ship is being driven towards the fast approaching shoals, yet no one is capable of taking the helm and reversing course.

Those on board are blind to see that the winds of democracy in Taiwan are what fill the party's shroud sails. They remain too dumb to tell the "hanging man;" they can only watch what is coming. A splintered KMT may ultimately survive, but the KMT as KMT is done. Its final book may be on how it lost China to the despotic CCP and how it lost Taiwan to democracy.