The KMT Cannot Accept Democracy

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Wednesday, January 19, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

The start of any new year is always a good time for introspection, reflection, and resolutions.

This advice is appropriate for all; in Taiwan, it should clearly be heeded by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), which continues to have its share of troubles. As a matter of fact, the KMT has had so many in the last decade, that it almost seems to revel in them with the celebration of each New Year.

What then is could be done? The KMT can begin by examining the present and slowly tracing backwards to see how the dots are connected.

Whether the party wants to admit it or not, it continues to wither on the vine of public opinion and democracy. In the past year, it has slipped from being the 2nd main political party in Taiwan to third, being replaced by Taipei Mayor Ko-P’s Taiwan People’s Party (TPP). That in itself should stand as a clear warning sign for a party that once controlled the island as a one-party state. But there is more.

Other most recent signs indicate how the KMT still remains out of touch with Taiwan’s public. For example, in this past December the KMT brought before the voters, four referendum questions, each designed to challenge the leadership direction of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

With them the KMT hoped in the least to embarrass the ruling party, if not discredit it; it was not to be so.The referendums failed and ended with a resounding DPP victory.

However, the KMT was not done. In January, it again hoped to make inroads by utilizing its form of “revenge recall” as the party was still smarting from the recall of its past presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu.

This madness began with trying to unseat independent councillor Huang Jie in Kaohsiung, but that failed. It then later gained a brief form of seeming success by unseating the Taiwan State Building legislator Chen Po-wei in Taichung. However, again, success was misread, and the KMT decided to take on trying to unseat independent legislator, Freddie Lim.

Recall votes unfortunately seem to have become the current rule of the day after the overwhelming recall of KMT presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu.

However, the KMT has never faced up to the reality of why Han was recalled. Han had barely been elected mayor of Kaohsiung in November 2018, when he began to run for the presidency of the nation in 2019. The KMT obviously missed the point why those voting to recall Han later far outnumbered those that had elected him in the first place. Many had switched sides in their choice. Why?

Misreading Han’s earlier election was obvious; the KMT had been so delighted to win back the mayor’s position in Kaohsiung, that it sensed a false tide. It failed to see that a candidate should make an effort to do the job one is elected for before running for a higher office. However, as said the KMT was so happy to regain the mayorship in Kaohsiung that it ignored this and surged forward.

As a final result, with bitter grapes, the KMT has lapsed into the present recall madness; it felt that if it suffered, then all must suffer.

This led to the fall of Taiwan State Building Party legislator Chen Po-wei in Taichung followed by the KMT’s most recent attempt to unseat Independent Legislator Freddie Lim. That failed by not reaching the threshold of having at least a minimum of one quarter of the eligible voters, a small threshold. Few voters were interested in the madness here.

Lim kept his seat, but that was not all; in the bi-election for Chen’s seat in Taichung, Yen Kuan-heng the KMT candidate from the powerful Yen clan was also soundly defeated by the DPP candidate Lin Ching-yi and with a large turnout.

That is the present status of the KMT as it flounders. All of these should be cause for at least some introspection, but they are not. With the KMT, one still has the feeling that it has not figured out the answer to the question, “Why don’t the people like us?”

For that answer, the KMT must go back farther into the past to why the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement failed, the Sunflower Movement and why the KMT lost the presidency in 2016. These dots are connected.

It should not stop there; the KMT needs to ultimately examine the very role democracy plays for it and for China. That goes back to its very roots in 1911. Face it or not, democracy has never been the predominant narrative and paradigm that the KMT held to amidst all competing paradigms. The desire to rule a Chinese empire has always superseded any thought of democracy for all.

Democracy on the other hand has always had a part in Taiwan’s evolving fabric and identity as it moved from being Japan’s colony past the KMT’s one-party state occupation to democracy. This is the fault line and divide that is becoming more and more evident.

Can the KMT painfully and honestly face the fact that it has always had troubles with democracy?

For example, in dealing with its mantra of the fake “1992 consensus” the KMT always sacrifices democracy when it runs against holding to a “one China” empire. To deal with this, the KMT would have to admit that it was a government in exile—a diaspora dragging with it its failed Constitution for “one China.”

One will never find that the KMT is critical of what is going on in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Tibet etc. That goes against the fabric of “one China.”

In its over 100 year history the KMT has never had democracy as its main thread. Its leaders see democracy only as a means of deposing the opposition but not as a right in itself.

It has been said in the past: “You cannot support democracy, only if it means that you win.” However that has been the guiding principle of the KMT, it accepts democracy only if it means that it will win; and then only if it leads to “one China.”

This thought runs much deeper than most imagine. In the Chinese (not the Taiwanese) mindset; it is the ultimate paradigm. Han chauvinism must dominate. The Ming Dynasty was more about getting rid of the Mongols than finding a better rule. The same holds true about the Qing; Sun Yat-sen’s revolution was more to get rid of Manchu rule than to really support democracy.

Throughout the Civil War, why did the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) win out against the better equipped KMT?

Both were fighting for leadership, but bottom line neither was fighting for a democratic China; they both favored a Chinese empire with each as its leader.

The KMT has never lived up to its idealistic goals. The CCP has never professed democracy. And so, despite its many disasters, the CCP is not as guilty of false promises.

Taiwan is on the other side of this fault line. It knew this long before the Xinhai Revolution; it has a different identity born by its own experience and dreams and not ethnicity.

The world has entered a new phase of paradigm wars. The future world struggle will be between the democratic states and the one-party autocracies. This is where the fault line will be between the KMT and the Taiwanese continues.

To understand it, one must see that Taiwanese do not identify with 1911; the Taiwanese see their revolution as happening between 1979 and the lifting of Martial Law in 1987. This is a deep history, so deep that the old KMT will never understand it; and one doubts if even the new KMT will grasp it.

Few outside of Taiwan may grasp it as well, but it defines the difference between Taiwan, China and the future, and why for Taiwan to succeed, the KMT must fail.