Crisis-hit KMT faces election thrashing

Scattered statues of the late KMT leader Chiang Kai-shek in Taoyuan, northern Taiwan. Other statues of the former president elsewhere around the island have been decapitated or defaced.
Scattered statues of the late KMT leader Chiang Kai-shek in Taoyuan, northern Taiwan. Other statues of the former president elsewhere around the island have been decapitated or defaced.PHOTO: REUTERS

Taiwan voters expected to strongly reject party's push towards China in January polls

TAOYUAN (Taiwan) • Dumped outside Chiang Kai-shek's mausoleum in Taiwan are nearly 200 unwanted statues of the Kuomintang (KMT) hero, a suggestion of the punishment his party faces in the January elections for pushing the self-ruled island too close to its political foe China.

Cast in bronze, the generalissimo is variously saluting, holding a book, leaning on a cane, sitting regally or perched on a plinth - a peaceful if surreal gathering that belies the disarray of the party.

Some statues of the KMT leader - who fled in 1949 to Taiwan with the remnants of his government after losing the civil war to the Chinese Communist Party - still standing elsewhere around the island have been decapitated or defaced.

The KMT is expected to be dealt a thrashing in the presidential poll by the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), a result likely to irritate China, which claims the island as its own, although no one expects the close economic ties to unravel.

"The KMT is in freezing winter. It will get worse before it gets better," said a party member, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The party has been in crisis since November when it lost power in local elections. The defeat paved the way for Ms Hung Hsiu-chu to step up as its only prospective presidential candidate.

But her stated intention of signing a peace treaty with China and appearing to move closer to Beijing's position of "one China", including Taiwan, has rubbed a lot of party cadres up the wrong way.

In short, KMT supporters are bailing out. Campaign jockeying and factional infighting are pushing members away from a party that numbered well over a million in 2000 but is now down to about 890,000.

Mainstream public opinion is in favour of maintaining the status quo of de facto independence, a key campaign message from DPP presidential hopeful Tsai Ing-wen.

Late last month, legislator Chang Sho-wen quit the KMT. Another legislator, Ms Hsu Hsin-ying, left the party after last year's local election loss, which forced President Ma Ying-jeou to resign as party chief.

The election result was seen as a vote against Mr Ma's China-friendly policies. Democratically minded young and middle-class Taiwanese, unhappy with slowing economic growth and stagnant wages, remain suspicious of China's intentions and see only big business prospering from closer ties.

"The history of the KMT, of Chiang, has been diluted," said Mr Hsu Wen-long, 50, whose father, a KMT soldier, fled to Taiwan in 1949.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 11, 2015, with the headline 'Crisis-hit KMT faces election thrashing'. Print Edition | Subscribe