Behind Kuomintang's downslide : The China Post

Supporters of Taiwan's ruling Nationalist Kuomintang Party (KMT) cheer during the party congress in Taipei, Taiwan, on July 19, 2015.
Supporters of Taiwan's ruling Nationalist Kuomintang Party (KMT) cheer during the party congress in Taipei, Taiwan, on July 19, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

In its editorial on Oct 14, 2015, The China Post notes that the rapid growth of pro-Taiwan sentiments has turned one of Kuomintang's strongest weapons - its pragmatic pro-China policy - into its weakest link.

The Kuomintang (KMT) has set the stage to "change the pillar" for the 2016 presidential elections.

The ruling party has announced it will hold an extraordinary congress on Saturday to decide whether to replace its presidential candidate, Hung Hsiu-chu just three months before Election Day.

The ugly move has been deemed necessary by KMT leaders fearful not of a defeat in the presidential election, which many see as inevitable, but of the opposition pan-green parties capturing an absolute majority of seats in the legislative elections held the same day.

In one of the most spectacular changes of fate in political history, the KMT has gone from being the "complete victor," winning the presidential elections and a supermajority in the Legislative Yuan, to facing the prospect of losing both to the opposition pan-green camp led by the Democratic Progress Party (DPP) in just seven years.

Is the KMT to blame for its fall from grace? Yes and no.

The world has witnessed major shifts since President Ma Ying-jeou came to office in 2008; many of these changes happen to spell trouble for the ruling party.

The global financial crisis in 2008 brought Ma's ambitious economic policies to an end even before they began and saddled his administration with the responsibility of limiting the damage to the economy amid the world's worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, which led to the near collapse of the free market system and disaster for millions and generated widespread distrust of the establishment on both the left and right. Incumbent governments in democracies like France, Italy, the UK and Greece were voted out of office in no small part because of the global recession and the public discontent that ensued.

Such a political climate is toxic for the incumbent administration and establishment parties. The KMT, in other words, lucked out in two respects.

While many governments can - and did - resort to nationalistic rhetoric to rally support, the history of the KMT and Taiwan means that the rise of nationalistic and protectionist sentiments did not profit the party.

The rapid growth of pro-Taiwan (or for some, explicitly pro-independence) opinions have turned one of the KMT's strongest weapons - its pragmatic pro-China policy - into its weakest link.

On the other hand, the advent of social media, which largely came with the birth of Facebook in 2007, brought about a sea change in the way public discourse is conducted all over the world.

The younger generation, which used to be seen as politically apathetic because of both their lack of interest and lack of access to the mass media in comparison with the older elites, suddenly found itself at the cutting edge of a media revolution.

At the exact moment when widening income gaps and mass underemployment/unemployment struck them, the adverse results of the global recession gave younger people the urge to articulate their grievances and the free-to-use and efficient social media provided them with the means to do so.

The dire economic challenges and rapid changes the world has witnessed in the past seven years must be taken into consideration when evaluating the KMT administration since 2008.

However, it is wrong to suggest that the KMT is just the victim of the changing times. For the party has failed, in both good times and bad, to communicate its vision to the public.

The KMT was given a clear mandate to pursue stronger cross-strait ties but Taiwanese voters supported such policies not out of love for China but out of a need for survival.

But the KMT has never clearly articulated a rationale behind its pro-China policies.

The party also failed to tell the truth to the people at difficult times.

From the future of nuclear power to the nation's capital gains tax plan, the ruling party has failed to explain its vision.

In most cases, it appears to stand firm only to slowly give in and slide toward whatever the polls dictate.

The worst of the KMT can be seen in the "pillar change" fiasco.

In a manner that can be described only as schizophrenic, the party has managed to keep professing its love of unity as it decided to force out its own presidential candidate.

Such episodes of schizophrenia are not uncommon; the nation witnessed the same behavior during the fight between President Ma and Legislative Yuan Speaker Wang Jin-pyng in 2013.

Either unable or unwilling to show the people its visions, the party instead buries its actions in empty rhetoric; it comes across as opaque, cynical and without principle.

And that, not the prospect of defeat, is the KMT's biggest crisis. Even in its darkest hours, the DPP was able to remind supporters of its core principles.

The KMT will be in much deeper trouble if it can not articulate its own.

* The China Post is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 22 newspapers seeking to promote coverage of Asian affairs.