Monday, March 28, 2016

Hung Hsiu-chu ascends to the KMT Throne

Collage (which appears to consist of pictures of herself) Hung sent around after her victory.

As was easily predictable, reactionary mainlander former presidential candidate Hung Hsiu-chu was elected to the KMT Chairmanship with 56% of the vote, defeating her Taiwanese rival from Chiayi, Huang Min-hui, who had the backing of party elites. The election was a by-election held to fill the seat left vacant when former Chairman Eric Chu stepped down after the KMT's devastating defeat in the 2016 Presidential election.

Hung won because she had the support of the "iron votes", the Deep Blue old KMT voters, even though party elites had all arrayed themselves against her. One longtime observer pointed out that the Deep Blue voters felt Hung was owed something since she had supported the party even after it betrayed her. J Michael Cole described:
More significantly, her political resurrection also completes the process of New Party-ization of the KMT, signs of which had first appeared when Hung was selected as presidential candidate in mid-2015. Hung tends to attract ultraconservative “deep blue” (and generally older) KMT members, as well as pro-unification types from the marginal New Party and even more insignificant China Unification Promotion Party headed by ex-gangster and Beijing agent Chang An-le (張安樂). Those groups rallied around Hung last year and protested outside KMT headquarters when it looked like she was about to be replaced.

What this development means is that at a time when the KMT should have taken note of the factors that contributed to its demise in the January elections and opted for rejuvenation (in other words, to become more moderate or “mainstream”), it has instead regressed to an ideology that has very little appeal among the majority of voters in Taiwan.
Cole observes, very rightly, that Hung has considerable assets at her disposal to resist progressive forces in Taiwan politics, and that she might be more willing to cooperate with Beijing than a more progressive leader. He also says her election is very bad for Taiwanese democracy, and warns that she might not do as much damage as some of us had hoped for, since people within the KMT will be reluctant to leave.

My own view is that KMT hardening was inevitable irrespective of whoever sits in the chair. The party is composed of authoritarians at all levels desperate to protect their fading power, influence, and assets, and Hung is perfect for them...

On the one hand, she represents the old ideology, which she fiercely subscribes to, rallying the troops against the onslaught of Taiwanese identity and democracy. On the other, she makes a perfect foil for when the KMT takes hits on assets and transitional justice. If she succeeds in stopping the DPP, all good, if not, she's a good fall guy: "If only we had picked someone more moderate." They will then pick another "moderate" who will adopt the exact same policies, and just express them in a nicer way.

There are likely several areas where Hung's reactionary politics may well cause immediate hurt outside of the highly public ones of KMT assets and transitional justice. One is energy, where she continues to push for nuclear power even though more moderate figures such as Eric Chu and Hau Long-bin have questioned the idea, at least publicly. Today the horrible news broke that a man had randomly beheaded a little girl in the street, right in front of her mother. Pointedly abusing the DPP's anti-death penalty stance, Hung essentially called for the poor sick killer's execution (Taiwanese are overwhelmingly in favor of the death penalty). Hung also responded to congratulations from Chinese dictator Xi Jin-ping by reiterating the 1992 Consensus.

In China netizens love her; which is probably good since they will imagine all sorts of impossible things about her, and perhaps stop pushing impatiently for Xi to invade Taiwan, at least for a while. We need a KMT so that Beijing continues to hope and need not formally confront the failure of its policies...

The KMT is set for a slow fade, not a collapse, death throes that will last for years and continue to spew out harm like a dying scorpion stinging everything within reach. The only way it could collapse is if there is a large revolt of its disgruntled Taiwanese followers. Wang Jin-pyng, long the unofficial head of the Taiwanese KMT, who might have led such a revolt, is out of power and this week even had to deny that Tsai Ing-wen had offered him a position as head of the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF). He was always a broker, never a leader. Huang Min-hui, who might have taken his place, has aligned herself with the Party leadership (as Wang once did) and isn't going to lead a revolt. There might be isolated instances of people leaving, but the Taiwanese factions won't bolt because they are too weak and fearful. They will remain, and simply not be replaced as locals look for other parties for power and influence.

Key point: there's another election next summer. If she can win that, she gets another four years. That means that the KMT will likely never Taiwanize as so many had hoped, and never be a Taiwanese party. Instead it will shrink to a rump of Deep Blue Han Chauvinists and authoritarians.* That will be very good thing for Taiwan, if a truly democratic party rises to fill the space it leaves behind.

*See the work of Li-li Huang: “M Shape vs. Bell Shape: The Ideology of National Identity and Its Psychological Basis in Taiwan.” (in Chinese) Chinese Journal of Psychology 49(4): 451-470 (2007) and “Taiwanese consciousness vs. Chinese consciousness: The national identity and the dilemma of polarizing society in Taiwan.” Societal and Political Psychology International Studies 1(1). (2010)
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