To be a credible opposition, Taiwan's KMT must put its house in order
Taiwan's political system needs a strong opposition to ensure the island's leaders stay honest and do what is best for the people. The ruling Kuomintang, in crisis over poor policies, a loss of support among voters and faction-fighting, had no choice other than to replace Hung Hsiu-chu as its candidate for the presidency in elections just three months away. Trailing far behind the Democratic Progressive Party's Tsai Ing-wen, her controversial statements on relations with the mainland were seen as dooming her chances. But her ousting in favour of party chairman and New Taipei City Mayor Eric Chu was as much about the presidency as preventing the party's further decline and collapse.
Hung, a conservative on the KMT's ideological spectrum, gained its presidential nomination by default in July; Tsai's strong showing in opinion polls and the KMT's landslide losses in local elections last November had potential opponents keeping a low profile. Chu would have made a better choice, having a moderate stance towards cross-strait ties and taking over as party chairman from President Ma Ying-jeou, who had stepped down to take responsibility for the poor poll showing. The KMT's chances of holding on to power have been damaged by Ma's weak leadership, controversies over governance within its ranks and the lacklustre Taiwanese economy. Even had Chu not promised during campaigning for the mayoralty that he would not seek the island's top job, his outlook would have been brighter in 2020 than in January.
But although Hung was a party veteran, she had little experience at the knife-edge of politics. She stirred controversy on the campaign trail by sharply diverting from mainstream views on relations with the mainland. That had KMT candidates for the legislature distancing themselves, either quitting the party or deciding to run as independents. She became a liability and the special congress set up to find a replacement was inevitable.
But Chu's selection last Saturday has caused further rifts within the KMT's ranks and harmed its public image. Hung had been the party's first presidential candidate to be chosen democratically by its members and it has turned its back on that process in replacing her. Yet as slim as its chances are of taking the presidency, Chu is the better bet. Hung had the courage to step forward, but she could not bring the KMT the unity it needs. Its future lies in working together and better aligning itself with mainstream opinion.