Tsai Ing-wen

Decline and fall of Taiwan’s KMT a sobering lesson for Hong Kong politicians

Alice Wu says frequent infighting and a lack of unity can only alienate voters, as the Kuomintang discovered in the presidential election

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 January, 2016, 9:15am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 January, 2016, 9:15am

When a political party has the luxury to operate with complacency and with plenty of time for nasty infighting, it loses the people. That, in a nutshell, is what happened to the Kuomintang in Taiwan; it was unable to pull itself together for the people it should serve.

No party is free from infighting, but the KMT managed to put it on public display, in the ugliest ways. The feud between then president Ma Ying-jeou and legislative speaker Wang Jin-pyng simply went on for too long, and the issues were never resolved.

After its crushing defeat – not last week, but in 2014, when the Democratic Progressive Party made headway in local elections – there was much talk but very little action.

When that defeat meant an even bleaker outlook for the latest elections, the factions chose to stand on the political sidelines. That was how the original KMT presidential candidate, Hung Hsiu-chu, got nominated.

While its main rival, the DPP gained momentum, the timid factions of a KMT in complete disarray looked on with their arms folded.

If how the KMT ended up with Hung as its candidate is considered evidence of how bad things were, then replacing her at the 11th hour with Eric Chu Li-luan was the final nail in the party’s coffin.

READ MORE: Four key reasons Kuomintang lost the Taiwan election

If there was insufficient political conviction to change in 2014, the KMT’s biggest loss in history may just make it a political necessity to understand how its traditional way of conducting party business and the obsessive infighting have become its biggest liabilities. There is nothing new here: a house divided cannot stand.

The KMT should have learned that from the DPP. It, too, hit rock bottom once, deeply divided in defeat, and it is president-elect Tsai Ing-wen who nursed it back to life. The DPP’s comeback would not have been possible without her, nor its remarkable victory without a splintered KMT.

Many people, among them politicians and young activists from Hong Kong, flew to Taiwan to learn from, be inspired by, or simply to get a taste of, election time on the island.

We should expect our youth to be more active in running for office, especially after last year’s district council elections. With our traditional political parties from both pan-democratic and pro-establishment camps poised to hand the torch to the younger generation for the upcoming Legislative Council election, we can expect fierce competition and new faces.

For all the ills of our political parties, we can at least breathe a sigh of relief that they have enough foresight to see that “old politics” may have had its day, and the magnanimity to vacate their seats to give young stars room to step up, whether within their own party or in Legco.

Whether the parties have done enough nurturing of their youths for them to complete the succession process is yet to be seen.

READ MORE: Taiwan elections ‘unlikely to affect Hong Kong-mainland relations

It would be wise for political parties across the spectrum to take the KMT’s lessons in defeat to heart. Solidarity will play a crucial role in the days ahead. With new leaders at the helm in Hong Kong, their challenge will be to keep their parties moving and working in unity.

In politics, there will always be opportunists and, as we’ve seen in the KMT, creating internal strife is easy. Nipping party divisions in the bud and steering the right path will be the biggest test for the next generation of political leaders.

At the end of the day, a party that loves itself too much will inevitably suffer a demise, having lost touch with the public. As the KMT proves, complacency and mismanagement are a losing ticket.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA