27 October 2016
Tsai Ing-wen (left) is well poised to be Taiwan's next president, and KMT chairman Eric Chu may turn out to be another also-ran. Photos: Time, KMT
Tsai Ing-wen (left) is well poised to be Taiwan's next president, and KMT chairman Eric Chu may turn out to be another also-ran. Photos: Time, KMT

Student rallies will ultimately bring change, Taiwan shows

The Kuomintang’s bigwigs had a change of heart last Saturday.

Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱), who had secured the KMT’s unanimous nomination for the 2016 Taiwan presidential election, was abruptly replaced by Eric Chu Li-luan (朱立倫), the KMT’s chairman and mayor of New Taipei City.

The change, which surely will incite a further kerfuffle within the party, was made in the face of a bleak outlook.

Not only is Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) from the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) well poised to become the island’s next president, the KMT also fears losing its majority of the seats in the parliament.

Even Beijing is very much concerned.

Through pro-reunification media outlets, Beijing called for unity after some of Hung’s supporters threatened to quit the KMT.

What underlies all this, apparently, is last year’s student protests during the Sunflower movement, which on the surface seemed to have brought no real change.

The KMT was crushed in Taiwan’s local elections — held right after the movement ended.

The party’s mayoral candidate in Taipei, Sean Lien Sheng-wen (連勝文), was trounced by the little-known independent contender Ko Wen-je (柯文哲).

Surely many KMT members have become frustrated since then.

One piece of evidence is that all the factions chose to remain on the sidelines when the party’s early primary and caucuses started, making Hung, deputy speaker of the Legislative Yuan, the KMT’s only candidate.

Hung is a “dark blue”, a member of a minority wing of the KMT that advocates early reunification with the mainland.

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) represents the majority of KMT members, who prefer to maintain the political status quo with the mainland.

Other heavyweights within the party, like Wang Jin-pyng (王金平), president of the Legislative Yuan, favor nativism and a more localized approach.

Hung was already an underdog before the race officially started: a public opinion poll in August showed that her approval rating trailed Tsai’s by 30 percentage points.

Most KMT members have given up on the presidency, but it was not until recently that they realized Hung’s extremely poor ratings might deal a crippling blow to the party’s odds of success in the parliamentary election to be held alongside the presidential race.

The most pessimistic prediction is that the KMT’s share of the legislature’s 113 seats will be reduced to just 28 from 65.

That was what behind the KMT’s hurry-scurry rush to strip Hung of her candidacy, an unprecedented move. 

Only 1,000 of the members of the KMT’s 1,600 standing committee showed up at the party’s extraordinary plenary meeting last Saturday, and only 800 of them voted for Chu as Hung’s replacement.

Still, while better-known, Chu also stands a slim chance of winning.

The latest polls show Tsai’s popularity rating is 25 percentage points higher than Chu’s.

Understandably, Hung’s hardcore followers feel deeply aggrieved.

Some said they will boycott the presidential election.

Yet, since Beijing has already stressed unity, it’s not surprising to see Hung tell the plenary meeting that “the KMT can abandon me but I will never leave the party”.

Hung’s words fit well into Beijing’s mindset.

The KMT is now virtually on the edge of an abyss, and the Sunflower movement has further complicated its woes.

When the students’ massive sit-ins ended in April last year, some said that other than stalling the passage of a free trade agreement with China, the movement failed to change Taiwan’s political landscape.

But it’s now clear that the view of many of Taiwan’s middle-of-the-road voters has shifted away from the KMT thanks to the students that stormed parliament.

Academia Sinica, Taiwan’s national academy, found in a public opinion study that the share of voters who think the DPP is more trustworthy on cross-strait issues (46 percent) has surpassed that of KMT supporters (34 percent).

Here in Hong Kong, many also felt bewildered about the effects of the Occupy movement when it ended.

What we can learn from the recent developments in Taiwan is that we should keep our morale high, as society’s underlying impetus for change will reveal itself over time.

Hip, hip, hooray for Joshua Wong

Joshua Wong Chi-fung turns 19 this year, and the age threshold to stand for a Legislative Council seat is what he aims to challenge now.

The young activist filed a judicial review, questioning the constitutional grounds for the minimum age requirement of 21 for candidates for public office.

There have been sneering objections from old-line politicians, who say Wong is just too “green”.

Young Occupy participants are getting more experienced in politics, and Wong is perhaps the best example.

He has perused the Basic Law and knows well the relevant political clauses.

He is good at mobilizing people, reasoning and debating.

Unfazed by threats of violence, he has had the experience of leading two massive rallies in the past three years.

What he doesn’t have is the kind of common cunning and craftiness seen in many public figures.

With his track record in social movements, Wong is more than qualified for a seat in LegCo and will surely bring something new if he is elected.

I urge all members of the pan-democratic camp to surmount their factional barriers and lend their support to Wong.

If the age restriction can be lowered to 18, then the “youth power” seen in recent movements can be fully unleashed.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct. 19.

Translation by Frank Chen

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Former full-time member of the Hong Kong Government’s Central Policy Unit, former editor-in-chief of the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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