By: Jerome F. Keating

With little more than three months until Taiwan’s presidential and legislative elections, the ruling Kuomintang’s leaders are still bickering and debating over whether they made the right choice last June in selecting Hung Hsiu-chu, the acerbic vice-president of the Legislative Yuan and party deputy secretary-general, as their candidate. Strong rumors continue to circulate in Taiwan saying that party chairman Eric Chu may soon replace Hung.

That is not their only worry. The party also has a good chance to lose its majority rule in the legislature. 

However, what is taking place is much bigger than a party choosing the wrong candidate, or the simple change of party rule in a democratic election. Taiwan may be witnessing the waning if not the possible outright demise of the Kuomintang, something that would not only restructure Taiwan politics but has the potential to permanently affect Asian politics as well. After years of unwilling acquiescence to China’s nationalistic claims, Taiwan’s public is leaning away from the mainland and, given the shrinking enthusiasm for the Kuomintang, is likely to favor the more nationalist Democratic Progressive Party even in the legislature.

A February 2015 poll by the Taiwan Brain Trust polling organization shows that nearly 90 percent of the island’s population identify themselves as “Taiwanese” rather than “Chinese” if they were to choose between the two, and the percentage is even higher among those aged from 20 to 40. Only 2.5 percent of those aged 20 to 29 consider themselves Chinese. The percentage wanting nothing to do with China has been steadily growing as aging onetime mainlanders and their immediate offspring die off.

When Hung first ran to be the KMT nominee for the presidency last June, she likened her efforts to displaying a brick to attract jade, a Chinese warfare stratagem meaning to lay a trap with attractive bait. Unfortunately, party heavyweights held back and no jade came forth.

Such reluctance, inspired by suspicions that any KMT candidate would lose, raised a different and deeper question; did the party have any real jade left? Ideological and identity issues have been proving more than temporary in KMT ranks. Young leadership was not being fostered and past leaders have not been up to the task. 

In this setting, the selection of Hung, who has vocally longed to recapture the one-party state days of Chiang Kai-shek and his son Chiang Ching-kuo, has only exacerbated the party’s problems. Hung knows the party’s catechism and can spout past memes, beliefs and rote answers but cannot explain their application in a changing world. Her overt identification with how the party still deserves to rule China has made her blind to these changing times and the growing Taiwanese national identity. The brick has remained a brick. So much so that the party is worried whether she will even attract 23 percent of the vote.

Hung’s candidacy has created problems for other party members running for the Legislative Yuan. To control the legislature, a party must hold 57 of the 113 seats. Currently the KMT holds a majority of 64 seats. If it loses eight, however, it will lose that majority.

Because of the anticipated poor showing in the presidential race, the KMT is almost certain to lose several of the 34 at-large seats that are dependent on party vote. In 2012, it got 16 at-large seats. This time it will be lucky to get 12. The voting trends expressed in the nine-in-one elections in November 2014 are foreboding; the KMT barely held onto one major city, Sinbei city; and it lost many of its previous strongholds including Taipei. This can be expected to translate into additional lost permanent legislative district seats.