China Power

KMT Setback

Taiwan’s KMT just suffered another election setback. Is this another sign of a deeper dissatisfaction?

Some local election results from Taiwan over the weekend that are worth mentioning today. Local results are interesting here as they offer a snapshot of the general mood of the island and the feelings about President Ma Ying-jeou and his ruling KMT. And of course, this is interesting in light of the divided opinion over ties between Taiwan and China, ties that Ma has looked to improve.

In Saturday’s contest, the KMT took one county in legislative by-elections, while the opposition Democratic Progressive Party won three. This was basically a reversal of what the KMT had been hoping for. I asked J. Michael Cole, a Taiwan-based analyst, for his take on the results and what was behind the setback. He told me:

‘A number of factors played into the KMT’s poor showing in the weekend’s by-elections. A number of pan-blue supporters showed their discontent with the KMT by simply not showing up to vote. The popularity of President Ma, who doubles as KMT chairman, has been consistently low and hasn’t recuperated much since Typhoon Morakot and the US beef debacle. It’s likely that his stumping for local KMT candidates may have hurt their chances rather than improve them.

‘The Ma administration’s inability to clearly explain its policies–such as the proposed economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China–has also alienated a sector of the pan-blue camp.

‘Many pan-blue supporters also oppose the party reform drive launched by Ma and KMT Secretary-General King Pu-tsung; the latter, recently brought in to ‘fix’ the party, has proven unpopular. Some supporters also disapprove of Ma’s efforts to win voters from the green DPP camp, for example, which often entails making concessions and ‘diluting’ core KMT policies. Splits within the party, candidates running as independents and negative campaign ads targeting DPP candidates (especially in Hualien) may also have backfired.

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‘After its defeat, the KMT continued to attribute the poor performance on “not working hard enough.” If it continues to abide by this belief rather than realize that back-to-back defeats may be an offshoot of policies that are unpopular with the public, year-elections in Sinbei and Taipei could also go the DPP’s way, as could the presidential election in 2012. Working hard to convince people isn’t sufficient to win elections. A proven track record of sound policies will–and the KMT just doesn’t have that at the moment.’