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Beneath the DPP’s Victory, the KMT’s Youth Movement Is on the Rise

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Beneath the DPP’s Victory, the KMT’s Youth Movement Is on the Rise

The KMT has long been a Taiwanese political synonym for gerontocracy, but now its youth movement finally appears to be coming to fruition.

Beneath the DPP’s Victory, the KMT’s Youth Movement Is on the Rise

KMT supporters wave national flags during a pre-election campaign rally in Taitung, Taiwan.

Credit: Facebook/ Hou Yu-ih

Despite losing Taiwan’s presidency for the third consecutive election, the Kuomintang (KMT) has reason to celebrate – the KMT scored a plurality in the Legislative Yuan thanks to a new cohort of young, up-and-coming politicians.

The KMT has long been a Taiwanese political synonym for gerontocracy, but any long-time Taiwanese politics watcher will note that a subtle youth movement has been transforming the party in recent years. After electing a record number of young legislators to the Legislative Yuan in the January 2024 elections, the proof of the youth takeover is definitive. With the infusion of fresh energy, the KMT is now preparing to ramp up legislative actions to provide checks and balances to the incoming Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) President Lai Ching-te and gearing up for local elections in 2026.

Shortly after I joined the KMT at 19 years old in 2019, then-KMT Chairman Wu Den-yih released an upsetting preliminary legislator-at-large list for the 2020 legislative elections. The preliminary list was characterized by the lack of representation from younger KMT members and the inclusion of several highly controversial figures at the top of the list. 

In lieu of distancing ourselves from a sinking ship as its popularity plummeted in polls, this sense of crisis compelled wave after wave of young KMT supporters to take matters into our own hands. A widespread understanding set in among us: “The KMT is not past its prime, but our current politicians are past theirs.”

In 2020, President Tsai Ing-wen and the DPP won landslide victories in both the presidential and legislative elections; that year, 34.5 percent of all eligible voters were under the age of 40. In spite of the KMT’s convincing loss, the party managed to recruit 3,676 new members under the age of 40 that year, representing 43 percent of newly registered KMT members. The KMT continued to perform well among younger voters over the next two years under reform-minded chairmen Johnny Chiang and Eric Chu, with voters under 40 representing 41.6 percent and 43.2 percent of new KMT recruits, respectively, in 2022 and 2023.

During the past two nation-wide elections, the KMT dramatically rejuvenated its candidate pool. In the 2022 local elections, the KMT nominated a record-breaking 152 under-40 councilor candidates; 73 percent of them (111) were elected. In the 2024 legislative elections, the KMT nominated 13 under-40 district legislator candidates; nine of them were elected. All are joining the Legislative Yuan as freshman legislators. The DPP, meanwhile, only elected three under-40 freshman legislators compared to the KMT’s nine. 

As a result, the KMT is now the youngest party in the Legislative Yuan. The average age of KMT legislators is 52.07 years old, compared to 52.47 years old for the DPP and 57.87 for the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP). The electability of young KMT candidates demonstrates that the KMT is not the losing, dying cause the critics believe it is. The waves behind ride on the ones before; the new is beginning to outshine the old.

In the KMT primaries of the past two nation-wide elections, the KMT offered generous benefits for first-time primary candidates under the age of 40. The most critical of all was the doubling of the first-time primary candidates’ vote count during the primary, allowing them to better compete with established old guards. But the youth wave inevitably triggered backlash from local establishments and created intra-party fissures. KMT chair Eric Chu, especially, came under fire and was under immense pressure to revoke the policy. The danger of a potential party split was real. Some councilor candidates even publicly threatened to run as independents. But the current party leadership and we in the KMT youth wing stood our ground, and the 2022 local elections were a resounding success for the party as a whole.

The party disunity in the run-up to the 2024 presidential election is a reflection of the bitter intra-party struggles of the recent past, but the KMT’s youth rejuvenation is a necessary and long-awaited process that the party has grappled with since the era of former President Chiang Ching-kuo

In addition to the KMT’s success in the 2022 local elections and 2024 legislative elections, over the past three months Wennie Wu, 32, secured one of the KMT’s most coveted legislative nominations; Kang Jin-yu, 23, became the youngest deputy spokesman of the KMT of all time; and I, 23, served as foreign press secretary for the KMT’s 2024 presidential candidate Hou Yu-ih, hosting his pre-election international press conference. Moreover, an overwhelming majority of political operatives in both the KMT’s Department of International Affairs and the KMT’s Culture and Communications Committee are under 30, lending both creativity and flexibility to the party’s public face. 

The KMT’s youth movement finally appears to be coming to fruition, and my friends and I in the party’s youth wing are preparing to roll up our sleeves for the opportunities and challenges over the next four years.

The KMT just lost its third consecutive presidential election, but our defeat this year has left us with a positive legacy. And we are already seeing signs that senior influence within the party is dwindling. Days before the recent election, Chu and Hou distanced the party from former President Ma Ying-jeou’s statements regarding cross-strait relations. In the not-so-distant future, the agency and room for young KMT members to maneuver will only grow in coming years as the trend continues.

In a recent press conference, Sean Liao, 33, one of the KMT freshman legislators, took a leading role in laying out the priorities for the next legislative session with his veteran colleagues. Freshman legislators like Liao will continue to wield considerable influence as the KMT defends and seeks to expand its mayoral and local councilor seats in the 2026 local elections. But whether the KMT will turn over a new page and free itself of old stigmas associated with its past self will depend on the legislative accomplishments of freshman KMT legislators in the next two and a half years in the run-up to 2026 local elections. They are the manifestation of the party’s rejuvenation and the vehicle to its future. Their success is still uncertain, but the KMT’s younger generation finally has a fleeting chance to take the reins of Taiwan’s future.