Can Johnny Chiang Reform The KMT?

First Time In 15 years CCP Fails To Congratulate Incoming KMT Leader

Johnny Chiang, a 48-year-old Legislator from Taichung, won the Kuomintang Chairperson by-election on March 7th.  

In doing so, he easily defeated former Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-Pin, by 84,860 votes to 38,483 according to English-language  media in Taiwan.

Political Observers interpreted Chiang’s ascension to party leader as a victory for the reformists in the KMT. Since failing to gain both the executive and legislative branches in the 2020, election in January, there have been calls from within the party to undergo comprehensive party reform. 

Party reform isn’t a name concept for the 100-year old political party; the KMT has undergone organizational structure reform in the past, most notably in the early 1950s.

Reforms Then

Chiang Kai-Shek established the Central Reform Committee (CRC) to replace the incompetent Central Standing Committee and Central Executive Committee, the KMT’s two most powerful agencies at that time.

Chiang (Kai-Shek) believed the KMT needed to establish a new, solid organizational system. He also believed, if the party failed to reform, there would be no hope in saving the nation.

Expectations Now

70 years later, Johnny Chiang has campaigned on a reformist agenda, vowing to establish a reform committee  of his own, that will potentially have broader authority than both the Central and Standing committees, to tackle internal party issues.

Reforming the KMT could be an insurmountable task for Johnny Chiang, however, namely when dealing with the China issue, ongoing financial woes, inability to attract support from younger people, allowing Fu Kun-Chi back into the party, and its fragile relationship with Taiwan’s security guardian- The United States. 

The China issue and the ability to attract support from younger Taiwanese are the biggest reasons why the KMT was soundly defeated in January’s election. 

While campaigning for the Chairmanship in February, Johnny Chiang advocated for the reevaluation of the so-called “1992 Consensus”, a tactful political agreement that recognizes that both sides of the Taiwan belongs to “One China” concept.

However, the consensus was made up by Su-Chi, former head of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, an agency responsible for dealing with China affairs.

Chiang has voiced concern that the consensus was a outdated and out of touch with Taiwanese public opinion.  

Chiang’s willfulness to ditch the consensus has caused alarm bells to ring in Zhongnanhai and within his own party.

Is Beijing Upset?

For the first time in 15 years, the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party failed to send a congratulatory telegram to the incoming KMT leader, implying that Beijing isn’t thrilled about Chiang’s intentions to abandon the consensus.

China’s state mouthpiece Xinhua posted an editorial slammed the KMT, claiming that scrapping the ‘1992 Consensus’ to ‘steal votes’ from the Democratic Progressive Party is political illusion of self-deception”. 

Former KMT legislator Chen Shei-Saint warned that if Chiang were to abandoned the 92 Consensus, it would mean giving up its most valuable asset in dealing with the Chinese Communist Party.

Chiang Backtracks

In response, and facing pressure from Beijing and veteran party members, Chiang has changed his tone. He reiterated that the consensus represents the spirit of finding common ground, amid political difference and sovereign dispute.

He also blames the DPP for demonizing the consensus as endorsing Beijing’s “One Country, Two Systems” ideal.

The party is conservative; its main support comes from older voters. The current structure of the KMT consists of Republic of China veterans, such as the powerful Huang Fu-Hsin branch; second generation mainlander elites; Taiwanese businessmen in China; and party loyalists over the age of 50.

There is a distinct lack of young talent in the KMT. Chiang himself admitted that there’s roughly only 9,000 members under the age of 40 in the party. 

The KMT fails to cultivate young talent within the party.

Meanwhile, their main political rival, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, has a tradition of recruiting and cultivating younger talent. The DPP appoints young social activists into leadership positions, and allows younger party members to compete in district legislative races across the country.

The KMT has done the exact opposite; their at-large legislative party list consists of older, pro-China, conservative politicians whose viewpoints aren’t acceptable to the younger generation.

According to Chinese-language NewTalk, the average age of the KMT’s at-large party list is around 58.13. 

Recognizing The Problems Within

Chiang sees the lack of youth in the party as troubling. He understands that if the KMT fails to get younger, it could pose a challenge for the party to compete with the DPP in the 2022, municipal elections, and will possibly shut out the party’s chances in 2024, when they bid to win back the Presidential office or to gain a majority in the Legislative Yuan.

Taiwanese political commentator Sissy Chen predicted that the DPP could remain in power for the next 12-20 years if the KMT fails to cultivate fresh blood in the party. 

The KMT is seen as unpopular among Taiwanese people under 40. According to the Institute Sociology at Academia Sinica, 72 percent of voters under the age of 40 voted for the incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen, including more than 60 percent of college graduates.

To make matters worse, according to an online mock election poll released by the National Students’ Union of Taiwan in late December, The KMT barely received 3% of support among college students. 

The party’s conservative political ideology turns off younger voter, particularly its staunch opposition on legalizing marriage equality , which enjoys overwhelmingly support from the younger generation.   

Time Will Tell

It remains to be seen what Johnny Chiang’s reforms will lead to. It’s going to take a herculean-style effort for Chairman Chiang to lead the party in a different direction.

It’s highly unlikely that he will achieve comprehensive party reform within a year and two months, but his ideas on reform could be the foundation of a modern KMT.

Over 84,000 party members entrusted Chiang to lead the party through its own political disasters. Let’s see what Chiang’s political will is capable of. 

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