Taiwan’s Kuomintang party, having been routed in Saturday’s presidential and Legislative Yuan elections, is in the process of soul-searching as it reconciles itself to four more years as an opposition party.
Taiwanese papers report that the KMT would soon form a task force to review its main fallings and propose reform plans, including arranging for a chairperson by-election after party chief Wu Den-yih offered to resign to take full responsibility in the wake of the election setback.
Among the names tipped to lead the embattled party out of the crisis is former president Ma Ying-jeou, in office from 2008 to 2016.
Ma’s enduring popularity among his base and key donors as well as his seniority, knowledge and experience are much needed to rekindle the morale of the KMT, his supporters say.
The Hong Kong-born, charismatic former leader has not faded into history after his tenure, and the legal lawsuits concerning leaking state secrets waged by the Democratic Progressive Party-controlled government have not dented his image either, at least among senior KMT members and the island’s pro-Beijing businessmen.
Talk of Ma mounting a political comeback was rife last year until the KMT picked Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu, who lost the race to the incumbent Tsai Ing-wen by a yawning margin of 2.5 million votes. Tsai clinched her second term with the most ever votes seen in the island’s elections since the first free vote was held in 1996.
But bringing back the 69-year-old “old horse” Ma could also be an admission that the KMT does not have a talent pool of young politicians or fresh blood and may in turn risk alienating young voters further as many of them did not approve of Ma’s pro-Beijing stance when he was in power.
Those KMT members who do not fancy Ma taking up the party helm again say it is precisely Ma’s intransigence when trying to bulldoze a trade pact with China through the legislature that ignited the 2014 student movement and in turn fuelled the fierce rise of young politicians that have become the core base of Tsai and her DPP.
Ma also met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2015 in Singapore in the first face-to-face talk between top leaders of the both sides of the Taiwan Strait since World War II, a move that again triggered a hefty backlash from the DPP and young voters.
In response to calls for his return, Ma told the island’s Central News Agency that he had no plans to become the KMT chairman now that he is retired. Some Taiwanese papers said Ma had instead given his backing to Han to lead the party despite the latter’s election defeat.