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The KMT still stalls on its assets

The KMT still stalls on its assets

As the Kuomintang approaches the election of a new chairman after its debacle in the November 29 elections, there is still little evidence that it is planning to tackle some of its major issues, more particularly the inheritance of questionable assets.
The issue dates back almost seven decades, to the period when Japan lost the Second World War and had to end its 50-year occupation of Taiwan.
The KMT replaced the Japanese empire as the island’s new overlord and soon needed all of it as its only refuge from the victorious Communist Party. When the Japanese departed, they also left land, factories, enterprises and real estate behind.
What was owned by the Japanese state, soon became property of the new Republic of China government, but at the time there was little distinction between government, military and ruling party, since all were in effect being controlled by one man, President Chiang Kai-shek.
Over the years, the KMT amassed so many businesses, real estate and other possessions that it won the moniker of being the wealthiest political party in the world.
As martial law ended and the age of democratization arrived in Taiwan in the late 1980s, the preponderance of KMT-controlled television stations, newspapers and other media organizations made ever more members of the public realize that serious reform was needed.
The media allowed the KMT government to present itself in the most favorable light, while funds from other enterprises could be used to buy advertising space but also to spend on more obnoxious practices, such as vote buying. While its presence in new national and local elections was widely condemned already during the 1990s, the practice has apparently continued until now, as the current investigation into the Tainan City Council speaker election has shown.
It would be expected that after almost 20 years of direct presidential elections and almost 30 years after the end of martial law, the different political parties in Taiwan would be able to compete on a level field, but the KMT assets are the single major reason why that has not been possible yet.
Right from the time of its foundation in 1986, the Democratic Progressive Party has complained about its lack of funds, not allowing it to mount a credible opposition to the KMT. While its candidate Chen Shui-bian won the presidential elections in 2000 and 2004, the situation did not markedly change, with the KMT still able to buy massive amounts of ads in no matter what type of election.
Critics have rightly pointed out that a country where there is a stark imbalance between the financial situation of the governing and opposition sides can find it hard to be called a true democracy.
When New Taipei City Mayor Eric Liluan Chu announced last month that he wanted to run for chairman of the KMT to succeed President Ma Ying-jeou, who resigned after the party’s election disaster, he also promised significant reform, including changes to the Constitution which would lower the voting age and reshape the relationship between president, premier and Legislature.
The program apparently did not include the KMT’s assets, though when pressed about the topic by journalists, Chu promised transparency and a solution. His reaction sounded like an echo of the statements given by his predecessor when he came to power in 2008. Ma promised he would do away with the assets, but he failed to fulfill his promise.
The events of the most recent few days, in the week running up to the January 17 election of Chu as KMT chairman, have not given the public a lot of trust in his future handling of the issue.
On Wednesday, the KMT agreed to review a draft of the Political Party Act at a Legislative Yuan committee, but the move was widely condemned as a smoke screen to draw attention away from the issue of its assets. The legislators should also be discussing the draft regulations on the disposition of assets improperly obtained by political parties, but the opposition accused the ruling camp of using the other law proposal as a diversionary tactic. Even then, the KMT managed to end the committee session before a clause-by-clause review of the Political Party Act could start.
Angry DPP lawmakers accused the ruling party of playing a game designed to evade a scrutiny of its assets. The precise amount of the present assets and of the sums appropriated in the past has never been determined, critics say.
There are also discrepancies in the public perception of the level of questionable assets, with the KMT itself saying it has about NT$20 billion (US$631 million), but government departments calculating an amount of more than NT$60 billion (US$1.89 billion) in real estate alone.
There is too little evidence to see that the KMT will change its ways and set the necessary steps toward reform.
A normal functioning of democracy in this country can only be guaranteed if the KMT hands back its unlawfully obtained assets to the whole people of Taiwan, doing away with unfair competition between the parties.
Public dissatisfaction about the KMT dominance over electoral politics can be seen as one reason for the anger and the success of the Sunflower Movement, which lost hope in legislators to translate the will of the people but occupied the Legislative Yuan instead.
If a poor DPP managed to win presidential elections in 2000 and 2004 as well as the most recent local and regional elections, then the KMT should have no fear it cannot win elections without the assets, commentators have said. If the KMT proposes the right policies for the nation and the right candidates, it should not fear for its electoral chances, even if it is left without assets.
When Chu is inaugurated as the new chairman of the KMT next Monday, he will have a unique opportunity to prove that he is different from his predecessors and that the public can expect a fresh wind blowing to the century-old political party. Unfortunately, the signs for such a fresh approach are not apparent yet, and it can be expected that the KMT will not learn its lessons until it is defeated in national elections again.


Updated : 2021-09-23 02:42 GMT+08:00