KMT struggles to find footing after devastating loss in Taiwan's Kaohsiung

Massive miscalculations by party led to stunning defeat

KMT supporters in Kaohsiung

KMT supporters in Kaohsiung (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The Kuomintang (KMT) is reeling after suffering a devastating defeat over the weekend in Kaohsiung's recall election, which saw Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) ousted from office.

This marks an end to a spectacular fall from grace for Han, who rode into Kaohsiung's mayoral position on top of a populist wave in November 2018. Unfortunately for him, he failed to follow through on a myriad of promises made on the campaign trail, most notably that he would not run for president in 2020, which he did — and then lost.

A total of 939,090 Kaohsiung residents voted in favor of removing Han from office last Saturday (6/6) as opposed to a paltry 25,051 votes supporting him. He now has the distinction of being the first-ever mayor to be recalled in the nation's history.

Even though Han deserves the lion's share of the blame for the loss, the KMT as a whole completely miscalculated the recall. Rather than telling party members not to vote, the KMT should have put all its weight behind getting people out to the polls.

In addition to Han's defeat, the sudden death of Kaohsiung City Council-Speaker Hsu Kun-yuan (許崑源) also served as a major blow to the KMT. In response Sunday, KMT Culture and Communications Chairperson Wang Yu-min (王育敏) announced that KMT Chairman Chiang Chi-chen (江啟臣) would lead a team down to the south to pay respects to Hsu and hold a KMT Central Standing Committee meeting in Kaohsiung on Wednesday, June 10, to boost the morale of party members.

Also on Sunday, KMT Secretary-General Li Chien-lung (李乾龍) announced that the party is looking for a Kaohsiung native around 40-years-old to run in the mayoral by-election, which will occur sometime in the next three months. Li said they currently have a few possible candidates but have yet to make a definite decision.

And then today, news came out that groups supporting Han have applied to hold a rally in front of the Presidential Office in Taipei on June 13 and June 14 in order to mourn the loss of Hsu Kun-yuan and seek justice for Han.

Why did Chiang Chi-chen not mobilize support for Han before the recall? What good will holding a rally in Taipei do? Should it not have been held in Kaohsiung before June 6?

The KMT has been criticized for having too many older politicians who refuse to step aside. But is choosing a 40-year-old to be a mayoral candidate the best solution?

The problem with all of these moves is that they come as too little, too late. They also show that the KMT is struggling to find its voice within Taiwan's changing political landscape.

For the nation to become an even more stable democracy, we need a legitimate opposition party with its focus set on Taiwan. Can the KMT effectively fill those shoes? Or will they continue to stumble right off the cliff?