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KMT's future unclear with Eric Chu at helm: Think tank director

Russell Hsiao says chairperson has many tests ahead of him

KMT Chairperson Eric Chu.

KMT Chairperson Eric Chu. (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Russell Hsiao (蕭良其), the director of Global Taiwan Institute, said it is too soon to tell which way the political winds are blowing for Taiwan’s main opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT).

Reflecting on the results of the KMT’s chairperson election on a recent episode of the Policy People Podcast, Hsiao said the party’s future direction seems unclear despite establishment figure Eric Chu (朱立倫) taking the helm.

Hsiao thinks it is difficult at this point to say how Chu’s leadership may differ from his predecessor, Johnny Chiang (江啟臣).

“Let’s be frank, Johnny Chiang just didn’t have the influence or the power to be able to do what he thought was necessary,” he said. “As a result, he was switched out.”

If former chairpersons, who are supposed to wield the most authority in the party, are unable to implement reforms, it raises questions over whether Chu really can do so either, Hsiao said.

“It's not a sure bet yet whether or not Eric Chu will in fact be the KMT’s presidential candidate in 2024,” he said. “He has a number of tests ahead of him to be able to generate enough support."

One of these tests is handling the resurgence of the pro-unification wing of the party. Hsiao said that while Chu’s election as chairperson was unsurprising, analysts overlook the significance of the huge number of votes pro-unification candidate Chang Ya-chung (張亞中) was able to muster.

He said the success of runner-up Chang is not an isolated incident but a continuation of a longer trend seen earlier with the unexpected meteoric rise of political outsider Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) in recent years.

Hsiao described Chu from different angles, showing that although Chu is considered an influential establishment figure in the KMT, he had down periods in the past, revealing a somewhat patchy record.

He pointed to the 2016 presidential race, where the KMT’s fissures were laid bare and Chu became what Hsiao called the party’s “sacrificial lamb” after it abandoned the legitimately elected candidate Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱) at the last minute.

Hsiao said it is expected that Chu would lie low as he did in the aftermath of his embarrassing defeat in 2016, suggesting this may have added to the party’s disorientation in the intervening years.

The future of the party under Chu remains unclear at this point, and observers will have to keep a close eye on developments to judge which way the party will go, he concluded.