In the final days of 2016, Taiwan’s opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT), pushed through a motion to reschedule elections for the party’s chairmanship. Accompanying the motion was possible action on one of the KMT’s staunchest pro-China branches, the Huang Fu-hsing (黃復興) military veterans branch. While the latter reform has since fallen flat, the KMT now faces a revised timeline for intra-party elections in 2017—one that stands to have a significant impact upon the future of the island’s domestic politics.
According to Article 17 of the KMT’s Charter, the chairperson election should be held three months before the party’s National Congress in the year the current chair’s term is set to expire (“主席之選舉應於任滿當年應召開之全國代表大會舉行之三個月前，與全國代表大會代表之選舉同時辦理”). In the last decade, the KMT has not observed the three-month window between the chairperson election and the opening of the party’s National Congress—as can be seen in the cases of Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) in 2007 and 2013. The one near exception to this trend occurred in 2009, when Ma Ying-jeou was elected unopposed to the chairmanship in July and sworn-in in mid-October, ten days shy of three full months.
Under Chairwoman Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱), it seems that the KMT is seeking to play by party rules. Nevertheless, in Hung’s haste to set an election date, she broke another important regulation requiring a minimum number for a quorum in the party’s policy committee (政策委員會). According to reports, Hung cited regulations from the Ministry of the Interior to change quorum requirements by excluding members on a leave of absence from the total number of members. Of the forty eligible participants, a quorum of at least twenty votes was far from attainable with only five members in attendance. Hung’s negligence suggests an intentional oversight of democratic processes within the KMT, perhaps aimed at increasing her own chances at re-election. Her ability to reclaim the chairmanship will be challenged, however, by the candidacies of former Vice President Wu Den-yih (吳敦義), current KMT Vice-Chairman Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌), former KMT Vice-Chairman Steve Chan (詹启贤), and businessman Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜).
While the motion to schedule the KMT’s chairperson election for May 20th—two months earlier than originally planned—has held despite the absence of quorum, efforts to change the voting status of the Huang Fu-hsing (or “Old Soldiers”) have been deferred. The proposed action would have removed the special voting rights given to the KMT’s deep blue, pro-China members. Presently, the Old Soldiers comprise roughly 190,000 people, approximately one-third of the KMT’s membership. Given the extent of the Old Soldiers’ political clout, they have been given a separate voting status within the party to limit their influence: of the 1,147 total KMT elected representatives, 102 (or 8.8 percent) are directly elected by the Old Soldiers. Should Hung’s motion pass, rather than creating greater equality in representation, the Old Soldiers would gain even more influence in local KMT chapter elections with an ability to vote for around 340 representatives (or 29.6 percent). This would arguably work in Hung’s favor, given the staunch support base she receives from the Old Soldiers. Even though the verdict on the Old Soldiers has been postponed, their impact upon the KMT will undoubtedly continue.
Meanwhile, alongside Hung in the crowded race for KMT chair are current frontrunners Wu Den-yih and Hau Lung-bin. Wu has sought to appeal to the centrist faction of the KMT, urging support of the 1992 Consensus in managing Taipei’s relationship with Beijing and suggesting an opposition to the legalization of same-sex marriage. Hau, a former Taipei mayor, has shelved presidential ambitions with a campaign pledge to make the KMT’s survival his top priority. Like Hung, Hau stands to benefit from votes cast by the Old Soldiers as the son of former premier and general Hau Pei-Tsun (郝柏村). Steve Chan and Han Kuo-yu are the dark horses in the race. Seeking to heal a divided Taiwan, Chan is thought to be a proxy for Foxconn chairman Terry Gou (郭台銘), who is rumored to be considering his own run for president in 2020. Little is known about Han Kuo-yu’s political ambitions, aside from his brief stint as a KMT party caucus leader and literal embrace of public opinion—as represented by heads of lettuce—since declaring his candidacy. The common denominator in the chairperson race to date is the absence of a clear vision for the party’s future. Each candidate must obtain approximately 9,000 signatures from KMT members by March 31st to validate their bid; in the interim, it would further behoove the candidates to elucidate the tangible steps they would take to revitalize a fragmented KMT.
For the KMT, the year ahead already looks to be a bumpy one. While the election of a new chairperson offers an opportunity for course correction, divides between the party’s caucus and headquarters in Taipei will likely persist. The KMT’s unanticipated move to reschedule the chairperson election illuminates the damage caused when a small minority of party leadership acts—irrespective of legislative processes—on behalf of the majority. After a new chairperson is elected on May 20, elections will be held in July for the party’s Central Committee and Central Standing Committee membership in advance of the National Congress on August 20. If the new chairperson is not able to slow the party’s gradual implosion and rejuvenate the KMT’s brand amongst Taiwanese voters, the KMT’s fate may have already been decided.
The main point: The Kuomintang will elect a new chairperson on May 20, 2017, but absent a leader capable of forging middle ground between the KMT’s light and deep blue branches, political infighting and uncertainty will remain a threat to the party’s long-term sustainability.
 Per the KMT’s charter, an individual is also not permitted to hold the chairmanship for longer than two four year terms (“主席之任期為四年，連選得連任一次”).