Taiwan's ruling party shifts leadership






The Nationalist Party, holding its 13th party congress in a heavily guarded mountain retreat near Taipei, announced a major shuffle of its Central Standing committee yesterday, opening the door for further political and economic reform.

Ten senior party members with an average age of 79 were removed from the 31-member Central Standing Committee and appointed to the Central Advisory Committee, a mainly ceremonial body that precludes membership in both committees.

The Central Standing Committee makes major national policy decisions, which are rubber stamped by the Cabinet.

Elections this week for the two committees are expected to bring major membership changes, to make it easier for President Lee Teng-hui to carry out the reforms that most party members now realize are necessary.

President Lee was elected Friday as chairman of the ruling party, the Kuomintang. He is the first Taiwanese to serve as president and party chairman.

The party’s old guard, including 86-year-old Madame Chiang Kai-shek, attempted to block his nomination as temporary party chairman in January after the death of President Chiang Ching-kuo that month.

With only eight of the 1,176 voting delegates refusing to stand in support of the election, and with Madame Chiang being led to the stage by the president for a personal appearance, it appears Lee may have won the mandate he has been seeking.

Despite this show of party unity, all is not well for the 94-year-old Kuomintang, which has ruled the island since Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek retreated in defeat from Communist China in 1949.

Since the passing of the generalissimo’s son, Chiang Ching-kuo, the highly disciplined party has faced growing dissension in its ranks, failing discipline and the formation of the splinter groups, as younger members have attempted to obtain a greater share of power.

In the weeks leading up to the party congress, which runs through Thursday, party members jockeying for position led a bold attack on the conservative premier and his Cabinet.

“In the past, decisions were all made in advance and everyone knew his position,” said Lu Ya-li, professor of political science at National Taiwan University. “Right now people believe they can improved their position if they maneuver in a certain way, and if they lose they know they will not have to pay too heavy a price.”

One of the purposes of this year’s meeting, the first in eight years, is to reconcile the demands for faster change by the party’s younger members while not seriously ruffling the feathers of the conservatives.

Party leaders have spoken of reforming the party to make it more democratic, and for the first time in the party’s history, some of the delegates to the Party congress were elected by popular vote.

Members of the central committee also will be elected directly by the delegates for the first time.

The first challenge came Friday when Chao Shao-kong, 38, a legislator and a member of the so-called Young Turk faction, took the podium to call for a secret ballot election of the party chairman.

In normal practice, the party chairman is nominated and the voting delegation then stands in unison to express its support. Chao, while expressing support for the chairman, criticized the selection process as undemocratic.

“All the delegates were chosen in a democratic manner and the KMT claims to want to democratize the party,” Chao said. “”Do we need to say only the grassroots level needs to be democratic and not the higher levels?”

Chao’s arguments fell on deaf ears, however, and he was forced to withdraw his proposal. One reason, analysts say, is that party leaders are afraid that if they give in on this issue, then there will be further calls for party democratization, which even moderates apparently are reluctant to see.

Policy toward mainland China is expected to be the subject of heated debate during the party congress. The Kuomintang has remained staunchly anticommunist, insisting on a “three nos” policy: no contact, no compromise, no negotiation.

But the Taiwan government began to revise its mainland policy last November. Government leaders have hinted in recent weeks that a more open mainland policy would evolve as a result of the party congress.

In his opening-day speech, president Lee harshly criticized the Chinese Communists for having a “blind ambition to destroy” Taiwan. But political analysts did not take the remarks seriously, saying they were only meant to placate conservative, anticommunist forces.

Party committees submitted a draft proposal regarding mainland ties to the congress Friday afternoon.

The draft proposed visits by mainland Chinese to Taiwan for the first time, specifically visits by dissident scholars, mainland students living in other countries and family visits to attend funerals.

The draft also held out prospects for a big boost in indirect trade with the mainland, which would result in a increase in the amount of raw materials imported from China.

However, no significant policy changes are expected to come directly out of the party congress, which is serving more as a sounding board to gauge the attitudes of members. If there are any changes, analysts say, they will come after the party congress, not during it.

The main significance of the congress may lie more in the changes in the power structure of the party than in any new policy.

“The main significance of the congress may lie more in the changes in the power structure of the party than in any new policy.

“The party congress is important to show that they have a new era,” said Antonio Chiang, publisher of the Journalist, the island’s leading Independent news weekly, “and that a new power structure is emerging from the shadow of the Chiangs and the old KMT.”


© 2013 Paul J. Mooney