KMT's 'shellacking' is worse than expected

Taipei mayoral candidate Ko Wen-je (centre) and his wife Peggy Chen (second left) celebrate him winning the local elections at the campaign headquarters in Taipei November 29, 2014.

With the president's approval ratings locked at under 20 per cent, the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) expected a beating in the 9-in-1 Elections that took place yesterday. What they got yesterday was a true "shellacking."

The party lost all the seats they were expected to lose plus a lot more, including some cities and counties that are never been governed by other parties.

The party started yesterday with 15 of the 22 cities and counties in Taiwan.

It retained only six after the polls closed. Even Eric Chu, the New Taipei City mayor widely expected to win comfortably, struggled to secure his re-election.

President Ma Ying-jeou, who doubles as the KMT chairman, will be regarded as the top culprit for the party's routing. There were calls for Ma to resign as KMT chairman even before results were fully in yesterday.

There had been "rumours" last week suggesting that Ma would quit his chairmanship to take the blame for the party's defeat.

The president, however, is not likely to just roll over. At the KMT's national congress last year, Ma went as far as to spearhead the amendment of the party's charter to guarantee that all R.O.C. presidents of the KMT will automatically be the party's leader.

Ma made such an unorthodox move in anticipation of the pressure for his resignation upon a possible 9-in-1 Elections defeat. He will not step down without a fight.

A senior KMT official, who is anonymous because he was not authorised to speak on the issue, suggested as such.

With the KMT performing even worse than the already grim prediction, however, Ma might find it hard to endure the pressure for him to quit.

At least one head has already rolled. Premier Jiang Yi-huah became the first Ma administration official to go. Local media speculated that Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin will replace Jiang as premier.

The senior KMT official, however, suggested that while Hau is a possible candidate, Vice Premier Mao Chi-kuo has a better chance of getting the top Cabinet job.

The spectacular defeat of Sean Lien could spell the end of the dominance of his family in Taiwanese politics.

While Lien Chan and indeed Sean Lien himself will remain powerful figures in the KMT, the limitation of the Lien family's influence shown by Sean Lien's failed mayoral bid might persuade Beijing that Lien Chan is no longer the best top representative in their talks with the KMT.

The senior official pointed out that President Ma might seek to replace Lien Chan as the party's go-to negotiation guy for Beijing after he leaves office.

Though even he is hugely unpopular, Ma is still seen by many as a clean and upright (even though not particularly competent and adaptive) politician. With relatively more credibility among senior KMT figures and with an eye on his place in history, Ma may be the right person to talk with Beijing.

The question is, however, whether an unpopular former president and KMT chairman could have enough leverage in the eyes of mainland China officials, especially after teh KMT's utter defeat.

Indeed, after the voters' clear rejection of the KMT yesterday, Beijing will possibly be more interested in exploring ties with the DPP than continuing its bet on the cooperative but incapable KMT.

The KMT's prospects for 2016 are gloomy. Midterm elections have long been an indicator of presidential elections in Taiwan and the ruling party faces a tough fight to surpass such overwhelming failure.

The party lost by around 230,000 votes in Taipei (to pan-green independent candidate Ko Wen-je) and by around 200,000 votes in Taichung, by over 430,000 in Tainan and around 500,000 in Kaohsiung to candidates fielded by the DPP, while taking cities and counties with relatively marginal winning edges.

The unexpectedly close result in New Taipei City also dents the momentum of Eric Chu, the city's mayor who is strong candidate for the KMT's 2016 ticket, opening the prospect for more infighting among other KMT figures feeling lucky.

While huge odds are stacked against it for the presidential election, the KMT is not without hope. T

he unequivocal failure might spur the party to change, meanwhile disappointed KMT supporters that held out yesterday might feel they have punished the party enough and extend a life line in 2016.

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