Down in Yunlin, however, few people wonder why the KMT's emperor has no clothes. Typical of rural Taiwan, the county is populated almost entirely by native-Taiwanese farmers, whose ancestors moved to the island from mainland China centuries before Chiang Kai-shek followed with his retreating KMT 55 years ago. For decades they supported the KMT, then Taiwan's only party, which co-opted local élites and controlled loans to farmers to win loyalty. Now that's changing. Locals worry that the KMT's desire for closer ties with the mainland will mean a flood of cheap imported produce and lower incomes and, more fundamentally, that the KMT will eventually reunify with a country they consider alien. The KMT's Yunlin chief, Huang Shang-wen, knows how his party can regain votes: "For us to win elections, we need to lean toward independence." But that would sacrifice the KMT's core supporters. Hung on the paradox, Huang is drafting his resignation letter.
Wa NationAfter decades as Taiwan's undisputed ruler, the KMT is now struggling to define itself. It has jeopardized its image in the weeks following the March 20 presidential election by engaging in a divisive campaign to overturn the election result, which saw Lien lose by just 29,518 votes out of nearly 13 million. Last week, the face-off between the KMT and Chen's government remained at an angry impasse. The KMT and its chief "Pan-Blue" alliance partner, the People First Party (PFP), have petitioned the courts for a recount and squabbled with Chen and his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) over the procedure. The two sides also remain deadlocked over the shooting. The KMT has suggested it was staged to win votes and demands a special inquiry; Chen says police should first complete their investigation. Yet many KMT officials privately acknowledge that a recount holds little hope for a reversal, and a U.S. team of experts headed by forensics sleuth Dr. Henry Lee, a star of the O.J. Simpson trial, found "no question" that Chen suffered "a grazing type of gunshot wound."
That leaves Lien, 67, gambling that he can harness voter outrage at what he considers an unfair election in order to breathe new life into the KMT. Yet parlaying indignation into political gains will be tough. He must quickly reconcile his party with the island's fast-growing sense of a Taiwanese (as opposed to Chinese) identity, and overcome deep factional divides. Failure will probably cost Pan-Blue its majority in the legislature during elections this December—its last toehold on power. Success will require winning a tough two-front war. On one side are Taiwanese voters, like those in Yunlin, who are now drawn to Chen and his "Taiwan first" message. On the other are old-line supporters wary of pandering to independence-minded Taiwanese. At the same time, the KMT must make room for ambitious Young Turks anxious to climb the ranks, negotiate a new equilibrium within its Pan-Blue alliance and reverse a plunge in assets that forced the party, once the world's richest, to miss payroll for five days earlier this month. Many expect the KMT, facing so many loose ends, to unravel. "We're seeing it decline into something pitiful," says Byron Weng, a political scientist at National Chi Nan University in central Taiwan, "and that will leave the DPP in power for at least another decade."
After imposing 38 years of martial law and brutally repressing political activists who later became the core of the now-ruling DPP, the KMT introduced democratic reforms in the 1990s. But Taiwanese used their new freedoms to demand bentuhua, which translates as "localization." Bentuhua means politicians bear Taiwanese lineage, speak the Taiwanese dialect, emphasize Taiwan's history in schools and promote Taiwanese culture. For many, bentuhua also means independence, or at least permanent separation from China. The KMT, which still draws heavily on support from mainlanders, can't please everybody. Says KMT adviser Wu Tung-yeh: "The old-line faction and the bentuhua faction are sleeping in the same bed but dreaming different dreams."
They've fallen out before. Three times in the past 15 years, KMT leaders have split to form their own parties. One renegade, mainland-born James Soong, now leads the PFP. A fiery speaker, Soong carried with him many of the KMT's mainland-born legislators. Since making an uneasy peace with Lien and running as his vice-presidential candidate, Soong has turned the postelection fracas to his advantage. KMT insiders insist he pressured Lien to dispute the election results on the night of March 20, and Soong's followers dominated the stage in massive demonstrations that followed. Protests that began as a show of support for the Pan-Blue cause quickly became a showcase for Soong, with many Taiwanese KMT politicians staying away. "I received hundreds of calls from my supporters telling me not to go to the demonstration or support those mainlanders," says KMT legislator Hsu, who is Taiwan born.
Such stresses will make a Pan-Blue counterattack in December even harder. Taiwan's legislative contests reward discipline. Parties must allocate votes among many candidates in the same district; failure can mean losing seats despite winning the most votes. Most united these days is the DPP, which works well with its ally, a party formed by former President Lee Teng-hui, who quit the KMT in 2000 and now supports independence. The DPP expects to win over alienated voters from the KMT's bentuhua side who are disturbed by their party's histrionic reaction to the election. "The biggest beneficiary of the election fiasco will be the DPP," predicts Tuan Yi-kang, a DPP legislator and strategist. Control of the legislature would grant Chen a freer hand to rewrite the constitution—something Beijing fears is an irreversible step toward formal independence.
To prevent such a defeat, the KMT will emphasize its recent transformation. Following its shocking loss to Chen in 2000, the party revamped its Leninist-style structure and replaced it with a system of primary elections for candidates and intraparty elections for senior party positions. It barred candidates tainted by accusations of corruption or who amassed "black-gold" fortunes through Mafia connections. Most important, it promoted a younger generation of stalwarts, especially three comers known by their collective nickname Ma-Li-Chiang, or "strong horsepower": Taipei mayor Ma Ying-jeou, Taoyuan county magistrate Chu Li-lun and Taichung mayor Jason Hu Chih-chiang. All are under 55, fluent in English and untouched by corruption scandals (unlike Lien, a multimillionaire whose family wealth critics have linked to his father's use of KMT connections).
Yet the horsepower has sputtered. All three expected to provide Lien with tidy margins in their districts, yet in each place Chen won more votes than he did four years ago. Most damaged is Ma, who appeared at postelection protests to urge supporters to return home—and was booed. As the demonstrations continued, Ma distanced himself from Lien, insisting the party abide by a recount long before Lien reluctantly agreed. The move won Ma support from Taiwan's population, which saw him as a cool head in hot times, but irked party leaders intent on unity. Ma remains Lien's heir apparent for party chairman but suffers from the same problem as the rest of the trio. "Ma is out of the picture" as a future presidential candidate, says a former KMT Cabinet minister, because "he's not a native Taiwanese."
Before December, the KMT will have to figure out what it represents. The new official line—that sovereignty issues are for the next generation to resolve—invites voters to flow to other parties at either end of the political spectrum. And efforts to make the KMT more bentuhua, although necessary to win elections, pits the KMT in an unfamiliar game. "Bentuhua lends itself to independence and extremism," says Jason Hu, one of the horsepower trio, "so we can't compete with the DPP on that subject." So what's left? Hu says the KMT must "hope voters are one day mature enough to support a more mature party." It could be a long wait.