Return to: Search Page or to: Table of Contents Vol. 12, issue 3

Tun-jen Cheng, "Strategizing Party Adaptation: The Case of the Kuomintang," Party Politics, 12 (May, 2006), 367-394.

First Paragraph:
The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT, Chungkuo Kuomintang, or Zhongguo Guomindang) post-2000 provides a rare opportunity to observe the survival and adaptation of a former ruling authoritarian party in a newly democratized polity. Like the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in Mexico, the KMT in Taiwan was a venerable party with an unusual record of longevity among political parties in developing nations. Founded in the 1920s, the KMT played a central role in China's national revolution, and continued to govern the mainland until its defeat by the Chinese communists in 1949. Relocated to Taiwan, the party resumed its rule for the subsequent five decades and held on to power long after Taiwan began to embark on democratic transition in 1986.1 For the first time in its history, in March 2000, the party lost a presidential election - and by a wide margin - and, a year later, a legislative election as well. Insurgency within the party was widely regarded as the most immediate reason for the party's unprecedented electoral setbacks (Cheng and Hsu, 2002: 166-7; Clark, 2000). Many had predicted the KMT's disintegration, but the party promptly engineered a reform and then quickly organized a united front in order to regain power. However, dealt another blow, fairly or otherwise, in the highly dramatic March 2004 presidential election, the party appears to be in disarray again. Is it succumbing to the three-strikes-and-you-are-out rule? Is the party, in fact, down and out?

Figures and Tables:
Table 1. Public opinion polls on unification vs independence
Table 2. Party identification
Table 3. Sub-ethnic identity of the Taiwan people
Table 4. China Times polls on the March 2004 presidential election
Table 5. KMT members and their social profile before and after the 2000 reform

First Paragraph of Conclusion:
Party adaptation may result from changes in the political environment or from electoral failure (Harmel and Janda, 1994: 259-87). The experience of the post-2000 KMT suggests that an age-old, former dominant party can only adapt in so far as its strategies and visions permit. After the three strikes, the KMT is facing a critical moment of party change. Some of its cadres and rank and file members may choose to realign with parties more promising or congenial, in a sense adapting to political environmental changes through market mechanisms. Not exercising the option of exit, the loyalists have voiced a choice of different strategies by which the party may recover. Instead of transforming, the KMT leader is hoping to merge two lesser like-minded parties back into the KMT. Party merger is a lofty idea that can earn the approval of some voters, as shown by the unity of the pan- Blue camp which provides checks and balances against the DPP that may otherwise grow into a dominant party. Party merger is also a realistic proposition for the PFP and the NP. The pan-Blue camp is at a juncture where Benjamin Franklin's aphorism applies: hang together or be hanged separately. And if the day of reckoning comes, the weaker members of the camp will be the first to fall.