Wealth of the KMT and Democracy in Taiwan

Taiwan’s Kuomintang, or KMT party, was once again named the world’s richest political party. This year the KMT, also known as the Chinese Nationalist Party, registered its total assets at 26.8 billion NT, or 892.4 million USD.

This comes as no surprise to those familiar with Taiwan’s political history. Since fleeing from the Chinese mainland in 1949, the KMT has been accused of utilizing multiple illegal methods of procuring its millions of dollars of assets. According to a new report about the KMT’s assets published in July, at least 114 houses and bases currently counted among the KMT’s property were seized from Japanese owners who were forced to flee following the end of World War II.

A similar event in the party’s early modern history led to the creation of one of the largest stockpiles of Chinese artifacts in the world. After losing the Chinese Civil War to Mao Zedong’s Community Party, Chiang Kai-Shek retreated to Taiwan with a substantial portion of the country’s gold reserve, 650,000 pieces of bronze, jade, calligraphy, artwork and porcelain from the Forbidden City, which are still in the party’s possession today.

And while these accusations can be refuted as politically motivated, the negative effects of the KMT’s political dominance and unmatched assets are undeniable. The KMT has ruled Taiwan for the vast majority of the country’s history, even following the country’s democratization in the 1990s.

The KMT’s continued control, combined with its wealth has some politicians concerned for the state of Taiwanese democracy. Control Yuan member Huang Huang-hsung described the party’s unparalleled assets as ‘the product of an authoritarian party state’ and said the assets must be disbanded for ‘the soundness and consolidation of Taiwan’s party politics, and thereby, its democracy.’

A comparison of Taiwanese political parties’ assets and spending substantiates Huang-hsung’s claims. The majority (63%) of the KMT’s revenue in the previous fiscal year came not from supporters’ donations, but rather accrued interest from its vast assets. The KMT raised just $920,000 from supporters’ donations, and relies more heavily on interest and state subsidies to fund its activities.

Despite having a budget less than one third the size of the KMT’s, Taiwan’s second largest party, the Democratic Progress Party (DPP) was able to raise more than four times the amount of donations the KMT raised, suggesting the DPP may be more popular with voters than the country’s ruling party.

Current President Ma Ying-jeou promised voters that the KMT’s assets would not be allocated toward campaigning or operation expenses, however, an investigation into the party’s budget suggests otherwise.

Despite having a larger budget than many of its opposing parties combined, the KMT is the only Taiwanese political party currently running a deficit of 14.25 million USD. In fact, the KMT spends more on office space than the entire DPP, suggesting that the party’s assets are being spent on political activity.

Promises like President Ying-jeou’s are not unprecedented in Taiwanese history. In 2005, following the KMT’s first defeat, then Chairman Ying-jeou pledged that the party’s assets would be sold off and the trusts disbanded, but this has yet to come to fruition.

In 2012, the KMT proposed as passed a bill to nationally divest the party’s assets and level the playing field for the opposition parties. The bill made it illegal for parties to operate or invest in profit-making enterprises, and gave parties two years to transfer ownership.

Though the bill did seem to be a step toward a more democratic election process, it deliberately left a sizable loophole; the bill allows the KMT’s assets to be put in opaque trusts and become effectively hidden from the public view.

DPP spokesperson Lin Chun-hsien described the act as ‘disappointing and a strategy to legalize the status of the KMT’s assets, which have been placed in a trust and have been a disgrace to Taiwan.’

Holding the KMT accountable for its promises to reform campaign finance will be an important part of fostering democracy in Taiwan. Without removing the influence of money on the presidential and parliamentary elections, the voice of the people cannot be adequately represented and unrest will continue.

Though the history of the KMT’s assets may be contentious, their future should be clear; the KMT’s assets should play no role Taiwanese politics moving forward.