Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairmanship candidate Koo Kwang-ming (辜寬敏) should look up the meaning of the words “democratic” and “progressive” before deciding to continue with his bid — if his comments on Tuesday are anything to go by.
Koo, 82, raised eyebrows when, in reference to his female rival Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), he told a press conference that “the future of the DPP should not be entrusted to an unmarried girl,” adding that in a traditionally male-dominated society like Taiwan’s, positions with great responsibility should be the preserve of men.
Then, in an equally embarrassing attempt to extract his foot from his mouth, Koo said his comments were not meant to be disrespectful to women, nor were they discriminatory, “because if it weren’t for my mother I wouldn’t have been born in the first place.”
In one fell swoop, the prospective leader of the nation’s second-largest political party not only insulted his worthy opponent, but also half of the nation’s population.
He might be forgiven for this kind of chauvinistic blast were it a one-off, but unfortunately this is not the first time Koo has made such aggressively sexist remarks.
During the DPP’s presidential primary campaign in 2006, Koo, in a reference to Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮), said that “people who wear skirts aren’t fit to be the nation’s commander-in-chief.”
In judging Koo, one should not forget that he grew up during the Japanese colonial period and absorbed the prevailing attitude toward a woman’s role in society. But times have changed. The time when women were completely at the mercy of their husbands or their husbands’ mothers is largely past us, even if obnoxious exceptions to the rule appear here and there.
Still, Koo’s comments indicate that there remain many problems relating to sexual discrimination in this country, including in the legal system and in the workplace, even though in institutional terms the nation is probably the most advanced in Asia.
Being party chairman doesn’t necessarily mean one has to run for high office, and given his age this is probably not Koo’s intention.
But if the DPP wants to revitalize its image, attract a new wave of younger members and attract moderate voters then there must be a better option than turning to a man who is out of touch with the sensibilities of a modern society.
Yesterday, Koo suggested that the three candidates for the chairmanship break from campaigning to deal with the Papua New Guinea aid scandal that is enveloping the government in its dying days.
This is likely an attempt to distract attention from his comments on female incompetence and should be disregarded.
What the DPP needs right now is a period of stability and consolidation, not stalling or another gratuitous controversy. After Tuesday and Koo’s apology yesterday, even if he were to win the election, it is doubtful that any self-respecting woman would want to work under him.
Koo may be a rich, well-respected businessman with good party connections, and he may have ideas about how to reform the DPP following its disastrous losses in the last few elections, but elevating him to chairman would amount to a new low for a party that is already in considerable trouble.