Various public opinion polls show that physician Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) and Sean Lien (連勝文), son of former vice president Lien Chan (連戰), are currently the two top contenders in the year-end Taipei mayoral election. These are not the candidates that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who is also chairman of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) want to see. If the election comes down to a battle between these two men, that sends a strong message that Taipei residents are tired of the long-standing KMT-DPP polarization, that they want to vote for a person, not a party, and that they want some new faces and voices that are different from the old ones.
There may be several potential DPP candidates, but opinion polls show they are far behind Ko, a political novice. The party leadership has yet to make up its mind whether it should reject Ko and respect the party’s nomination process, or if it should embrace him and expand its power as an opposition party. Regardless of what the decision will be, Ko has a strong lead in opinion polls, and this only highlights the party’s inability to reach a decision.
The KMT still has to complete its nomination process. There are several candidates, but Sean Lien is not the one Ma wants. Ma is afraid of the contacts that the Lien family have in the KMT and China. Sean Lien has on several occasions openly criticized Ma, and if he wins the party’s candidacy, Ma will probably find it very hard to give him his full support.
Tokyo Governor Yoichi Masuzoe won as an independent with the support of the Liberal Democratic Party, defeating former Japanese prime minister Morihiro Hosokawa, who ran with the support of another former Japanese prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, in a victory that has boosted the prospect of innovative election solutions in big cities. As atypical pan-green and pan-blue candidates, both Ko and Lien may be free of some of the baggage that weighs down a party, and this can only be a good choice.
Many people from outside Taipei work in Taipei. There is a huge wealth gap and intense competition for jobs, and many young people only earn NT$22,000 a month. This a cause for discontent and there is little hope for change in the near future. Regardless of whether the KMT or the DPP is in power, the rosy future promised by the winning candidates never materialized. This is not helpful to improving living standards, and voters do not pay attention to politics and do not trust political parties. An atypical candidate would be the perfect vehicle for politically alienated Taipei voters to show their discontent.
Taipei voters long for change. They are tired of the KMT’s incompetence and the DPP’s lack of direction. They would accept a political novice, clean of any political baggage and free of stale political parties. They may be blunt and unpolished, but at least they are not using ambiguous political language to mislead the public. They may be politically naive, but at least they do not try to deceive them. An atypical candidate with the backing of a political party and its resources will be able to force through needed reforms. He does not have to be a hero, but he will be able to improve Taipei’s economic problems and social inequities.
The fact that Ko and Lien have a big lead even before the election campaign has started is a clear political message from voters. Are Ma and Su listening?