Thu, Nov 20, 2014 - Page 8 News List

Taking a look at the Ko Wen-je phenomenon

By Liu Shih-chung 劉世忠

In nine days, Taipei voters are set to elect a new mayor for the nation’s capital. What makes this mayoral race unprecedented is that a candidate nominated by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has been trailing a non-KMT candidate by double-digit percentages in almost every public opinion poll.

Given that the party has traditionally enjoyed a lead of at least 10 percent over opposition candidates in Taipei mayoral contests, and that a non-KMT candidate has never beaten a party nominee in a one-on-one race, independent candidate Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) leading the KMT’s Sean Lien (連勝文) by a comfortable margin is something that deserves in-depth analysis.

Although elections are often about personality, strategy, policy and finance, most media outlets and voters tend to be more interested in the first two elements, while finance usually determines the degree of success of a campaign’s image-building and strategy implementation. However, Ko represents a break with this stereotype.

First, he does not possess a charismatic personality and also lacks government experience. He has been a surgeon for 30 years, and formerly led National Taiwan University Hospital’s Extra-Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation division for 17 years. He is outspoken, but tends to be too “candid” for a politician. The Lien camp took advantage of this, but ironically failed to score any political points.

The main reason for that failure is that Ko has introduced a new type of candidate to the voters by being candid, direct and consistent, which is not the traditional image of politicians.

Lien once was seen by voters as a young reformer within the KMT, especially when a year ago, he accused President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration of being arrogant toward the public and obsessed with internal power struggles. Yet, after winning the party’s nomination, Lien sought Ma’s support by kowtowing to the unpopular president.

Furthermore, contrary to Ko’s step-by-step ascent in his professional career as a physician and public servant, Lien was born to one of the nation’s richest families and has never experienced the hardship that most young people have. Despite Lien being younger than Ko, he is seen by most younger voters as a “princeling” and an heir to his family’s riches. Being rich is not a sin, but Lien’s track record does not demonstrate dedication to society, especially when compared with Ko’s longtime provision of medical services.

Second, the campaign strategies employed by both camps have contributed to the widening of the gap. While Lien’s camp has used negative tactics to attack Ko by alleging that his private account at the hospital was utilized for money laundering and corruption, the lack of concrete evidence to back these claims only boosted Ko’s popularity.

Facing passivity from hardcore KMT voters on expressing their support for the party’s candidate, the Lien camp played up the “terror card” over the past weeks by warning that Ko’s victory would herald the resurgence of the push for Taiwanese independence and the extinction of the Republic of China.

Sean Lien’s father, former vice president Lien Chan (連戰), openly defamed Ko on this matter. The motivation behind such a last-ditch strategy was to provoke a confrontation between the blue and the green camps so that KMT supporters would be forced to come out and vote for Sean Lien.

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