When Republican candidate Donald Trump won the US presidential election, it whipped up an international political storm that ignited calls for someone from a business background to run for the presidency in Taiwan. The person deemed most likely to take up the challenge is Hon Hai Precision Industry Co chairman Terry Gou (郭台銘). Gou told the media that such speculation is “a lot of nonsense,” but it is three years before the next vote and a lot can happen.
President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) administration has been in power for six months. She is cautious and indecisive, takes a soft approach and is unwilling to offend people. As a consequence, her policies keep changing, making it non-productive. A five-day workweek proposal, same-sex marriage legislation and easing food import bans from five Japanese prefectures have become mired in conflict, and although Tsai and her government take pride in their self-proclaimed communication skills, they have not communicated enough on these issues and seem to be at a loss as to how to proceed. It is not surprising that Tsai’s approval ratings have kept falling.
Gou and Tsai are diametrically opposed personalities. Gou is a talented strategist with an authoritarian leadership style who makes quick decisions, takes fast action, emphasizes efficiency and thinks about the bottom line and economic results. Compared with Tsai, there are positive and negative aspects to both personalities. However, it has been interesting to see that opinion polls over the past couple of days give Gou a 60 percent support rating to run for president, while Tsai’s approval rating stands at a little more than 30 percent.
Although Gou is something of a business version of Mongolian ruler Genghis Khan, running a business is very different from running a nation. Gou’s quick decisionmaking and pragmatism might ignore the rights and interests of minority groups, which could result in accusations of authoritarianism and dictatorial proclivities. Even if he were to place his wealth in a trust following a hypothetical victory, Gou’s investments and business ventures in China are worth hundreds of billions of New Taiwan dollars, so he could easily be held hostage by China. If Beijing were to confiscate his assets, Gou might have to do whatever he was told, and Taiwanese might be worried that his China policies would be based on his personal interests rather than that of the nation.
If Gou decides to run for the presidency, he should follow in the footsteps of Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) and run as an independent. If he joined the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), he would have to carry the party’s baggage and be identified with its misdeeds. The KMT no longer has the advantage of its party assets; it is populated by party elders used to telling people what to do and members whose ideals run counter to mainstream public opinion. Even more importantly, if Gou were to join the KMT, fierce opposition between the pan-blue and pan-green camps would further intensify, and the public would have to pay the price during the election campaign and the political paralysis that might ensue.
So what kind of leader does Taiwan need? Someone who breaks with the past or someone who focuses on stability and calm? The answer differs depending on whom you ask. A government must not only have goals, it must also have plans. Tsai recently highlighted the pressures of government by describing her first six months in office as “a grinding experience.” If she cannot resolve these political conflicts and make decisions that satisfy the majority, perhaps Taiwan will be led by President Gou come 2020.
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