Following the success of the Taipei Summer Universiade, Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) has found himself far ahead of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) political heavyweights in the opinion polls. Ko’s relationship with the DPP has been strained, and it is possible that the two might go their separate ways.
Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation chairman You Ying-lung (游盈隆) has said that, if Ko were to stand for election in the 2020 presidential election, he could be a “James Soong (宋楚瑜) mark II,” referring to the People First Party chairman.
Concerned that some might misconstrue his meaning, You later clarified his remarks on Facebook, saying he had been referring to Soong’s electoral momentum going into the 2000 presidential election and not to his eventual defeat.
Back in 2000, the pan-green camp’s electoral prospects fell far short of those of the pan-blue camp: The Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) split notwithstanding, the DPP was too weak to take political advantage. Had it not been for Soong’s involvement in the Chung Hsing Bills Finance case, there was every possibility he could have won.
The KMT’s popularity with the electorate is even lower than the DPP’s was back then, so some believe the pan-green camp might be able to withstand elements splitting off.
Right now, Ko is riding high in the polls compared with his pan-green camp brethren, which is what led to You’s likening of his prospects in 2020 to those of Soong two decades ago.
The problem with You’s assessment of the situation is that, if a politician wants to be elected president, they need a constituency beyond their immediate stomping grounds.
If it were simply about opinion polls, a ticket with Lienchiang County Commissioner Liu Tseng-ying (劉增應) and Hualien County Commissioner Fu Kun-chi (傅崑萁) would be a virtual shoo-in.
The reason Soong commanded such a strong position in 2000 was threefold: First, he was able to use state funds to buy off influential people when he was Taiwan provincial governor and he was able to enlist local KMT vote captains. Second, Soong has the ability to make everyone that he meets feel like he is their best buddy. Third, Soong basically had the pro-unification vote sewn up.
This leads to the conclusion that Ko has no chance to be a “James Soong mark II.” If that is what he wants to be, he will have to transform himself.
To make the grade for the first and third points, he needs the backing of a political party. For the second point, Ko would have to hire an expert to coach him in interpersonal skills.
It is difficult for an independent to secure enough signatures to qualify to stand in a presidential election. Even if they succeed, it remains difficult for them to win.
If Ko does have designs on the presidency, he will need a political party behind him.
The only real contender for this is the New Power Party (NPP), and it just so happens that the NPP might have the appetite for it, with its aspiration to replace the KMT as the second-largest political party in the nation.
However, this is not going to happen. The NPP does have a stab at becoming either the largest or the third-largest, but it is not going to become the second-largest.
No matter how strong it becomes, it will only be able to extend its power within the pan-green constituency; it is never going to get the pan-blue vote. Even if the KMT has to give up the hope of being the largest political force, it can rely on being second.
Ko lacks the constituency, while the NPP lacks a political heavyweight to front it. The two could work together to their mutual benefit and become the third-largest party, with their sights set on being the largest party.
However, Ko will need to work on his people skills. He is just too good at causing offense.
Chen Mao-hsiung is a retired National Sun Yat-sen University professor and chairman of the Society for the Promotion of Taiwanese Security.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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