Although November’s nine-in-one polls will see the election of mayors of the six special municipalities, as well as mayors, commissioners and councils for 16 cities and counties, the race that people are talking about is the one for Taipei mayor.
It has become somewhat of an unwritten rule that those eyeing the Presidential Office must first occupy the Taipei mayor’s office, although President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) victory in the 2016 broke that tradition.
Nevertheless, when Taipei votes for a mayor, its residents could also be electing a future president.
There are many interesting variables to this year’s race: Will the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) field its own candidate? Will the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) be able to find a strong candidate to regain control of the traditionally pan-blue stronghold? Where does Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), an independent, fit in?
Critics have attributed Ko’s 2010 victory largely to the DPP’s decision not to nominate its own candidate, which is believed to have allowed the physician-turned-politician to garner the support of the entire pan-green voter base. That is why widening animosity between Ko and the DPP has fueled speculation that Ko might not win re-election.
It is increasingly unlikely that the DPP will back Ko, who no longer seems to share some of its fundamental ideas and values, on issues such as cross-strait relations.
The anticipated split in the pan-green support base has bolstered the KMT’s confidence, prompting five members so far to seek the party’s nomination.
However, an opinion poll published by the Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation on Wednesday threw a wrench in the works by suggesting that the prediction of Ko losing was based on assumptions that Ko and the DPP share the same voter base and that he requires the support of a major party to win.
The poll showed that Ko could comfortably win a second-term, whether facing competition from the KMT or in a race against the KMT and the DPP.
Ko appears to enjoy the support of conservatives and young people in Taipei — the former usually favor the KMT and the latter typically vote DPP.
How has he managed to gain the approval of groups with contradictory beliefs?
He is famous for his candid comments, an unconventional approach for politicians who are often too afraid of losing support to speak their minds. Ko’s sincerity and character are a draw for young people who are fed up with the masks worn by typical politicians, but he often irritates conservatives who believe that elected officials should act or speak in more appropriate ways.
The poll said it was Ko’s approach toward Beijing and other politically sensitive issues, such as the removal of statues of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), that allowed him to win the hearts of conservative voters.
However, Ko’s China-friendly policies and perceived sympathetic view of authoritarianism have driven a wedge between him and the DPP, and are the opposite of what most younger voters want.
How Ko manages to straddle such disparate groups of voters remains a mystery, but the answer to which could reshape the nation’s politics and perspectives for years to come.
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