Thu, Nov 08, 2018 - Page 8 News List

‘Han tide’ could transform the KMT

By Tzou Jiing-wen 鄒景雯

In the 2014 elections for mayors and county commissioners, Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) was elected as mayor of Taipei despite being a full-time physician and a political “freshman.” Now, four years later, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Kaohsiung mayoral candidate Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) is doing surprisingly well in opinion polls despite being seen as a “pickled fish.”

People on the political scene are even talking about a “Han tide” and wondering whether it will have a spillover effect to the benefit of other KMT candidates, especially in Kaohsiung.

Considering the precedent set by Ko four years ago, the Han phenomenon should really not be all that surprising, but what does it mean for Taiwan?

There is bound to be a wide range of views about this, but as far the KMT’s prospects are concerned — or more precisely the prospects of many of its leaders — the “Han tide” could turn out to be very chilly indeed.

People call Han a “pickled fish” because, at 61 years of age, he is by no means fresh, being neither young nor new to the political scene. On the contrary, he is quite old in both respects.

At first he could not find a place to stand for election. There was talk of him standing in Taipei, but eventually he set up camp in Kaohsiung. Not long ago, a lot of people thought he was just messing around, but now he is unexpectedly threatening to pull down the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) flag in its southern heartland. If he does so, it would mark a big revival for his political career.

Could an upturn in Han’s popularity be an ill wind for certain people in the KMT? There are some signs that things are headed in that direction.

First, KMT candidates in various cities and counties have been inviting Han to join their rallies, and Han has willingly accepted almost all such invitations. Politicians are the most sensitive of creatures, especially during election campaigns, so these KMT politicians must have caught wind of something.

Second, Han’s supporters in Kaohsiung want him to draw a line between himself and “old forces,” such as former president and former KMT chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), former premier and KMT Chairman Wu Den-yih (吳敦義), former legislative speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) and New Taipei City Mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫).

They want Han to keep his distance to avoid alienating independent voters. All of a sudden, Han has become a new symbol for the KMT, while the others mentioned are being swept aside.

Third, Han’s fans in Kaohsiung have made it known that when they declare their support for Han, it does not mean that they support the KMT, so it would be better if those KMT candidates in other cities and counties stop giving Han the wrong kind of help.

To put it another way, the Han phenomenon is an expression of dissatisfaction. A certain proportion of those who plan to vote for him do not equate Han with the KMT, and might even think that he is bigger than the KMT.

What matters about these three messages that voters are sending out is that each of them has received an immediate response, so that they are having political effects.

For example, the first message shows that people in the KMT have already defined Han as the No. 1 figure in the party. This is an honor that Han has never before received in his 30-year political career, so no matter whether he wins or loses the mayoral elections on Nov. 24, he will still have gained a lot in the process.

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