Hon Hai Precision Industry Co founder Terry Gou (郭台銘), Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) and Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) have formed a political alliance that will undoubtedly play a crucial part in the presidential election next year.
Gou met with Wang on Aug. 3, and on Aug. 5 Wang discussed politics with Ko. The three have reached an agreement that might look improbable to the KMT and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), but regardless of what their roles might be, they feel that they have to cooperate.
Ko has told his allies that his plans remain unchanged: He will not run for president this time, but will instead direct his efforts toward the legislative election and support Gou’s presidential bid. One big reason for this decision is that Ko values the Hon Hai founder’s business background and the fact that he has abundant financial resources.
Moreover, Gou just got warmed up through the KMT’s primary process and might be able to win over intellectuals in the party and voters who prioritize economic issues.
Compared with Ko, Gou has traits that constitute a greater threat to the KMT and DPP.
Ko used the founding of his Taiwan People’s Party to create a buzz and attract public support, and he will follow that up by being a heavyweight attacker and campaigner, launching full-scale attacks against President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and the KMT’s presidential nominee, Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜). He is hoping that this will attract DPP voters angry with it and KMT voters who dislike Han.
This strategy would open up space for the Taiwan People’s Party and create an atmosphere in which Gou is presented as an alternative to the two main parties.
Ko’s recent remarks that “everyone around [Tsai] is knee-deep in graft” and his sarcastic comments about Han getting too carried away were probably the result of careful political calculations. Now it is up to Tsai and Han to come up with countermeasures. An accurate evaluation will help the presidential hopefuls avoid being marginalized in a three-way contest, while a false reading of the situation will erode their core support base.
Downplaying Ko’s remarks is generally the right approach to avoid being leveraged by him, but his accusation against the people around Tsai is a serious matter, involving both political and legal issues. The situation is complicated by Tsai being president. If she takes an overly cool approach, she runs the risk of damaging her “la tai mei” (辣台妹, “tough Taiwanese girl”) image by triggering impatience among her supporters, who might question her “toughness.” It could also create the impression among swing voters that Tsai fears Ko or that he is dominant. The potential effect of Ko’s attack on public opinion must not be overlooked.
A closer look at the founding members of the Taiwan People’s Party implies that it might be more skilled at online campaigning than traditional means for mobilizing supporters. For example, Ko recently said that he and Gou are the only two people acceptable to the US, Japan and China, while Han has gotten too carried away after throwing his hat in the ring.
However, a reality check shows that Ko’s comment is typical campaigning strategy and sleight of hand.
Like it or not, when it comes to which presidential hopeful Washington supports, it is undoubtedly Tsai. She could even be said to be the only one. Under US President Donald Trump’s administration, US officials have taken quite a straightforward attitude in private. Basically, they have reservations regarding Gou’s huge business in China and they find Ko’s high regard of Mao Zedong (毛澤東) puzzling and his comments difficult to follow. These appraisals are by no means secret in diplomatic circles.
As for Beijing, Han has been given the green light. There is no second choice. After Han was nominated at the KMT’s National Congress, many senior party members, Taiwanese businesspeople, local factions and temples have received the same instructions from China’s Taiwan Affairs Offices: Concentrate efforts on assisting Han’s presidential bid.
China does not want a candidate who might split the KMT. In this sense, it makes sense that Han is walking on air. Perhaps there was envy behind Ko’s criticism that Han is getting carried away.
A more precise description of the situation would be that the alliance between Gou, Wang and Ko is under the spotlight at the Taiwan affairs departments in the US, Japan and China. Perhaps they are at their wits end and troubled by their incomplete grasp of the direction and potential effects of the alliance. Not having received any endorsements does not mean that the alliance is incapable of drawing voters.
Tsai and Han should not take the alliance’s unexpected participation in the election too lightly.
Tzou Jiing-wen is editor-in-chief of the Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper).
Translated by Chang Ho-ming
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