Hon Hai Precision Industry Co founder Terry Gou (郭台銘) on Monday last week announced that he would not run for president. Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) followed with his announcement that the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) would nominate candidates for all legislator-at-large seats in next year’s elections, but not a presidential candidate.
Gou has been on a journey of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) discovery that has brought him from being very enthusiastic about his presidential bid to leaving the party for “not being able to shake up its culture of bribe-taking and corruption” and saying that he “will not participate in a political farce.”
Prior to that, former vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) threw the pan-green camp a curve ball when she announced her run for the presidency on a Formosa Alliance ticket.
Gou’s glorious five months going from honorary KMT member through its presidential primary to leaving the party again and deciding not to run for president put him firmly in the media spotlight. The interesting thing is that to this day, no one knows what motivated him to run.
Following the courtship between Gou, Ko and KMT Legislator Wang Jin-pyng (王金平), Gou suddenly brought their relationship to an anti-climax. Ko was taken completely by surprise and Wang would at most be left to his own devices.
Ko said that if he had been told a month earlier, there would still have been time to prepare a run, while his mother said that the timing of Gou’s announcement was not good for Ko.
Ko was hoping to ride on Gou’s coattails as he aimed to carry the TPP into the Legislative Yuan. Gou’s decision will now clearly have an effect on his party.
That Gou’s and Ko’s plans have become clear will not necessarily mean that the election outcome is settled, as it is still too early to focus on the duel between the pan-green and pan-blue camps, and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has sharpened his knives.
For Beijing, the best outcome would be if Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜), the KMT’s presidential candidate, wins the election and the KMT becomes the biggest party in the legislature. When 31 KMT heavyweights signed an ad published in some media outlets expressing worries of a party split and saying that they wanted voters to concentrate on electing Han and giving the KMT a legislative majority, they played right into Beijing’s hands.
When Gou said that “some of those 31 have their loyalties elsewhere,” no one knows who he was referring to, but it implied that Beijing might have hinted to the KMT leadership that it wanted the party to sustain the “Han wave” and “recover Taiwan.”
However, since the nine-in-one elections last year, Xi’s Jan. 2 speech marking the 40th anniversary of China’s 1979 “Message to Compatriots in Taiwan,” the US-China trade dispute, protests in Hong Kong, the KMT’s return to its old ways following its local election victories and Han’s undisguised disinterest in running Kaohsiung have once again turned public opinion around.
Gou’s “intervention” resulted in pan-blue intelligentsia and voters focusing on economic issues, abandoning Han and turning to Gou. Now that Gou is out, Han will no longer have to rely on tactical voting, although he will never see such high opinion poll ratings again. Now it is time to wait and see whether Gou’s withdrawal will be the end of Han’s troubles, or if it will be good in the short term and negative in the long run.
Beijing is very active on the sidelines and some have said that it would now become even more active to “restore Taiwan” and help Xi put an end to his domestic and external troubles, doing all it takes to bring down President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and the Democratic Progressive Party.
Beijing has agreed to restore the “small three links” between Fujian and Guangdong provinces and Kinmen, Matsu and Penghu. It also enticed the Solomon Islands to switch diplomatic relations from Taiwan to China, once again displaying its power to Tsai.
The question is if Beijing’s old routine will help its intended candidate and party, or if it will be a disservice. Looking at past elections, it seems more likely that it will be a disservice. This also worries the pan-blue camp, although they cannot say so.
Xi’s miniature version of the so-called “1992 consensus” forces the “one country, two systems” on Taiwan while cutting out “each side having its own interpretation,” but the KMT has no choice but to continue to repeat that part, not daring to complain to Beijing.
As the diplomatic drama surrounding the Solomon Islands has played out, Han has focused his criticism of the government, not daring to offend his own boss. The question is whether a majority of bullied Taiwanese have contracted Stockholm syndrome.
Of course, Beijing’s plans are not completely irrational, naively believing that the “Han wave” in combination with its own missiles and silver bullets will guarantee the “retrocession of Taiwan.”
Here, it is time to consider Beijing’s second-best option: If Tsai is re-elected, her legitimacy and capabilities must be restricted as far as possible. The fewer votes she wins, the better — preferably less than half — and it would prefer that no party hold a legislative majority and a key minority is formed. From this perspective, Ko, who has won the approval of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, and his TPP would suit Beijing’s purposes.
Former American Institute in Taiwan chairman Richard Bush last week expressed concerns about Taiwan’s political system, specifically whether the president will win 50 percent or more of the vote and whether the president’s party will control a legislative majority, breaking the deadlock.
Those are wise words: Unless the deadlock is broken, Taiwan’s loss will be Beijing’s gain. If voters cannot see through Beijing’s scheming, Hong Kong’s protests will be replayed in Taiwan.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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