Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) achieved a near miracle by getting elected Kaohsiung mayor. Despite a 16-year break from politics and being unknown to most Kaohsiung voters, he roundly defeated the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate, who expected an easy victory.
Han shot to stardom, but now that he is trying to climb higher as the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) presidential candidate, his popularity has unexpectedly plummeted.
The pan-green camp is convinced that Han’s popularity was a result of Chinese interference. However, Chinese meddling in Taiwan’s elections is nothing new, so why did it only achieve this kind of success with Han?
The truth is that Kaohsiung’s voters rejected the DPP over its poor performance. By the same token, Han himself is the reason for his flagging popularity.
Having started out as a legislator, Han has no administrative experience. What he does have are the bad habits of an elected representative.
There is a big difference between administrative leaders and elected representatives. Administrative officials have great power, but also great responsibility. In contrast, representatives have power without responsibility.
Legislators and city or county councilors can criticize anyone as much as they please without being held accountable. Free speech gives them immunity from prosecution for slander, so no matter what they say about administrative officials, those officials cannot seek legal redress.
Elected representatives enjoy a special status that could lead them to one of two extremes. Studious people could become learned in a legislative environment, because they have the best possible training conditions. It is easy for them to gain the information or guidance they need.
On the other hand, legislators could also easily become degenerates. They could castigate officials as much as they like, but the objects of their criticism cannot retaliate. Even if a councilor or legislator says something wrong, administrative officials are likely to nod in feigned agreement, just to stay on the right side of that representative.
Consequently, even if legislators are thoroughly ignorant, they tend to think that they know it all.
Wise elected representatives use their time in office to train themselves, build a foundation and pave the way to eventually seek an administrative post. The degenerate would not bother, because they think they are already superior.
Han served three terms as a legislator — nine years in total. In that time, he only learned how to look down on everyone and everything. If he had settled down in his job as Kaohsiung mayor, he could have learned to handle the job and become a competent leader.
Instead, even before he had learned how to be a mayor, he set his sights on the presidency. As mayor, he only had to face questioning from a few city councilors, but as a presidential candidate he must answer to every voter in the nation. This is more than he can handle.
Instead of blaming himself for being incompetent, he accuses everyone else of maligning him.
The fawning attitude of administrative officials encourages legislators to become arrogant. In Han’s case, he thinks he alone saved the KMT, and that attitude has offended many KMT elders.
Now that he faces difficulties and is failing to consolidate local factions behind him, those elders are unwilling to help clear these obstacles.
All the problems Han faces arise from the bad habits he acquired during his time as a legislator.
Chen Mao-hsiung is a retired professor of National Sun Yat-sen University and chairman of the Society for the Promotion of Taiwanese Security.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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