National Taiwan University Hospital physician Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) has recently paid two visits to Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) to talk about whether Ko should join the DPP and stand as the party’s candidate in the Taipei mayoral election in December next year.
Following their meetings, Ko and Su both came out looking positive and full of goodwill. People immediately started saying that Ko had decided to join the DPP, but so far Ko has denied these reports, saying only that he is willing to give it further consideration.
Despite being a newcomer on the political scene, Ko is enjoying a strong wave of popularity. Although campaigning has not officially started, as of Dec. 25, Ko’s Facebook fan page already had well over 170,000 fans — far ahead of lawyer Wellington Koo’s (顧立雄) 8,489 and former vice president Annette Lu’s (呂秀蓮) 2,424. Ko’s Facebook base is even getting close to the figures of around 221,000 and 219,000 reached by popular DPP members Greater Tainan Mayor William Lai (賴清德) and Greater Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊) respectively.
A TEDx Taipei talk given by Ko on the wisdom of life and death that was posted on YouTube on Oct. 31 had been viewed by over 653,000 people by Christmas Day. Ko’s continuing popularity on the Internet is quite a remarkable phenomenon for the political scene.
Where did this “Ko Wen-je whirlwind” come from? Former DPP chairman Hsu Hsin-liang (許信良) said that people in Taiwan are widely dissatisfied with the government.
Many people are unhappy with the two main parties — the DPP on the pan-green side and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) on the pan-blue side, and they have had their fill of old-school politicians. As a political greenhorn with no party affiliation, Ko is just what voters like these are looking for.
When news Web site Newtalk (新頭殼) posted a survey asking whether Ko should join the DPP to stand in the Taipei mayoral election, 79 percent of respondents said no. No wonder Ko is agonizing so much about whether he should join the party.
Ko has been calling for a cross-party opposition alliance. Although this idea is full of idealism, it is lacking in practicality.
The first problem is that the DPP insists on nominating its own candidates.
If an opposition alliance does not manage to include the biggest opposition party — the DPP — it will have a lot of the wind taken out of its sails. The second problem is that if Ko and the DPP decide to go their separate ways, then once the DPP nominates a candidate it will surely try to get all its members back on board, and that would mean a big loss of electoral resources for Ko’s campaign.
Ko thinks he and the DPP can march separately for the time being and strike an alliance later on by putting forward whichever opposition candidate looks stronger in opinion polls in the latter stage of the election campaign.
However, strategic voting will prove problematic if the two candidates are close in the opinion polls and fail to communicate and coordinate, or if they are out to fool one another. Looking back at some previous elections — the 1994 Taipei mayoral election, the 2000 presidential race and the 2005 contest for Nantou County commissioner — they all demonstrate that the third-placed candidate tends to be unwilling to admit defeat and is more likely to stay in the race until the very end. In that case, voters may not know which candidate to abandon and which to vote for, and tactical voting will not work.
A mayoral election is not a protest movement. A populist movement with lots of supporters can rally against the government over a single issue or call for incompetent or dishonest officials to resign. A person can get elected as a legislator based on strong critical abilities, but that is not enough to consolidate a lasting and orderly campaign or governing team. Some may compare this scenario with the case of James Soong (宋楚瑜), who stood as an independent candidate in the 1999 presidential election campaign and trounced the other pan-blue contender, Lien Chan (連戰) of the KMT, in the vote in March 2000.
Although Soong was suppressed and sidelined by the KMT, he was no political greenhorn. He still had an experienced and seasoned team behind him from his time as the head of the Taiwan provincial government. He had a network of campaign activists and plenty of potential for fundraising based on his long career in government and politics. As such, Soong can hardly be compared with Ko, who is starting from scratch.
Su said he will give Ko time, and that shows that the DPP does not want to lose the chance to join other opposition forces.
Ko is now torn between online supporters who would rather see him stand as an independent and a political party that is determined to nominate its own candidate.
Whether Ko can reconcile and satisfy the two groups will be a test of his own “wisdom of life and death.”
Julian Kuo is a former Democratic Progressive Party legislator.
Translated by Julian Clegg