Physician-turned-independent Taipei mayoral candidate Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) sees the mayoral election as the ultimate battle between justice and injustice.
Ko, whose main rival in the Nov. 29 election is Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) candidate Sean Lien (連勝文), said in an interview with the Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper) on Monday last week that he does not see the poll as a battle between social classes, between a commoner and the privileged.
After all, he said, he has a home on Xinyi Road, in an area with the highest housing prices in the city, while Lien lives in The Palace (帝寶), a luxury apartment complex in downtown Taipei.
Photo: Liu Hsin-der, Taipei Times
However, his home cost NT$65 million (US$2.1 million) and he is still paying off the mortgage, with about NT$20 million left to go.
“My wife and I bought the house using our own hard-earned money,” Ko said.
He said he has worked the night shift at National Taiwan University Hospital, where he is an emergency room physician — at NT$6,000 per night — while his wife, a pediatrician at Taipei City Hospital’s Heping Fuyou Branch, works the night shift several times a month to help pay off the loan.
The biggest difference between himself and Lien is that he has to earn his keep, while Lien has his family’s fortune to fall back on, Ko said, adding that he wondered if Lien’s home in The Palace was paid for with Lien’s own earnings.
The is a problem with the uneven distribution of wealth in Taiwan, but that is not the primary problem with society, Ko said.
“The true problem lies in the fact that fortune and poverty is passed down from generation to generation,” said Ko, who beat Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Pasuya Yao (姚文智) in a public opinion survey last month to gain the party’s backing to represent the pan-green camp in the November poll.
“Why did young people choose to sleep on the streets of Taipei for several nights during the Sunflower movement where the temperature was about 10 degrees Celsius? The answer is quite simple. The younger generation feels that they have no hope, no chance [to succeed] because when they finish college they will be greeted with a base salary of NT$22,000 per month. Such a meager wage will not allow them to afford a home in Taipei,” he said.
Asked about Lien’s pledge to introduce the key performance indicators (KPI) system to the city government — a corporate method of evaluating efficacy of measures — should he win the November election, Ko said Lien was speaking of corporate management and not corporate culture.
KPI is common knowledge, but a true corporate culture is the ability to establish new concepts, Ko said.
A person in a company with an established corporate culture would ask “why” people existed, “who” they were, Ko said.
“If you are a civil servant, is it for a chance to serve the public and bring meaning to your life, or are you simply waiting to retire?” Ko said, adding that this was what it meant to have corporate culture.
Establishing such a culture inside an organization is far more important than elaborating on such a policy, for such a culture would make one wish to work for you and is more important than any policy one could speak of, Ko said.
On Lien’s criticism that Ko’s call for an opposition coalition was nothing but political maneuvering, the doctor said that such comments highlighted Lien’s greatest problem.
“Lien does not believe that people can come together and put aside differences to work toward an ideal,” Ko said, adding that Lien also appears not to think beyond current political divisions.
Alluding to US President Barrack Obama’s use of the word “change” in his 2008 presidential campaign, Ko said he is offering “choice,” giving Taipei residents the choice to decide the progression of social values and direction of the nation’s history.
If the KMT wins in November, it will mean a return to warring ideologies, a definitive split of pro-unification and pro-independence camps along the lines of the DPP and the KMT, Ko said.
He wants to give Taiwanese a new choice, one where they could find equality, justice and happiness, he said, adding: “The public needs to make a decision on whether it wishes to go forward and progress, or move backward in history and stagnate.”
Drawing another line between the future and the past, Ko said that he is not only making his campaign entirely transparent, but he will not use any leftover campaign funds to establish a foundation, a typical campaign practice. Instead, he will donate whatever funds are left over after all expenses are accounted for, he said.
Ko compared his campaign against Lien to the story of the tortoise and the hare, with himself as the tortoise.
“The tortoise wins because the hare is too fixated on the tortoise, but the tortoise is fixated on the end goal rather than the hare,” Ko said.
Such a focus requires great willpower, he said.
He only recently discovered that his “starting from scratch” approach gave him a major advantage, the biggest one possible, he said.
“My [campaign] office is the first time all the opposition parties — the DPP, the People’s First Party, the New Party and the Taiwan Solidarity Union — have come together,” Ko said. “My lack of experience is why this is possible, and to date we have not been funded by any large corporation because they are all quite frantic trying to figure out how to deal with me.”
“Life is filled with surprises and I do not quite understand how I have gone from being a doctor to being a candidate in the mayoral election,” he said. “Sometimes one is simply given a task, and we just have to complete the task to the best of our abilities.”
Additional reporting by Tsai Ya-hua and Chen Hui-ping
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