Next year’s presidential and legislative elections are not only gaining in excitement, but they are also proving to be what may be a defining moment in the history of Taiwan’s democracy, especially if two women become the primary candidates for president.
On the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) side, that party, in an unusual demonstration of unity, had little trouble in selecting its candidate. DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) was chosen and she quickly established her game plan. With good preparation and attention to detail she paid a visit to Taiwan’s major ally, the US, to clarify her platform with concerned parties there. Her campaign is off and running.
On the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) side, the opposite is happening. When that party’s primary was held, the traditional heavyweights held back seemingly from what is now termed “hesitation and/or cowardice.” This presented an embarrassing situation for the party that traces its roots to 1911. It was as if the KMT held a primary and no one chose to attend. Deputy legislative speaker Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱) stepped up and became the only person to get the required number of signatures and voting percentage to qualify as a candidate.
For all appearances that would seem the stage is set for the coming election, with two women running for the presidency, but has it been?
The final approval comes in next month and the KMT finds itself in a ticklish situation. How much or how badly does it want the “little chili pepper” (小辣椒, as Hung is sometimes called) as its candidate?
Disaster lurks in the wings. Is she a candidate that can unite all behind her or a candidate by default?
Disastrous comparisons arise. In the 1972 US elections, George McGovern, through an odd series of circumstances and intrigue, including his being chairman of the Commission on Party Structure and Delegate System, became the candidate for the Democratic Party, only to lead that party to one of its worst defeats in its history.
In more recent US elections, the selection of Sarah Palin as the vice presidential running mate of John McCain in 2008 was a disaster of a different making. Hung is as outspoken as Palin, and like Palin she appeals to only a small demographic. Hung, like Palin, is also not used to the scrutiny of a long run at the national level.
Hung thus far does not have full party endorsement; that can not happen until next month. This puts the KMT under pressure: It has a chance to reject her, but it also would have to pay the price of intimating a suspected back-room deal. If Hung were fully endorsed by the KMT, who would be her running mate?
No heavyweight would accept that role. This again raises the comparison with George McGovern who had difficulty getting a running mate after party heavy-weights rejected the position. Hung has intimated that her running mate should be younger and one who holds the same views. What nondescript person would that be?
Hard ideological questions are bound to arise on the campaign trail. Hung has already made the bold remark that independence for Taiwan is out of the question because it is not part of the Republic of China (ROC) Constitution. Such an appeal to the Constitution is a two-edged sword. Opponents could easily counter that Mongolia voted for independence in a referendum in 1945, yet the 1947 Constitution states that Mongolia is a part of the ROC. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) accepted Mongolia’s independence with its Constitution in 1949 and Mongolia now has a seat in the UN and the ROC does not. How would Hung explain that?
Then there is the additional matter of the San Francisco Peace Treaty (1952) whereby Japan stated that it was giving up Taiwan, but it did not name any recipient. In the eyes of the US, Taiwan’s determination is still “undetermined” and not part of the ROC Constitution.
Hung’s bluntness, as said, is likely to have a certain initial “Sarah Palin” appeal to hardcore KMT supporters, but can that carry into the majority?
Would Hung enter the discussion that is now before the Ministry of Education and say that the highest peak in the ROC is Mount Everest?
People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜), has chosen to delay his announcement for the presidency until August. Soong ran for the presidency in 2012, not so much to win, but to ensure that his party would get the necessary 5 percent of the vote required to be able to select legislators at large. That same strategy would seem to apply now, so why is Soong holding back?
Soong seems to be waiting to see how the dust settles in the KMT camp. Why? Would the KMT out of desperation be open to a potential deal?
Soong ran as vice presidential candidate with the KMT in 2004; would they return the favor by letting Hung run as his VP candidate this time around? Stranger things have happened.Or, in a different vein, is Soong waiting to see how Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) would fare in a KMT endorsement of Hung?
A ticket of Soong and Wang would garner a number of votes, not enough to win the presidency, but enough to gain more legislators at-large seats for the PFP. At that point Wang would have nothing to lose.
The KMT faces some tough decisions. Can it unify the party under Hung?
Traditionally the president is the one who helps the party’s legislative candidates get votes. Here the opposite seems true, whoever the KMT candidate is, they would be relying on its legislative candidates to get votes for the presidency. The 2016 elections are likely to be far from dull.
Jerome Keating is a writer based in Taipei.
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