At the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) National Congress on Sunday, Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) was officially nominated as the party’s candidate for next year’s presidential election. During his acceptance speech, Han struck a combative tone, making a number of hyperbolic remarks about the state of the nation and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration.
Han’s speech signals that the KMT’s strategy for the election campaign will be to go light on facts and heavy on emotion, in an attempt to blindside the DPP and bamboozle the electorate.
In his speech, Han initially attempted to paint his candidacy as a solemn duty that he feels compelled to shoulder: “People assume I am filled with joy [for the nomination], but in fact the responsibility weighs heavy on my heart.” It is richly ironic for Han to talk of “responsibility” since by standing as the KMT’s presidential candidate, he has casually jettisoned, less than one year into his mayoralty, the promise he made to Kaohsiung residents to serve them faithfully.
If Han does step down as mayor, it might be a blessing in disguise for Kaohsiung residents: His checkered record in office has been punctuated with wild promises to “Make Kaohsiung rich,” but few concrete achievements. Meanwhile, as Kaohsiung struggles with an increasing number of dengue fever cases, Han’s response to calm a concerned populace was to engage in a bizarre photo op: climbing a tree for the cameras during an “inspection” of prevention work with local officials.
In his speech, Han moved on to frame the election as an existential moment for the nation, saying that it would not be a civilized competition, but a “life or death” battle for the Republic of China (ROC) and its people. It would be a choice between opening up or isolation, cross-strait peace or war, he added.
Han accused the DPP administration of becoming increasingly corrupt, without providing any evidence.
Equally concerning was KMT Chairman Wu Den-yih’s (吳敦義) contribution. In a speech, Wu identified the so-called “1992 consensus” as a key foundation to ensuring stable cross-strait relations.
This is dangerous, as recognizing the “consensus” would not mean simply reverting to former president Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) formula of “one China, with each side having their own interpretation of what that means.” In a speech on Jan. 2, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) moved the goalposts, redefining the “1992 consensus” to include a Taiwanese version of Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” model. Accepting the “1992 consensus” now means accepting rule by China.
Meanwhile, Hon Hai Precision Industry Co founder Terry Gou (郭台銘), who lost to Han in the party’s presidential primary, was conspicuously absent from the congress. It might be that Gou is gearing up to throw his hat into the ring as an independent. As Taiwan’s wealthiest individual, he certainly has deep pockets and the ability to self-fund a savvy, social media-based campaign. If he does, this will likely split the “blue vote” and would be manna from heaven for the DPP. However Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) could yet fracture the “green vote” if he decides to join the race.
Under Han, the KMT’s electoral strategy appears to push for a maximum polarization of national politics and to radicalize his support base by vilifying the DPP as reckless and destructive warmongers who, if allowed to remain in office for another four years, would catapult the nation toward catastrophe.
The DPP’s response so far has been relatively calm, with President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) criticizing Han for being “all talk,” saying that good government is about quietly getting on with making people’s lives better. However, it will be tempting for the party to fight fire with fire. Fasten your seatbelts: It’s going to be a roller-coaster ride.
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