The Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) nomination last month of New Taipei City Mayor Hou You-yi (侯友宜) as its presidential candidate does not seem to have galvanized the party as a whole.
Hon Hai Precision Industry Co founder Terry Gou (郭台銘) is not yet convinced he is out of the game. As Hou has always kept the KMT’s deep-blue faction at arm’s length — a group consisting of generations of waishengren (外省人), or those who fled China with the KMT after 1949 and were given important positions, privilege and power by the regime — he has so far received tepid support from party members.
Given the mistrust and antagonism between benshengren (本省人) — people who came to Taiwan in the centuries preceding World War II — and waishengren in the party, Hou needs the endorsement of two KMT heavyweights: former Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) and former legislative speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平).
KMT Chairman Eric Chu (朱立倫) once said that Hou, having started out as a police officer, would “do his job right.” While the remark might sound like a compliment, this has proved to be Hou’s Achilles heel within the KMT’s party culture. Civil servants working under the KMT’s autocratic rule were trained to carry out orders from the top and evade responsibility.
Hou is a classic example of this. He lobbed a groundless accusation that the Democratic Progressive Party called military personnel, public servants and public-school teachers “parasites.” Before attacking others, the KMT should have put its house in order first. It seems to have forgotten how its former directorate-general of personnel administration Chen Kang-chin (陳庚金) and Han once publicly encouraged civil servants to be “salary thieves.”
US expert on China affairs Bonnie Glaser has said that as Beijing does not know much about Hou, except that he bears some similarities to the late president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), it is “uneasy” about him winning the presidency. However, as all three main presidential candidates are benshengren, this has been an irksome fact for China and the KMT.
In terms of leadership, vision and experience, Hou cannot hold a candle to Lee, and he is under the thumb of the KMT’s higher echelons. KMT representatives sent to visit China have always been the pro-China waishengren faction in charge of cross-strait affairs. The idea of having a benshengren in the Presidential Office does not sit well with the deep-blue faction.
Gou’s supporters and anti-Hou factions have something in common: the waishengren-benshengren complex. Finding a replacement is out of the question, with memories of the humiliating defeat following the replacement of former KMT chairwoman Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱) in the 2016 presidential election still fresh in the mind.
The only way to save Hou’s failing campaign is to “unite” the party’s waishengren and benshengren. As one of the most influential waishengren factions in the party, Han and his loyal “Han wave” supporters have always seen themselves as the “booster” that can give any candidate a leg up in the campaign. Unfortunately, as Hou and Han have had a few rifts in the past, Han and his supporters are still waiting for Hou to extend the olive branch.
On Hou’s part, he is bent on garnering support from the deep-blue faction, vowing to undo the DPP’s cutting of pensions for retired military personnel, public servants and public-school teachers. Wang is the leading figure of the benshengren faction in the KMT. However, the politically savvy former legislative speaker has declined to be Hou’s campaign director and only agreed to provide assistance from the sidelines. As Hou’s hallmark of “blue skin and green bones” is now working against him, Hou needs the waishengren faction to help his campaign. However, as the higher echelons in the KMT have shown, waishengren are used to being the king themselves, not kingmakers.
With one leader awaiting Hou’s sign of goodwill and the other turning down Hou’s offer, pundits are having a field day with Hou’s falling support ratings and less than satisfactory performance. From the most popular candidate that secured a landslide victory in last year’s local election to the desperate nominee begging for support, Hou is in for an uphill battle. As cunning as Chu is, he cannot escape the fate of stepping down once Hou loses the election and the KMT falls into disarray again.
James Wang is a media commentator.
Translated by Rita Wang
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