On May 17, when Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Eric Chu (朱立倫) called upon New Taipei City Mayor Hou You-yi (侯友宜) to stand as the party’s candidate in next year’s presidential election, Hon Hai Group founder Terry Gou (郭台銘) posted a statement saying that he would honor his pledge to do everything he could to help Hou win the election.
However, on July 23, when the KMT unanimously approved Hou’s nomination at its National Congress, Gou went back on his pledge, saying that public opinion would always trump the judgement of the party.
Over the past two months, Gou has been divisive in the KMT. He has brought the mentality of business competition into the party, turning factions and local politicians into bargaining chips.
RESIGNATION THE FIRST OF MANY?
On Monday last week, when Changhua County Council Speaker Hsieh Dien-lin (謝典林) announced that he was quitting the KMT to support Gou, the party merely said that it understood Hsieh’s dilemma. It remains to be seen whether Hsieh’s resignation will have a domino effect.
Hou’s public opinion poll ratings have fallen since May 17, but although Gou has been visiting places and attending events, his ratings have remained lower than Hou’s.
This makes the idea of “replacing Hou” — especially with Gou — unlikely to succeed, which is something that the businessman’s camp must be well aware of.
That raises the question of what Gou’s supporters are trying to achieve by continuing its tactics. Rather than running as an independent, a more viable path for Gou would be to team up with former Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜), a maverick KMT politician, or with former Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), the Taiwan People’s Party’s (TPP) chairman and presidential candidate.
However, Han is not even in the stable for next year’s presidential race, so that leaves Ko.
TERRY GOU NOT THE TYPE FOR VICE PRESIDENT
If Gou and Ko were to join forces, Gou’s lower favorability would mean Ko would be on top of the ticket, but running for vice president would be hard for a proud man like Gou.
However, if they were to pair up, it would make it even harder for Hou to win and the KMT would probably lose legislative seats.
Gou’s talk about marching on no matter how many oppose him and his habit of wearing camouflage gear and a cap emblazoned with the national emblem seem to be aimed at Hou. He made veiled criticism of former KMT secretary-general King Pu-tsung (金溥聰), who is now Hou’s campaign director, saying that Taiwan has been a democratic society for three decades, so why would anyone aspire to the outmoded mindset of being a “kingmaker”?
To be fair, the question posed by King was not outmoded. He asked whether Gou wanted to be like Zhuge Liang (諸葛亮), a Chinese statesmen and strategists, or Liu Bei (劉備), a warlord who sought Zhuge Liang’s advice — referring to figures from China’s Three Kingdoms period.
If either of them is outmoded, it is definitely Gou. His idea that democracy does not put food on the table and there is no need for parliamentary oversight is the autocratic attitude that one would expect from a monarch.
THE EVENTS OF THE 2020 ELECTION A GUIDE
Gou’s impulsive temperament has not changed since four years ago, which can be blamed on Chu and former KMT chairman Wu Den-yih (吳敦義), who have ignored the advice of others by letting Gou treat the KMT as his living room, coming and going as he pleases.
Compared with Ko, Gou is an old-school politician. Ko made it plain long ago that he wants to be president to implement his policies. Gou is more reticent. Although his intentions seemed obvious, he does not declare them outright.
Everyone guessed that he had his eye on the presidency, but wondered about his motives and goals.
Gou says that public opinion counts for more than that of a party, but public opinion polls have Gou lower than Hou. It can be surmised that Gou’s support nationwide is lower than Hou’s solely from within the KMT.
Moreover, they are both a long way behind the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) nominee, Vice President William Lai (賴清德).
Turning to Chu, the KMT chairman is the one who designed a party primary system that created internal disorder, so he can also be called divisive.
Factions and local politicians are flirting with Gou and Ko, or even defecting to their campaigns, but the KMT leadership gives them no more than a slap on the wrist.
Evidently, party discipline only exists on paper.
KING PU-TSUNG ACTING TOUGH
Meanwhile, King has been acting tough. He has been trying to stem the tide of defections by warning his party comrades that if they side with whoever they think might win, they undermine not just Hou, but also the KMT.
King appears to be looking past next year, with his main concern being whether the KMT will survive.
After all, if the KMT bites the dust, what would there be for “noble blues” such as King to rely on?
In contrast, those who echo calls for a “grand alliance” of the KMT and other “non-green” parties have nothing to fear, because they are not so dependent on the KMT’s “brand.”
Campaigning for next year’s presidential and legislative elections in January has not yet reached the critical stage, so it cannot be said for certain whether Hou, Gou and Ko would unite, or remain divided and battle one another to convince tactical voters.
What is certain is that Gou is undermining the KMT’s unity and morale. If the KMT fares poorly in the elections, it would face worse splits than ever before. Judging by current trends, local factions and individuals would seek to save their own political skins.
OPPOSITION STATUS MIGHT SPARK EXODUS
If the KMT becomes a long-term opposition party, pragmatic forces would start looking for other allies. That they are already not heeding the orders of party leaders and are not afraid to support “star” candidates from outside the party should already be ringing alarm bells at KMT headquarters.
If the party’s central leadership becomes an empty shell, the “noble blues” would forfeit their role as “sole representative” in relations across the Taiwan Strait and their power of ideological leadership would become untenable.
The political outlook for “noble blues” such as former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) would sink dramatically.
Hou’s disdain for the corrupt “black-gold blues” and his alignment with the “noble blues” has caused the “black-gold blues” to gravitate toward Gou and Ko, and there is hardly anything the “noble blues” can do about the situation.
However, the “noble blues” have a support base that can still muster votes.
THE KMT VOTE WAS SPLIT IN 2000
Regardless of how capable Gou and Ko are, they are likely to find themselves in a similar situation to what People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) faced in the 2000 presidential election as an independent candidate.
Although Soong’s popularity was at its peak, he could not win over the core voter base of the man who beat him to the KMT nomination, former vice president Lien Chan (連戰).
The DPP’s Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) won the first of his two presidential terms in 2000 with 39.3 percent of the vote, while Soong garnered 36.8 percent and Lien received 23.1 percent.
When the KMT did not nominate Gou as its candidate for the 2020 presidential election, Gou accepted the decision and declared that he would not stand as an independent.
Four years later, the situation is different. Gou can stick to his guns because he has Ko for leverage, which allows him to ignore the emotional blackmail about “maintaining party unity” from the KMT leadership and Hou’s campaign headquarter.
If Gou and Ko join forces, they might leapfrog Hou due to tactical voting. It is difficult to determine whether they would win such a gamble, but the KMT, the “noble blues” and Hou would be almost certain to lose out.
WHATEVER HAPPENS,TPP GAINS
The KMT is not willing to form a “grand governance alliance” to take on the DPP, as that would prompt factions and local politicians to support who they saw fit.
The immediate beneficiaries would be Ko and the TPP, who would likely gain ground without having to do anything.
However, if the KMT does not take a gamble, Lai might cruise to victory, which would be a disaster for the KMT, but would also boost Ko and the TPP.
With Chu making things unnecessarily complicated and Gou gaining momentum, the KMT has been losing ground. Lai’s polling has been stable and he looks set to reinvigorate the DPP.
Ko and the TPP are likely to gain ground regardless of what arrangements are made or not made between the other candidates.
It seems that next year could bring about major changes within Taiwan’s political parties.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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