The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) had engaged in weeks of political horse-trading between high-ranking officials, hoping to form a joint ticket to win January’s presidential election, but it all ended in a dramatic public falling out on live television on Thursday.
The farcical performance involving mudslinging and quarrels among three men — the TPP’s candidate and Chairman Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), the KMT’s candidate, New Taipei City Mayor Hou You-yi (侯友宜), and Hon Hai Precision Industry Co founder Terry Gou (郭台銘), an independent — and their aides in the evening before the official candidate registration deadline on Friday marked the theatrical finale of the “blue-white alliance” for the election.
After many people watched the meeting with a mix of disbelief and amusement, its five main participants — the three candidates, along with KMT Chairman Eric Chu (朱立倫) and former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) — were ridiculed on the Internet as “five men with their nonsense” (五漢廢言), a play on the Chinese phrase “Wuhan pneumonia,” a name used for COVID-19 in the early phase of the pandemic. Ko on Friday also said the meeting had turned out to be a “farce.”
Consequently, the Jan. 13 election has been settled as a three-way race between Hou, Ko and Vice President William Lai (賴清德) of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) after Gou dropped out a few hours before the registration deadline.
The three-way race is widely believed to provide a boost for Lai, as he has been leading in opinion polls throughout the year, and the KMT and the TPP had just failed to realize their long-held hope of combining their support to defeat Lai and unseat the DPP.
With fewer than 50 days to the election, it will undoubtedly be an uphill battle for the two opposition parties, as they just named their vice-presidential candidates on Friday morning — Broadcasting Corp of China chairman Jaw Shaw-kong (趙少康) as Hou’s running mate and TPP Legislator Cynthia Wu (吳欣盈) as Ko’s — after they settled on separate campaigns.
DPP lawmakers also seized the opportunity to ask voters to carefully consider if the KMT and TPP leaders — who tried to outwit each other, quarreled over polling results, spent critical hours debating trivial matters and ended in a dramatic breakup — are capable of formulating national policies, protecting Taiwan’s interests and negotiating fairly as equals with China or other nations.
While the answer seems obvious, it still might not be as “easy” a win for Lai and his running mate — former representative to the US Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) — as many disappointed pan-blue supporters believe.
China has a long history of using multifaceted methods to meddle in Taiwan’s elections, including spreading disinformation, economic coercion and military threats, all aimed to influence Taiwanese to vote for a “China-friendly” government and move closer to its ultimate goal of unification.
With the KMT and TPP, which seek closer China ties, having failed to form a joint ticket, it is likely that Beijing would ramp up its efforts to interfere in Taiwan’s election process. Its Taiwan Affairs Office last week already called the Lai-Hsiao ticket a “combination of two separatists,” that “Taiwan independence” means war and that Taiwanese should think about what a DPP president would mean for their future.
There is still time for voters to shift their support based on how the three campaigns present themselves, as well as Chinese interference. So there is no guaranteed win for any party. Taiwanese must keep their eyes open and vote wisely.
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