The three teams running in January’s presidential election were finally settled on Friday last week, but as the official race started, the vice-presidential candidates of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) have attracted more of the spotlight than the presidential candidates in the first week.
After the two parties’ anticipated “blue-white alliance” dramatically broke up on the eve of the registration deadline, the KMT’s candidate, New Taipei City Mayor Hou You-yi (侯友宜), the next day announced Broadcasting Corp of China chairman Jaw Shaw-kong (趙少康) as his running mate, while TPP Chairman and presidential candidate Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) announced TPP Legislator Cynthia Wu (吳欣盈) as his running mate.
The KMT’s choice of Jaw has been interpreted by many critics as a clear pro-China shift, aimed at securing votes from its “deep-blue” faction — a group consisting mainly of Mainlanders (waishengren, 外省人) who fled China with the KMT after 1949 and their descendants — and the hawkish “blue fighter” faction. Jaw had initiated a KMT inner-party movement for inspiring members to proactively challenge their rivals when he returned to the KMT in 2021.
Jaw, an outspoken and eloquent 73-year-old media personality, is viewed by many as a complementary partner to the inarticulate Hou, a benshengren (本省人) — descendants of those who migrated to Taiwan before World War II — and a “native blue” who had been keeping his distance from the KMT’s deep-blue faction.
However, Jaw made several controversial remarks this week, including the claim that when his brother was taken hostage by gangsters in Macau more than a decade ago, Hou had stepped in to negotiate and resolved the crisis; Jaw also claimed that Hou agreed to share several presidential powers, such as cross-strait, national defense and diplomacy policy decisionmaking, with him if elected.
Jaw’s remarks have raised speculation, as Hou, a former head of the National Police Agency, argued that he and gangsters are incompatible, and that he would never negotiate with them; the claim about sharing presidential powers also raised concerns that Jaw might overreach and usurp power if Hou is elected.
Meanwhile, Wu, a daughter of former Shin Kong Financial Holding Co chairman Eugene Wu (吳東進), and who has been given the nickname “Shin Kong princess” by local news media, has also been mired in controversies.
Relatively new to Taiwan’s political scene, Cynthia Wu became a TPP legislator-at-large in November last year to fill a seat left vacant by former TPP legislator Tsai Pi-ru (蔡壁如). Many critics have said that her teaming up with Ko is a means to secure financial support for the campaign trail, while hopefully garnering more votes from female voters.
Yet, when facing reporters’ questions about whether she still holds US citizenship, Wu replied “that is a matter between me and the US government,” and when asked if she consulted her family before agreeing to run, she replied: “Did you consult your parents before becoming a reporter?”
Wu’s responses have been widely discussed by critics and reporters as signs of her being “arrogant” and lacking in political awareness, as she should have recognized that her nationality is being scrutinized due to her candidacy for public office; some critics also questioned if her wealthy elite status and limited political experience could actually help Ko.
Last week’s opinion polls show that support for the Hou-Jaw team has surpassed that of the Ko-Wu team, but whether the controversies of Jaw and Wu are beneficial or harmful to their campaigns in the long run remains to be seen.
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