Following the failure of the proposed “blue-white alliance,” New Taipei City Mayor Hou You-yi named Broadcasting Corp of China (BCC) chairman Jaw Shaw-kong (趙少康) as his running mate on the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) presidential ticket, while the other prospective half of the alliance, Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) Chairman and presidential candidate Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), named TPP Legislator Cynthia Wu (吳欣盈). The result is a three-horse race, which is getting tighter.
Hou and Ko are likely to put all their focus on being seen as the top challenger to Vice President William Lai (賴清德), the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) candidate, to secure second place in polling and trigger tactical voting in their favor.
Tactical voters might give up their No. 1 pick in a bid to prevent their least-favored party from winning.
After the two sides parted ways, KMT members, having suffered Ko’s disdain and snubs over the previous few weeks, are not only calling for the party to cut all ties with TPP, but even to go on the offense.
The pan-blue camp was given a massive morale boost when the “blue fighter” Jaw was named as the vice presidential candidate and former Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) was placed at the top of the KMT’s legislator-at-large list. Deep-blue and those other shades of blue who were once pivoting toward Ko are now rallying behind Hou.
With only weeks to go before the presidential and legislative elections on Jan. 13, KMT will pull out all stops in its attacks on the DPP, blaming it for escalating cross-strait tensions and severing contact with the TPP by keeping a tight lid on Ko so he does not climb back to second in the polls.
With Jaw and Han leading the pan-blue camp’s charge, Hou’s campaign team is likely to take aim at Ko’s leadership and character flaws to set the stage for inciting tactical voting — including winning over people who would have voted for Hon Hai Precision Industry Co founder Terry Gou (郭台銘) had he not ended his independent bid.
In the white camp, Ko urged the white and blue camps to refrain from attacking each other lest they need to collaborate in the future. However, with the failed alliance bid, the TPP lost access to the KMT’s abundant resources and support from local factions to propel its ground campaign.
To reclaim his position as the champion of the anti-DPP coalition, Ko, whose supporters mainly consist of young people and some independent voters who dislike the perennial “blue-green” conflict, has returned to familiar ground — Internet campaigning — to marginalize Hou, leaving it to face a final showdown with the DPP.
Ko might not criticize Hou directly for fear of spreading himself too thin, but he would still seek opportunities to marginalize the KMT nominee to increase the TPP’s share of legislative seats and ensure its long-term political relevance.
Ko will also not hesitate to hit back when Jaw makes off-the-cuff criticisms — especially as Ko likes to exploit mistakes by rivals, and has an unstable, capricious character and a penchant for mud-slinging.
As for the DPP and the pan-green camp, Lai probably sees the more resourceful KMT as its top rival, especially if Jaw’s incendiary character turns the KMT’s campaign into an appeal to protect the Republic of China.
If he does, Lai will have to make safeguarding Taiwan’s sovereignty and its democratic system the crux of his campaign.
While the KMT and the DPP are likely to focus on each other in large-scale campaign activities, promotions, advertisements, commercials and televised debates, Lai would not suffer in silence if Ko attacks him, but would look for opportunities to attract young and independent voters, who are the key to the election.
While there is a cutthroat rivalry between the DPP and the TPP, Lai might prefer it if Ko were not marginalized, which might prevent tactical voting, ie, Ko supporters voting for Hou because they do not want Lai to win.
Even though the DPP ticket seems to be the favorite to win the Jan. 13 election, with support for the two other tickets divided, it cannot afford to be complacent. An ambitious KMT with its factions and local connections is still looking to marginalize Ko at every turn. Although pan-blue voters have regrouped around the KMT due to the roles given to Jaw and Han, those two are not favored among young people, so the KMT will continue its efforts to poach TPP supporters.
The TPP is desperate to keep pace with the other two parties in the polls to prevent it from being marginalized. In its bid to keep its legislative representation steady at five, or even improve it slightly, the TPP wants to hold on to its young and independent voters, while seeking to boost its support by proposing policies, dominating public discourse and exploiting rivals’ blunders. It hopes that with exaggerated reports by bloodthirsty media, it would regain its popularity by undermining the KMT.
In this bizarre three-horse race, the DPP has a hard fight on two fronts, despite its definite edge with the opposition parties facing a near-impossible task to change the mind of 35 percent of voters who are the DPP’s support base.
However, Taiwan’s economy is highly influenced by the global economy, meaning business has been bad for small and medium-sized enterprises, leaving young people discontented. This is a burden for the DPP.
Meanwhile, with cross-strait tensions escalating, it also fears the result that tactical voting might bring.
With the KMT and the DPP being almost equal in influence and resources, the key to the election lies in which party can win over the support of the 5 percent of young people who favor Ko, as well as swing voters.
Whichever side gets to them will be in the presidential office next year.
Michael Lin is a retired diplomat who served in the US.
Translated by Rita Wang
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