Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) Chairman and presidential candidate Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) on Thursday reiterated that he is “deep-green at heart” and that he would mostly continue President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) national defense and foreign policies if elected.
However, he was still seriously considering forming a “blue-white” electoral alliance with the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) less than a month ago, telling students he “hates the KMT, but loathes the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) even more,” while constantly criticizing Tsai’s foreign policy these past few years.
Many critics have said that Ko’s latest remarks were aimed at attracting green-leaning swing voters, as recent polls showed a significant dip in his support after he broke up with the KMT, but they also raise questions of how much of a “political chameleon” he is, and if he has principles and beliefs he actually sticks to.
As the grandson of a 228 Incident victim, Ko had said the things he hates most are “mosquitoes, cockroaches and the KMT” and collaborated with the DPP in winning the Taipei mayoral election in 2014, but he has lost the trust of DPP supporters with his controversial policies and remarks — including that the “two sides of the Strait are one family.” He was no longer supported by the DPP in his 2018 re-election and established the TPP the next year after narrowly winning re-election.
In the past four years, the TPP has tried to position itself as a neutral party on the political spectrum between the “blue” and “green,” or pro-unification and pro-independence camps, with Ko often reiterating that “the blue and green camps are equally rotten,” but at the same time seemingly waging a personal vendetta against the DPP and the Tsai administration.
Ko in 2019 criticized Tsai and her foreign policy as “provoking China,” critiqued an annual national defense budget of NT$400 billion (US$12.75 billion) as being too much, tried to discredit the Tsai administration by claiming that “everyone around Tsai is engaged in corruption,” called the DPP a “one-party dictatorship” in 2020 and this year called the Tsai administration the “biggest scam syndicate.”
Ko’s rhetoric appears to have appealed to many young independent voters, who are frustrated and feel helpless about geopolitical uncertainty and are weary of the long-standing two-party rivalry, which is becoming more polarized due to increased threats from China in the past few years, so they place their hopes on his claims that he and his party could “change” Taiwan and practically solve people’s day-to-day issues.
A report on Taiwan’s election and young voters, published by the New York Times on Monday, cited National Chengchi University olitical science professor Lev Nachman, as saying that “so much of this youth support for Ko Wen-je is really driven not by actual admiration for the man and his policies, but by frustration.”
Although the idea of change might be enticing, not every change is a step forward, especially if the policy is not thoroughly planned out and carefully implemented. Unlike the six-point agreement Ko signed with KMT leaders last month to form an electoral alliance and coalition government, some major government decisions and agreements are irrevocable once settled.
While Ko could shift the blame for his blunders and ineffective policies during his first term as Taipei mayor to being an inexperienced political newcomer, as he has admitted he did not know what he was doing in his first year, he is no longer a novice and must be held accountable for his words and actions.
Swing voters frustrated with the two-party struggle and indifferent to geopolitics might just want change, but change should be made for the better, so they ought to at least take some time to carefully examine if a candidate’s words and actions are consistent and wisely choose a clear path for Taiwan, or else they might find themselves carelessly misplacing their trust in the hands of an opportunist.
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