Protesters are heaven-sent for Tsai

Editorial | Mary Ma 16 Jul 2019

Taiwan's presidential election campaign has kicked off with the opposition Kuomintang nominating pro-Beijing populist, Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu, to challenge pro-independence president Tsai Ing-wen in 2020.

Han's nomination came as a surprise - he defeated Foxconn boss Terry Gou, a forceful billionaire candidate, and by an incredibly huge margin.

Han, who's facing a growing campaign to remove him as the mayor after only seven months in office, was obviously elated. Nonetheless, there are some baffling questions behind the glee.

The KMT's primary was based on a week-long telephone poll covering both party members and non-members. Despite Gou's plea to include mobile phone users, the party's leadership insisted on using only land lines.

Yesterday, the KMT announced Han was backed by 44.8 percent of those picking up the phone, while Gou came in a dismal second with 27.7 percent.

Prior to the poll, an opinion survey carried out by United Daily News on July 1 showed the race was too close to call - with Han edging Gou by 30 percent to 29 percent.

The KMT primary poll end result was the biggest margin ever recorded since the Foxconn billionaire announced his bid for the presidential office. The contrast is too interesting to ignore.

A couple of theories have emerged. Methodologically, KMT's reliance on land lines had likely excluded many young voters from the poll.

There's also a suggestion that Tsai, of the Democratic Progressive Party, would rather face Han than Gou in the election, given the controversy surrounding Han.

Following the recent protests in Hong Kong, China will again be the deciding factor for Taiwan's election come January. If Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor had waited until after Taiwan's election to introduce her now "dead" extradition bill, the desire for economic progress among the Taiwanese would have likely superseded their fear of the communists.

Then, Han's close relationship with Beijing would have been an asset for him and his supporters, including Taiwan's second richest man - "Snack king" Tsai Eng-meng.

And Han's visit to the central government liaison office in Hong Kong when he visited the SAR this year would have burnished his credentials.

Voter sentiment has been turning in Tsai Ing-wen's favor ever since massive protests broke out in Hong Kong in June.

Lam's controversial extradition bill hasn't only ignited Hong Kong people's fears of the communists, but is also helping arouse Taiwanese voters, especially the younger ones, whose fear of communism helped push DPP's Tsai into office in 2016, when she ousted the pro-China KMT incumbent, Ma Ying-jeou.

As protests continue here, there also comes a conspiracy theory accusing Taipei or, to be more specific, Tsai of being behind the recent violence in Hong Kong as it would enhance Tsai's re-election chances if the SAR remains chaotic.

However, like the telephone poll conspiracy, it's impossible to prove or disprove those theories. But it remains to be seen whether Han's nomination is more a blessing than a curse - or vice versa - for the KMT.

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