Taiwan’s Political Situation in Sudden Upheaval Favoring KMT
Pro-China candidates for 2024 elections enjoy sudden tailwinds
By: Jens Kastner
Taiwan politics has in recent days gone through stunning twists and turns, leaving the presidential aspirations of Ko Wen-je — a narcissistic politician-turned-medical doctor, former Taipei mayor, and founder of the centrist Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) — in tatters, and raising the prospects of a return to power of the China-friendly Kuomintang (KMT).
For now, Lai Ching-te, the candidate of the ruling anti-China Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), is maintaining a slim if diminishing lead. But a return to power by the KMT would have a profound impact on the international equation, arguably reducing cross-strait tension and lessening the prospects for clashes between Beijing and the Biden administration in Washington, which has been acting as a potential guarantor of Taiwanese sovereignty in view of Beijing claiming the island as a breakaway province. That claim has resulted in a barrage of threats against the government in Taipei including constant overflights into the Taiwanese side of the Taiwan Straits by the PLA Air Force, with some analysts calling the situation potentially the world’s most dangerous flashpoint.
On November 24, the presidential candidates of the two main opposition parties (KMT’s Hou Yu-ih and TPP’s Ko) officially registered their separate candidacies for the January 2024 presidential election, ending months of efforts by the KMT and the TPP to form a joint ticket that could unseat the DPP after eight years of rule. The KMT‑TPP negotiations collapsed in bickering over polling methodology, with Ko caught on camera tearfully accusing Hou of besting him. A third opposition candidate, iPhone assembly tycoon Terry Gou, who doesn’t belong to any party, dropped out the same day amid sudden Chinese tax investigation moves against Hon Hai Precision Industry, the company he founded, heaping pressure on him to do so.
The new situation is now proving highly unfavorable for Ko, with two of the polls taken in the last few days showing a marked jump in support for the KMT’s Hou over their previous results, ending several months during which Ko led. Hou is now closing in on Lai Ching-te, the DPP candidate. The latest “Polls of the Polls” by local daily Taiwan News, consisting of an average of polls released in the past 15 days, netting out distortions caused by pollsters’ political bias, puts Lai at 32.2 percent vs Hou’s 30.3 percent and Ko’s 24.6 percent.
Vox pop interviews conducted by Asia Sentinel on November 26 indicate that the electorate resents Ko much more than Hou for weeks of ugly KMT-TPP squabbling, bringing Ko, as opposed to Hou, firmly into the position of a sore loser.
“My perception of Hou hasn’t changed but that of Ko has turned negative, as he turned out to be a political troublemaker,” said a 56-year-old IT manager from Hsinchu.
“Ko has disappointed the young voters, who are now perceiving Hou as more positive and trustworthy,” said a 62-year-old housewife from Taichung.
Taiwan-based academic observers also perceive Ko as being the loser. Reinhard Biedermann, a professor for international relations at the Tamkang University in Taipei, told Asia Sentinel that Ko has lost much of his previous strength of strategically positioning himself somewhere in the middle, so that he could snatch votes from both the DPP and KMT as an outsider. Ko, Biedermann said, played the game well when successfully running for Taipei mayor, and was always smooth with his statements about China.
“But recently he has positioned himself ideologically on the side of the KMT and said he can stand the DDP even less than the KMT,” Biedermann said. “I think Ko really shot himself in the foot, with the KMT likely to benefit also from Terry Gou pulling out.”
Similarly, Shen Yu-chung, a political science professor at Tunghai University in Taichung, pointed out that despite Ko long pitching himself as bringing in “new politics,” his performance in the past few days has been full of political calculations, making people feel that he has taken inconsistent positions for the sake of power.
“I think it does a lot of harm to young voters and middle-of-the-road voters,” Shen said.
“If Ko continues to drop in the opinion polls, Hou's camp will take advantage of it as Ko supporters jump ship and strategically vote for Hou [to prevent a Lai win].”
Meanwhile, there has also been remarkable development in the race for vice presidency: Hou picked Jaw Shau-kong, a veteran pundit and broadcast industry bigwig, who has very strong pro-China views. Jaw’s main tactic is to scare people into believing that another four years of DPP rule would turn Taiwan into another Ukraine.
"Next year's elections are a choice between war and peace, if people want peace, prosperity, a corruption-free government, and cross-strait stability, then vote for the KMT," Jaw said. His warning got instant backing from China’s Taiwan Affairs Office spokesperson Chen Binhua.
“At present, the island is facing a choice between peace and war, prosperity and recession,” Chen said.