The Taiwan presidential election lacks political focus
By Kuo Cheng-liang
Many expected KMT Chairman Eric Chu to bring renewed energy to the competition after being selected as presidential candidate on Oct. 17, but after the three tests of the Ma-Xi Meeting, the legislators-at-large announcement, and running mate selection, Chu seems to be facing even more challenges than he inherited. With the presidential election less than 50 days away, the KMT still lacks focus.
First, the KMT hoped that Nov. 7 Singapore Ma-Xi Meeting would put cross-strait issues at the forefront of the elections, but the controversy Ma Ying-jeou prompted after the meeting with the Chinese president has made it a sensitive issue.
Surveys show that while 70% of Taiwanese supported “a meeting of cross-strait leaders” and 50% supported the “Ma-Xi Meeting,” only 30% supported “Ma’s performance,” and the KMT’s election prospects have been tied to Ma’s personal performance. Ma’s lack of focus reduced the epic meeting to merely a question of “Did Ma emphasize the ‘one China, two interpretations’ issue or not?” Ma’s predicament is such that even Chu tries to avoid this hornet’s nest.
Then, Chu selected Jennifer (Ju-hsuan) Wang as his running mate on Nov. 18, hoping her background as a human rights lawyer and former labor minister would dilute the KMT’s elitist image. Little did he expect a group of laid-off factory workers formerly sued by Wang to protest in front of KMT headquarters, putting him in an awkward position.
Later, DPP Legislator Duan Yi-kang revealed that Wang had profited from the sale of military housing. After repeated failures to explain the transactions, Wang was suspected of dishonesty, thereby overturning Chu’s original hope of selecting a running mate with a “fair and clean” image.
Additionally, Wang’s high-profile denial of illegal activities and moral flaws has been seized on by both (pro-independence) green and (pro-unification) blue media, so that even some KMT representatives have given up defending her.
Finally, on Nov. 20, the KMT announced its legislators-at-large list. Despite warnings from the Huang Fu-hsing branch, Wang Jin-pyng was at the top of the list. Furthermore, while Wang’s presence on the list of safe seats is just passable, others are more controversial. For example, the nomination of 68-year-old presidential office secretary-general Tseng Yung-chuan is a nod to Ma Ying-jeoh; losing incumbent Taoyuan mayoral candidate Wu Chih-yang is a nod to Wu Po-hsiung; Yunlin county magistrate race dropout Chang Li-shan is a nod to “Yunlin King” Chang Jung-wei; Hualien county commissioner Fu Kun-chi’s wife Hsu Chen-wei is a compromise with local powers.
Candidates for other positions are suspected of being rewarded for early support of switching Hung Hsiu-chu for Eric Chu. As for the younger generation, party recruitment is seen as nepotistic.
The list has led to even the heavily pro-KMT Lianhe Wanbao to call it “the worst legislators-at-large list in history.” The list does not include party favorites like Chiu Yi, whom the New Party immediately asked to be number 3 on their at-large list. This may divert some KMT votes toward the New Party.
In a little over a month, the Ma-Xi Meeting, running mate selection, and legislators-at-large announcement has dealt Chu three heavy blows. A Nov. 19 survey by TVBS showed that opposition DPP presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen’s support had risen from 46% to 48% while Chu’s only rose from 27% to 28%, increasing the gap between the two from 16% to 18%. Among independent voters, Tsai’s support increased from 35% to 41% while Chu’s only went from 13% to 15%, expanding the gap from 22% to 26%.
KMT expert Chao Shao-kang lamented on Nov. 27: “The support that rose when Chu first announced his candidacy has stalled now. Even the momentum of the Ma-Xi Meeting cannot raise it.” Chao also said, “No one seems happy in the KMT right now. People were unhappy when they nominated Hung, unhappy when they replaced her, unhappy when they didn’t nominate Wang, unhappy when they nominated her … Since Chu is the one in charge, he needs to calm these negative feelings. Otherwise, if support from the bottom withdraws, those on top will fall.”
The problem is that Chu — unable to manage the KMT, rally fighting spirit, or get out of a rut in the polls — has made the 2016 presidential election a race that is made up of lots of talk but no substance. A KMT struggling to maintain morale over the legislators-at-large issue and the Wang Ju-hsuan storm is likely to make the election approaching in less than 50 days the “most un-focused, content-deficient, uncompetitive” presidential race in Taiwan’s history. This is a tragedy of Taiwan’s democracy.
Kuo Cheng-liang received his Ph.D. in political science from Yale University and is associate professor at Chinese Culture University. He has been a key opinion writer for China Times.
This article was first published in Chinese on Dec. 7, 2015 by The Initium Media, a Hong Kong-based digital media company. Asia Times has translated it with permission with editing for brevity and clarity.
Translated for Asia Times by Mengxi Seeley