Date
12 December 2018
Han Kuo-yu overcame enormous odds to conquer Kaohsiung, a traditional stronghold of the Democratic Progressive Party. Photo: CNSA
Han Kuo-yu overcame enormous odds to conquer Kaohsiung, a traditional stronghold of the Democratic Progressive Party. Photo: CNSA

Deconstructing Han Kuo-yu’s political comeback

Among Taiwanese netizens, a highly searched name on the internet in recent months has been Han Kuo-yu, the Kuomintang (KMT) candidate who won the mayoral contest in the southwestern city of Kaohsiung last Saturday.

So how exactly did Han overcome enormous odds to conquer Kaohsiung, a traditional stronghold of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)?

In my opinion, Han won because voters had been sick and tired of the never-ending “blue-green” bipartisan politics on the island.

Taiwanese people simply wanted decent livelihood and a good economy, and they saw hope in Han, whom they believed could deliver what they wanted.

Han has also become so hugely popular by demonstrating genuine concern for people who are struggling for survival at the bottom of society such as street vendors and cleaning ladies.

The third reason for his popularity, I believe, is that he has re-ignited people’s confidence in the KMT, which has been crippled by intense infighting in recent years, and which has been walked over by the DPP for multiple times.

In fact, Han has had a bumpy ride in his political career.

Long regarded as a grassroots outcast and shunned by his mainstream KMT partymates, particularly ex-party leader and former president Ma Ying-jeou, Han once disappeared from the political scene for a total of 16 years.

And for the eight years that Ma was in office, Han was jobless for six years!

But as it turned out, those tough times have stiffened Han’s resolve and fostered his resilience, the personal qualities that have proven instrumental in his political comeback.

In previous elections, political parties would often pull tricks at the last minute to undermine rivals.

Two days before the local elections, the DPP tried to smear Han’s image by labeling him a proxy of external political forces.

However, judging from the election results last Saturday, the DPP’s usual trick didn’t work.

Taiwanese voters no longer cared about the green or the blue coalition, or whether a candidate was a native or a descendant of mainland immigrants.

What they had was the burning desire to ditch ideological differences and focus on economic development.

After all, as the Marxist theory would have it, it is the economic foundation that determines the superstructure of society.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov 26

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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JC/CG

Part-time Researcher of the Center for Asian Studies of Chu Hai College of Higher Education

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