Why Han’s path to presidency won’t be an easy one

August 01, 2019 18:39
Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu will have to defend his mainland-leaning approach to cross-strait relations if the ruling party continues to play the "Hong Kong card". Photo: AFP

Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu, the candidate of the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) in Taiwan's presidential election, will need the full support of his partymates to unseat President Tsai Ing-wen of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

The question is, can the various factions of the KMT set aside their differences and unite to fight a  common enemy in next year's election?

Recent poll figures show that Han and Tsai are neck and neck in terms of popularity.

However, Han may be facing more potential variables and hidden problems. Any wrong move or poor decision made by him, even a tiny one, could derail his bid for the presidency.

According to the latest polls conducted by the United Daily News (UDN), in a one-on-one contest between the pan-Blue coalition and the pan-Green forces, Han and Tsai both have a 32 percent support.

But if Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je joins the race, the balance will immediately tilt against Tsai, with Han still leading with a 29 percent support, Ko at 25 percent and Tsai finishing last at only 22 percent.

One thing noteworthy about Han is that his approval ratings have actually fallen by a significant 6 to 11 percentage points compared to a month ago.

The UDN polls didn’t take into account Terry Gou Tai-ming, the billionaire founder of Foxconn Group. Gou lost the KMT nomination race after he was defeated by Han by a comfortable margin of 17 percent in the primaries.

Yet despite his loss, there is widespread speculation that Gou may withdraw from the KMT and run as an independent candidate.

That would be a nightmare scenario for the KMT as Gou is capable of drawing many votes from Han’s support base.

Rumor also has it that Gou, who was the only KMT heavyweight absent from a recent party convention, is now seriously considering teaming up with Ko to form his own presidential ticket.

Meanwhile, Tsai, who appears determined to secure a second term, has recently been engulfed in a high-profile smuggling scandal involving her key bodyguards, who were caught attempting to smuggle nearly 10,000 cartons of duty-free cigarettes into the island using the presidential flight as cover during a recent state visit.

Although the scandal may inevitably undermine Tsai’s election prospects, her party quickly rallied to her defense and made decisive moves to try to defuse the crisis by blaming it on previous terms of the government.

The DPP accused previous administrations of turning a blind eye to the “old poor habits” of National Security Bureau agents colluding with China Airlines staff in smuggling duty-free cigarettes into the island during overseas trips when they were still in power.

And the DPP’s concerted efforts to try to divert public attention from the scandal have obviously paid off, as it appears the incident hasn’t necessarily taken too big a toll on Tsai’s popularity.

On the other hand, Han seems to be in a bigger trouble, as Taiwanese voters are getting increasingly concerned about Beijing’s aggression ever since the outbreak of the anti-extradition bill movement in Hong Kong.

As Ruan Jhao-syong, spokesperson of Tsai’s campaign office has put it, Han’s reluctance to take a stand on the mass movement against the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance and his visit to Beijing’s Liaison Office during his official trip to Hong Kong back in March indicated that he is attempting to destroy Taiwan’s democracy and freedom.

In other words, Han, who has vowed to boost Taiwan’s exports to the mainland in order to make “big bucks” since day one, will have to defend his mainland-leaning approach to cross-strait relations in the coming days if the DPP continues to play the “Hong Kong card”.

Suffice it to say that if the anti-extradition bill saga continues to escalate in the coming days, Tsai’s “Hong Kong card” is likely to enable her to draw quite a number of Taiwanese voters who are against the “one country, two systems” model for Taiwan.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 30

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal