Opinion Politics & Protest

In Taiwan elections, mudslinging and shock-and-awe tactics should be seen as a sign of desperation

Forget Washington’s “liberal establishment” and the “metropolitan elite” who dominate the Palace of Westminster, we now have Taipei’s “plump” “fair-skinned” technocrats to despise.

Those are the words of, who else but, presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu. The conservative Kuomintang (KMT) hopeful was speaking at a campaign rally in Yuanlin City a couple of weeks ago. Han directed this personal attack against several Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) politicians, including his rival in next January’s vote, President Tsai Ing-wen.

Tsai Ing-wen

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen. File Photo: Taiwan gov’t.

The Kaohsiung Mayor has form when it comes to lobbing around insults. His offensive comments are well documented, as too are the gaffes which have littered his presidential run so far.

I remarked on all of this in my previous piece for HKFP and have no intention of repeating myself as there is a risk – given the frequency of his outbursts – that every weekly campaign round-up may become dominated by Han’s potty mouth.

Han Kuo-yu

Han Kuo-yu. Photo: Apple Daily.

Having said that, Han’s choice of words are not inconsequential even if they prove, ultimately, to be electorally unsuccessful.

As alluded to at the beginning of this piece, such rhetoric comes straight out of a playbook being used by politicians now in both America and Great Britain. It is a narrative which pits the people against the politicians. In this case the “thin and dark” farmers, who labour away for very little, against their elected representatives who are “living the high-life.” Unlike poor old Han, that thin, dark, common guy in his squalid NT$72 million Taipei apartment.

Ultimately, this tact towards mudslinging and shock-and-awe tactics should be seen as a sign of desperation. Presumably, Han is under the (mis)apprehension that all publicity is good; why else would he compare cross-strait complexities to a “bastard and daddy relationship”?

Perhaps his team believe that there is no other way for Han to reverse his sliding poll numbers. Yet sometimes populism does not pay – as former DPP vice-president Annette Lu can testify.

Annette Lu

Annette Lu. Photo: Voice of America.

This political has-been has spent the past few weeks, in true Trumpian style, breathing life into long-discredited allegations that President Tsai obtained her doctorate from the London School of Economics illegitimately.

In September, on launching her presidential bid under the banner of the deep-Green, Formosa Alliance party she called on Taiwan’s president to “bring out [her] diploma for everyone to see.”

Earlier this month, on announcing her withdrawal from the race, she again released her inner Trump in a tirade against the powerful “politicians colluding with the media” who she blamed for her failure to secure enough public signatures to get on the ballot.

Lu’s exit will be welcome news for the DPP even if her entry into the race barely shook things up. Her departure, alongside the recent joint public appearance of ex-Premier William Lai and President Tsai, will be seen as a sign of increasing unity within the pan-Green camp.

William Lai

William Lai. Photo: Facebook.

A rally in Tainan in early November was the first time the pair have been seen together since Lai launched, and lost, a primary campaign against Tsai over the summer. For months, the ex-premier’s absence from high-profile events attended by the president has been portrayed as a sign of bad blood between the two, despite Lai’s week-long tour of America to drum up support for Tsai’s re-election bid.

This latest move should alleviate fears within the DPP about party disunity and should encourage those who have been calling for Lai to become Tsai’s running mate. Yet, while the pan-Green camp unifies, trouble brews for the pan-Blues.

Claims of KMT unity from the likes of New Taipei City mayor Eric Chu and party Chairman Wu Den-yih are shallow. Han’s maverick campaign style and, more importantly, his slide downwards in the polls has made him toxic to many of the party’s established figures.

Chu himself had been resisting calls to take the vice-presidential slot while Wu turned down the, largely symbolic position of heading Han’s campaign office.

As if this division was not problematic enough Han has now, short of any bigger names, settled on former Premier Chang San-cheng as his running mate. A decision which may not be electorally smart given that Chang is, like Han, also from a Taipei mainlander background.

James Soong

James Soong. Photo: Voice of America.

Pan-Blue solidarity will be further fractured following People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong’s latest announcement: he’s going to run for president again!

After four bids for the top job and four defeats, I suppose you may as well keep throwing your hat in the ring even when there are diminishing returns. He is not likely to win, given that in 2016 in only secured 12.8 per cent of the vote, but he may still impact the result. Not only does he have the potential to hoover up voters disaffected with both main parties but he may also be able to turn parts of the electorate which the KMT have traditionally relied on.

Names on the ballot make a difference and the full impact of Soong’s presence this time remains to be seen. As for whether Lai joins Tsai, and what effect this has on the DPP’s prospects, we will not have to wait much longer as the November 22 deadline approaches.

In Taiwan elections, mudslinging and shock-and-awe tactics should be seen as a sign of desperation