Foxconn founder Terry Gou (郭台銘) announced his bid for the 2024 Taiwan presidential election on August 28, saying he is running to “integrate opposition forces” (在野陣營整合). Although the language is somewhat vague, what he means is that the other contenders should fall in behind him as the opposition candidate to the current government. This is a big first step for the business tycoon. Political pundits no longer have to speculate about chairman Gou’s thoughts. He is in.
Thus, the nature of the speculation around Gou will change. It will go from “will he-won’t he?” to “can he win?” To do so, Gou must take at least four steps.
The first is to obtain more than 290,000 signatures of support to run as an independent candidate. If he can’t do this, he will have nothing with which to negotiate “integration” with others in the non-green camp. This will not be difficult, though. Gou can obtain signatures from his fans, those in the “deep blue” camp and local supporters of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). There are even supporters of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) who hope Gou will join the race to further split the vote among the opposition.
The second step is to work with the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP). That is, to persuade the party’s chairman, Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), to serve as his vice president or in another position. This is more difficult. Although the TPP lacks a large budget and political heavyweights aside from Ko, it enjoys strong support from younger voters. Even if Ko is not elected as president in this election, the TPP is sure to win more seats in the Legislative Yuan, perhaps enough to even play a key role in the next session. Working with Gou would hypothetically limit the TPP’s growth, as Gou could potentially position himself as the focus of the campaign, ignoring the TPP, so the chance of achieving this step is rather low.
But this must be achieved before the third step can be taken: to work with the KMT and persuade its candidate, Hou You-ih (侯友宜), to serve as his vice president or in another position. This is more difficult, because the KMT above all else values reputation, in other words, “face” (面子). In 2004, when Lien Chan (連戰) was paired with Soong Chu-yu (宋楚瑜), Soong had received substantially more votes in the previous presidential election, but Lien insisted that Soong stand as his deputy. In the upcoming current election, it will be very difficult for the KMT to swallow its pride. Gou may try his luck with asking KMT voters to vote strategically, but it will be very difficult to go against the machine of a century-old party.
Finally, if Gou is somehow able to complete the first three steps and successfully “integrate the opposition forces,” can he succeed in taking the fourth step: to take down DPP candidate Lai Ching-te (賴清德)?
Compared on experience, Lai possesses major advantages over Gou. He has been elected as a National Assembly representative, a legislator, the mayor of Tainan and the vice president of Taiwan. He has deep political experience. He campaigned through large and small elections. On the other hand, this is the first time Gou has run for elected office.
One thing in Gou’s favor is that, among all the opposition party candidates, he has expressed the most well-articulated cross-strait policy, his “Kinmen Peace Declaration” (金門和平倡議). Although Gou’s policy does not align with mainstream public opinion in Taiwan, it at least provides a platform for everyone to discuss cross-strait policies.
Gou faces a rough road ahead. The other candidates could well focus on their own campaigns, leaving Gou — who is polling at just 8.96% — adrift in no man’s land. He will have to take things one step at a time.