Taiwan’s election has broken out into shadow boxing between the Taiwan People’s Party’s (TPP) Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). The current argument: Which methodology would be used to determine which one of Ko or KMT presidential candidate Hou Yu-ih (侯友宜) would top a joint ticket, should the two sides agree to come together to topple Democratic Progressive Party presidential candidate Lai Ching-te (賴清德).
Ko’s side of these discussions favors using phone-based polling to make the decision. Hou’s side favors using an open, in-person primary, using ID cards. This disagreement likely arises because the KMT has a far stronger institutional setup, with older supporters more likely to engage in person, whereas the TPP’s support skews younger and the nascent party would have to allow the KMT to administer the primary.
While this debate progresses, experts ultimately remain split on whether a union between the two sides will happen.
“There remains a fairly good chance that the opposition may be able to consolidate into a single ticket,” said Stephen Tan (譚耀南), managing director of the International Policy Advisory Group, a Taipei-based consulting firm. “Ko can afford to either run or not run,” and “he’s already succeeded in accumulating momentum in negotiations with the KMT,” Tan said at a panel discussion hosted by the Taiwan Inspiration Association on Monday, before suggesting that a deal may suit all sides.
“If [Ko’s] opinion on the general polling is not accepted, post-election he’s going to be one of the most influential third parties in the Legislative Yuan [Taiwan’s legislature] and beyond. If his opinion on the general polling is accepted, he could either end up as the main presidential candidate on a shared ticket or be the deputy, depending on which way the polling turned out,” Tan said. On the other hand, “The only way that the KMT can possibly win is to make sure that both candidates consolidate into a single ticket,” Tan said, and even if its candidate didn’t top the ballot “Ko can’t run a government by himself, so would have to rely on the KMT.”
A possible counterview is that Ko’s Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) would be marginalized significantly should he end up as a candidate for vice president rather than president.
“The second spot on a joint ticket would probably be a death sentence for [the TPP],” Nathan Batto, an associate research fellow at the Institute of Political Science, Academia Sinica, wrote on his election blog, Frozen Garlic. “The only way Ko will be an influential person over the next four years is if he is either the president or the head of a party that controls the balance of power in the legislature.” Batto believes this is the case because the TPP will struggle to compete for local seats but can better compete for national, party list seats if Ko remains highly visible in the presidential race. He also reminded readers that many Ko supporters like Ko explicitly because he is not associated with either of the two main parties — and this makes joining up with the KMT a risky move.
There is a third view, though, which is that the opposition parties are not the only players involved in deciding whether the ticket remains split or joins together. “I think there’s an omitted factor. That is the China factor,” Chen Fang-Yu (陳方隅), assistant professor of political science at Soochow University, explained at the same panel discussion as Tan.
“China may force the opposition to have a single ticket … Because if they have a single ticket it is maybe the only way they can beat the DPP.”
“For China it’s always better that it’s a pan-blue [China-leaning] politician to take over … So they will try everything to facilitate such a cooperation, that’s our guess. And China has a lot of different strategies to do that,” Chen added.
This was a speculative view also echoed by Tan. He described the prospect of the DPP getting elected as “the last thing they want to see,” and added: “We don’t have hardcore evidence, but we have reason to believe that the [Chinese Communist Party’s] Taiwan office would have incentive to try to prevent or avoid things going toward the wrong direction or to their disadvantage.”
The presidential ballots will be finalized on November 2. Then will come the discussion over what it all means.
Photo: Sam Yeh/AFP