Han’s rabid popularity and cross-Strait stance may make his nomination an inevitability for the KMT.
The News Lens
By: Kent Wang
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) is well liked in Washington for her reluctance to pick fights with China. But she is not popular at home. Recent polls have put her approval rating below 20 percent. Her bid for re-election next year, already iffy, became even more complicated when her former premier, WillIam Lai (賴清德), declared his intention to challenge Tsai in the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential nomination. It is the first time an incumbent president in Taiwan has been subjected to a primary challenge. The contest may anger China, since Lai is a more vocal supporter than Tsai of the idea that Taiwan should formally declare itself to be a distinct country from China – a move Beijing says would be grounds for war.
Taiwan’s 2020 general election is set to take place in January of next year, the result of which will determine the President and the composition of the Legislative Yuan in the next four years at a time when China continues to increase political and military pressure against the island nation. Lai’s March 18 bombshell decision to join the primary was described by DPP observers as an “ambush.” Party-government echelons were kept in the dark. Members of Lai’s New Tide faction comrades tried to dissuade him but to no avail. Only a minority of pro-independence elders knew of Lai’s decision in advance.
Lai’s manifesto stated that “Taiwan does not want to be another Hong Kong or Tibet,” hoisting banners for the Taiwan independence double march. Tsai, surprisingly, could not respond immediately. Lai challenged Tsai internally, while externally he zeroed in on Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) as his principal opponent, saying that this was not only a struggle for the path of the DPP but also a battle over the future development of Taiwan and the struggle over its path of national governance. To put it simply, Lai did not agree with Tsai’s conservative approach to cross-Strait issues. On the matter of national governance, he, however, believed that the Tsai government’s impotence could not win people’s hearts, believing that he should replace her.
In order to stump for Kuomintang (KMT) candidates in the mid-March legislative by-elections, Han dashed south to north; in the end, the KMT failed to conquer two dyed-in-the-wool Green districts in New Taipei and Tainan. However, the KMT did not really lose; it performed reasonably well, making both contests uncomfortably close for the DPP.