The Intriguing Home Stretch of Taiwan's 2016 Elections
Wednesday March 25, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.
The Lunar New Year holiday is over and the nation has officially entered into the home stretch of next year's presidential race. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) already has its candidate and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has yet to make its final selection. Whomever they choose, it is shaping up to be a close race and one with plenty of variables.
From many perspectives, next year is proving to be a watershed year and unlike any previous elections.
The playing field is more level and voters are better able to analyze candidates. After suffering through two terms of the bungling President Ma Ying-jeou administration, voters are wiser and realize that substance and performance are far more important than image.
Voters also have a clearer perception of the direction that they want the nation to take in its relationship with China. The only legacy that Ma has left the KMT candidates is that they should distance themselves from him.
Similarly, the social instincts of the people have been roused; stronger in the sense of their role in a democracy, they realize protests are a viable form of action and they certainly will not give future governments the benefit of the doubt.
The DPP has not only made a strong recovery from their poor performance in the 2008 and 2012 elections, but if last years, nine-in-one elections are any indication, they have gained a clear edge for the future.
The voters are choosing from the ranks of what can be called a second-generation democracy (read post 1996 candidates) from both sides. Further, these voters have a much clearer idea of what they feel the nation needs. And they have had a good chance to see how the current candidates have so far measured up to that task as well as how much baggage they are bringing with them.
On the KMT side, this presents a clear problem. Whom should they put forth? Ma has not fostered much new talent during his term of office. Yes men and cronies too often filled the ranks of his officials.
Vice President, Wu Den-yih would normally be a potential presidential candidate, but he has his own baggage. With many he has the reputation of being a wheeler-dealer and party foot soldier. Those who could profit from such support him, but that has its limits.
Also having been selected by Ma to be his vice president in 2012 might have initially helped salvage his public career after losing the Kaohsiung mayoral race in 1998, but that now has become a liability. Wu would be a limited and bad choice for the KMT in these new and changing times.
Another likely KMT candidate would be Wang Jin-pyng, who has been president of the Legislative Yuan since 1999 and has the reputation of being able to work with both parties. However Wang will be 75 years old by the time the elections take place.
True, former president Lee Teng-hui was 73 years old when he ran and won in 1996, but Lee had already proven himself in directing the nation for eight years.
Wang recently survived being expelled from the KMT; he could be a potential vice presidential candidate but confidence in his leading the nation in the expected future economic and cross-strait turbulence would not be a strong suit.
Former Taipei mayor Hau Lung-bin could continue the tradition that all elected presidents being first mayor of Taipei, but Hau has baggage as well. His eight years as mayor were at best lackluster and saw plenty of scandal in the wings. In addition his controversial father Hau Pei-tsun brings pro-China unification baggage to the presidential race. This is not something the party needs to appeal to a majority vote in the nation. Running for the legislature might be a better choice for Hau Lung-bin with the hopes that he could possibly distinguish himself there in the future.
That leaves the KMT with one remaining viable candidate of note, namely New Taipei City Mayor and KMT Chairman Eric Chu. Chu has the advantage of not having been too long under the scrutiny of the public spotlight.
He also is the party's chairman and in that role he recently made a smart move in declaring that the party would not appeal the case for the expulsion of Wang. This not only has helped party unity in the upcoming race--where they will need every man, woman and child on their side—but it also assures the loyalty of Wang at this crucial time.
True, Chu's recent mayoral victory was far from convincing, and Chu promised he would not run for president next year, but such promises are easily overridden when party needs demand it. The KMT choices are limited next year, but lacking any primaries except that of the party, Chu seems the best choice.
Given the lack of strong candidates in the KMT, it would seem for the DPP that the race for president is theirs to lose. Their sole candidate DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen had already been tested in her defeat in the 2012 elections. She knows the campaign trail well and is the only candidate to submit their name in the primary.
However though Tsai had been unopposed in the party primary, this does not mean that running for president will be a walk in the park. The DPP is notoriously a divided party; united in opposition, but after that divided in policies, leadership and goals. Tsai will have a difficult time both keeping the party together and navigating the needs of the special interest social action groups that have recently arisen.
This presidential race has numerous unknowns that are set to keep it interesting and give pundits plenty to talk about. In either party, who will be the vice-presidential candidate?
Also what about the Legislative Yuan? The KMT has always had control of the legislature. The DPP, they must look not only at gaining the presidency, but gaining a majority in the Legislative Yuan as well. The Legislative Yuan adds a whole different dimension as independent social action figures have their own agenda.
Things there are still shaping up as parties ponder not only who should represent them but also who should be appointed as as legislators-at-large.
All things considered, next year's presidential is set to be far from dull.
**(As a footnote, it was far from dull! And it was a surprise to many at the extent of the DPP win.)