by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: Brian Hioe
THE QUESTION of who will be the KMT’s presidential candidate in 2020 remains a complicated one. Numerous party heavyweights are contending for the seat, such as 2016 presidential candidate Eric Chu, who intends on running again, as well as current chair Wu Den-yih. Wu has thus far remained mum on whether he intends on run but is seen as also angling for the nomination.
If the contest for who will be the KMT’s 2020 presidential candidate was only between Wu and Chu, this might not be unusual. Yet several of the candidates who have also been floated are decidedly unusual. Former majority speaker Wang Jin-pyng, who has generally remained out of the public eye for the past three years, has unexpectedly also thrown his hat into the ring for the presidency. Others suggest that Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu, who has attracted disproportionate focus from Taiwanese media, should run for the presidency. And rumors even swirl that former president Ma Ying-Jeou might seek to run for a third term in office.
If the KMT went with Eric Chu, who replaced Hung Hsiu-chu in 2016 in a last-minute change of candidate, Chu would likely be an uninspiring, but relatively clean candidate. In the absence of any fresher faces, it is possible that the KMT might go with Chu, as a safe and proven option for presidential candidate—although it is also possible that Chu might lose to Tsai a second time.
If that were the case, this would be predicated on current KMT chair Wu Den-yih making way for Chu. On the other hand, Wu seems to be gunning for the presidential nomination himself.
As it is traditional for presidential candidates of the pan-Green and pan-Blue camps alike to visit America to visit wealthy and influential overseas Taiwanese political donors based in America, rumors of a planned trip to America by Wu stoked rumors that Wu intended to seek the presidential nomination, although Wu publicly claimed that the purpose of his trip was to thank overseas Taiwanese for their support in November elections. With his current trip to America, Eric Chu may be attempting to preempt Wu in seeking the support of overseas Taiwanese donors.
Rumors of a planned visit to China by Wu have been read in a similar vein. As the KMT is China’s proxy in Taiwan, Wu would be seeking the approval of the CCP in making such a trip, as well as aiming to demonstrate to the KMT rank-and-file that he has the backing of China. This may be why Wu has been publicly floating the idea of signing a peace treaty with China, in the hopes that this will win China’s approval.
It proves an unexpected wrinkle that Wang Jin-pyng, however, would decide to contest for the KMT’s nomination at this juncture. Wang has long been viewed as the leader of the “Taiwanese” faction of the KMT, which is comparatively more pro-localization compared to the “Mainlander” faction led by former president Ma Ying-jeou, of which Wu and Chu are both aligned. As such, with fears that he could prove another Lee Teng-hui, Wang has long been accused secretly harboring pan-Green sympathies, something contributed to by his close relationship with former DPP minority whip Ker Chien-ming, who is now majority speaker of the Legislative Yuan.
In the years since the 2014 Sunflower Movement—which concluded after Wang broke from KMT party discipline to negotiate with the student occupiers of the Legislative Yuan—and the KMT’s defeats in 2016 presidential and legislative elections, Wang has mostly kept out of the political spotlight. Indeed, when attempts were made to reform the KMT from within by younger members after the KMT’s defeats, they were in fact accused of being acolytes of Wang Jin-pyng as a way to shut down their calls for reform, though some of these younger members were later brought back into the good graces of the party as city councilor candidates in 2020.
But Wang reemerged unexpectedly in the political spotlight earlier this year, prompting speculations that he was preparing for a presidential run. Wang was seen as having a hand in engineering the electoral victories of Han Kuo-yu in Kaohsiung, converting Kaohsiung from pan-Green to pan-Blue territory, Hou You-yi in New Taipei, defeating DPP heavyweight Su Tseng-chang, and Lu Shiow-yen in Taichung, an unusual win for not only ousting incumbent Lin Chia-lung, but because both the Red and Blue factions of the Taichung KMT aligned behind Lu.
Wang’s chances of securing the nomination are unknown. As Mainlanders within the KMT remain in control of the party, it is possible that they continue to see Wang as a threat to the party order and will prevent him from getting the nomination. Wang has, nevertheless, attempted to downplay the perception within the KMT that he is a closeted localist, claiming that he views himself as a descendant of China.
At the same time, Wang may command the loyalty of Han, current the darling of the media, and he may also enjoy the support of Hou and Lu, meaning that Wang’s position is actually quite solid within the party. At the very least, Wang’s candidacy will have a large impact on the eventual choice of the KMT’s presidential candidate, possibly proving divisive of the vote.
Lastly, one notes that unusual possibilities have been floated of Han Kuo-yu running for president or former president Ma Ying-jeou seeking a third term.
Han is currently one of Taiwan’s most popular politicians, in spite of a poor performance to date as mayor of Kaohsiung, some of his supporters call on him to run for the presidency. Yet Han is likely still too junior within the KMT to be in the running for presidential candidate and Han has to date emphasized that, despite sufficient popularity which would allow him to at least some shelf life as a political independent, he currently has no intentions of breaking from the KMT.
On the other hand, if former president Ma Ying-jeou ran for a third term, whatever the irresponsible reporting of much of Taiwanese media claims, this would likely require a constitutional interpretation. The KMT would likely try to argue that the constitution specifies that a president may serve two consecutive terms, but is not forbidden from serving more than two terms. Either way, this would be a costly legal battle for the KMT that it would not be guaranteed to win, seeing as the possibility of a former president seeking a third term—one already accused of taking authoritarian measures during his presidency, to boot—would likely provoke accusations against the KMT of attempting to return to authoritarian one-party rule.
As such, it remains an open question as to who the KMT’s presidential candidate will be. It is thought that Wu, who currently controls the party chair, may attempt to use his position to slant voting in his favor. Wu has suggested removing consideration of public opinion in the decision of presidential candidate, which is given 70% of consideration and only considering internal polling, which is normally given 30% of the consideration.
Wu may think that breaking from precedent may favor him, perhaps with the view that he has the incumbent’s advantage in internal polls as the current KMT party chair, or perhaps seeing his standing within the party as stronger than with the public. For his part, however, Wu claims that he fears the public will attempt to rig polling to cause the KMT to pick a weak candidate, resulting in a KMT loss.
Nevertheless, in consideration of the overall confusion regarding its choice of candidates, it should be apparent that the KMT continues to struggle to seek a clear direction for itself in spite of its victories in November nine-in-one elections last year. The crisis that the KMT has faced since arguably 2014, in fact, persists, with the KMT caught between questions of whether to localize or to take an even harder line on pro-unification issues, and this is the existential issue that continues guide the party’s actions.