by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: Tsai Ing-wen/Facebook
THE FORMOSA ALLIANCE’S attempt to prove that Tsai Ing-wen’s dissertation is fake proves another strange turn for the recently formed pro-independence political party. In general, the Formosa Alliance is proving to be a party which seems to have no real political stance apart from hardline Taiwanese independence advocacy and hatred of Tsai Ing-wen.
It is surprisingly common in Taiwan to allege that presidents did not actually write their Ph. D dissertations and so are academic frauds, or that their Ph. Ds otherwise are deeply flawed. One notes that three out of four of Taiwan’s democratically elected presidents hold Ph. Ds and all of Taiwan’s democratically elected presidents to date have been highly educated graduates of elite institutions.
As such, alleging that a president’s Ph. D is false would be a way of trying to undermine the political credibility of that president, insofar as being highly educated is seen by many in Taiwan as a necessary condition of becoming president. Apart from allegations that Tsai’s Ph. D thesis is fake, one also saw similar accusations against Ma Ying-jeou of the KMT during the 2014 Sunflower Movement with the claim that Ma did not write his Ph. D dissertation or that it was otherwise grotesquely flawed. One frequent claim which circulated about Ma was that his Ph. D dissertation contained thousands of errors, something that is not true apart from occasional English language errors.
Indeed, the London School of Economics stated in July that Tsai did, in fact, graduate from the school with a Ph. D in response to questioning. Tsai herself produced a copy of her diploma to prove that she submitted her dissertation since it would be impossible for anyone to obtain a diploma without submitting a Ph. D dissertation.
Yet this has not prevented individuals such as National Taiwan University department of law professor emeritus Ho De-fen and Hwan C. Lin, an associate professor in the Belk College of Business at the University of North Carolina Charlotte, from alleging that an independent investigation has determined Tsai’s dissertation to be fake. Ho and Lin have been unable to produce this purported investigation, which has led Tsai to label such allegations against her as fake news, and to file legal charges against them,
More generally, the Formosa Alliance has remained vague about whether it intends to try and run a presidential candidate against Tsai, something that could prove dangerously splitting of the vote in what already looks set to be a tight presidential race. At the same time, the irrational antagonism of the party against Tsai seems to indicate that it will probably do so.
The Formosa Alliance, which is composed of hardline pan-Green traditionalists, originated as an advocacy group to campaign for Taiwan participating in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as “Taiwan” rather than “Chinese Taipei,” but after the failure of a national referendum held on the issue, the group atrophied its younger members and came to be dominated by elders of the pan-Green camp opposed to Tsai. Such individuals do not view Tsai as having done enough to push for Taiwanese independence, but, perhaps more significantly, also have starkly conservative views on issues such as gender equality and gay marriage.
Rally held by the Formosa Alliance outside DPP headquarters on October 20th, 2018. Photo credit: Brian Hioe
As such, the current leadership of the Formosa Alliance not only dislikes Tsai for being a woman but is angered by Tsai’s support of gay marriage. Indeed, the Formosa Alliance has publicly announced that it views the legalization of same-sex marriage as having been legalized without adequate social consensus and so has announced plans to try and stop same-sex marriages from continuing to happen in Taiwan.
It remains to be seen what other purported scandals the Formosa Alliance will latch onto as part of its efforts to discredit Tsai. The Formosa Alliance may attempt to suggest nepotism on the part of Tsai’s family, seeing as other members of Tsai’s family are also politicians. Or the Formosa Alliance may attempt to target Tsai’s personal investments or property holdings. Despite how fringe some of the accusations against Tsai by the Formosa Alliance have been to date, it is not impossible that the Formosa Alliance will be able to tarnish Tsai’s reputation among some elements of the voter base, particularly if it is able to hit onto a scandal with larger public resonance.