by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Ko Wen-je/Facebook

TAIPEI MAYOR KO WEN-JE, who is the founder and chair of the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), has found himself in a spat with other TPP politicians after calling party member Lin Shu-hui a “dog” that needed to be “disciplined.” Lin is the director of TPP legislator Lai Hsiang-ling’s office and the chair of the TPP’s central review committee. 

With regards to his comments directed at Lin, Ko later apologized for “speaking inappropriately” during a TPP internal meeting on Facebook, as well as for hurting the image of the party. Ko also took the opportunity to lash out at Taiwanese media for playing up the incident. Ko made the Facebook post after Lai publicly called on Ko to apologize to Lin. Ko originally stated that he hoped to speak directly to Lai to take care of the matter, but after a phone call, Lai again called on Ko to make a public apology. 

Ko has caused controversy many times in past years with disparaging remarks directed at other politicians. A notable example would be Ko’s reference to former political dissident Chen Chu, currently the head of the Control Yuan, as a “fat sow”. Ko refused to apologize for these remarks and doubled down on them, something that other TPP politicians have emulated. As also in the case of Lin, one observes a pattern of demeaning remarks by Ko, comparing female political workers to animals. 

Facebook post by Ko Wen-je on the incident

Nevertheless, what may be significant about the incident is the way in which it points to the internal issues facing the TPP at present. 

In particular, the TPP’s five legislators are mostly politicians with a pan-Blue political background that hitched their political fortunes to Ko when he formed the TPP. This includes Lai, who served as director of the Taipei city government’s Department of Labor under Ko before becoming a TPP legislator in 2018, but previously had a history as a labor activist, aligned with groups known for pro-unification leanings. However, such individuals probably did not join the TPP out of devotion to Ko, nor were their political careers reducible to his. And, as Ko nears the end of his mayoral term, the future of the TPP is up in the air. 

Firstly, as with other pan-Blue or pan-Green third parties, particularly the NPP, it faces the question of whether its political viability as a party is reducible to the political career of its most prominent figures. And so, if Ko has no political career beyond his stint as Taipei mayor, it is a question as to what happens to the TPP and its politicians. The TPP’s politicians have their own political interest, which may diverge from that of Ko’s 

Secondly, much as with the NPP’s struggles to differentiate itself from the DPP, the TPP faces the challenge of distinguishing itself from the KMT. In spite of its party rhetoric, the TPP is no longer perceived as a party beyond pan-Green and pan-Blue distinctions, but as a light Blue party, and, as mentioned, its key politicians primarily have pan-Blue backgrounds. But at a time in which the KMT vowed to reform and bring in more younger people, this may leave little room for the TPP to distinguish itself from the KMT. 

Indeed, some politicians affiliated with Ko, such as Taipei deputy mayor Huang Shan-shan are not even TPP members. Though Huang is expected to be Ko’s anointed successor for mayor of Taipei, possibly as a TPP candidate, she never, in fact, joined the party and is actually a member of James Soong’s People’s First Party. This, too, has become an object of political contestation within the TPP as of late, with some begrudging Huang for using party resources despite not being a party member. 

Facebook post by Lai Hsiang-ling on the incident

With regards to Ko’s attack on Lin and Lai’s demand for an apology, it might not be surprising to see splits between Ko and the TPP’s legislators, who may be incentivized to attack Ko in order to distinguish themselves from him and preserve their independence of Ko if his political fortunes decline. Namely, while Ko founded the TPP during a time in which he was one of Taiwan’s most popular politicians, approval ratings seem to indicate that the public has grown tired of his frequent political theatrics in the years since then. 

Ko has probably not helped himself through his temper. Angry public statements by Ko have sunk possible alliances in the past, as in when Ko nearly sunk a possible political alliance with former KMT majority speaker Wang Jinpyng and FoxConn founder Terry Gou by insulting the other two public. 

Ko has also lashed out at TPP politicians in a way that makes it clear that he views himself as unaccountable to the party, that he could simply swap out the party at any time and start anew. This was visible in Ko publicly firing Huang Ying-ying, better known by her nickname of Xuejie, who was effectively the youth spokesperson of the party after Huang was questioned by Taipei city councilors over the use of administrative expenses while campaigning. This may not help Ko’s relations with other TPP politicians, who may see Ko as willing to purge them at will. It remains to be seen, then, if the spat between Ko and Lai is the prelude to greater internal conflict in the TPP. 

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