by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: KMT/Facebook
THE KMT PARTY congress took place yesterday at the Banqiao Stadium in New Taipei.
There were few surprises at the party congress, with KMT presidential candidate Hou Yu-ih officially confirmed as the party’s candidate. There has been speculation for some weeks that Hou could potentially face being replaced as the KMT party candidate, due to Hou’s weak performance in polls so far. This was the scenario that took place in the 2016 presidential elections, with Hung Hsiu-chu being swapped out in favor of current party chair Eric Chu.
If Hou were to be swapped out, it would most likely have been in favor of FoxConn chair Terry Gou, who was passed over in favor of Hou in the nomination process. This was highly controversial, seeing as the KMT decided to choose its presidential candidate through a closed nomination process rather than open primaries.
Originally, the closed nomination process was thought to be an attempt by Chu and the KMT establishment to shut out Hou in favor of Chu himself. Hou is distrusted by segments of the KMT establishment who view him as having historically been too close to the pan-Green camp, fearing that he could covertly be a pan-Green turncoat. Though Chu faced similar accusations in the past, he is thought to have taken advantage of distrust against Hou to position himself for another shot at the presidency. Nevertheless, Chu was quickly overshadowed when Gou declared that he intended to run for the president again, and requested to be allowed back into the KMT for this run.
Gou was reportedly displeased by being passed over and he has continued to act as though he were planning a presidential run. As one of Taiwan’s richest men, Gou could field his own run for president. Gou continued to stoke speculation by making public appearances with TPP presidential candidate and former Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je, so as to intimate that he could potentially align with Ko for a presidential run.
Consequently, it may not be surprising that on the same day as the KMT party congress, Gou made a post on Facebook that the will of the Taiwanese people should not be confined to that of a single political party. This has been interpreted variously, with some taking the view that this is signaling that Gou intends to continue with his presidential run, though others have downplayed the threat that he poses to the KMT. Reports in the past days suggest that Gou has sought out media personalities Sisy Chen and Yang Zhao to assist with his campaign.
Either way, the threat of Hou being swapped out as a candidate seems to have passed. This was known before the party congress, seeing as a meeting of the KMT standing committee earlier this week is when a decision to remove him as a candidate would have actually taken place. Gou supporters were not present at the meeting, as a sign of protest.
Much attention ahead of time went to that Hou and former KMT presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu made a joint appearance at the party congress, with rumors previously suggesting a split between the two politicians. Han remains a highly popular politician in deep Blue quarters of the pan-Blue camp and reportedly did not attend Hou campaign events in a snub to Hou, while the media honed in on incidents in which Han and Hou seemed to interact in an uncomfortable manner during joint events. As a show of unity, Han, Hou, and Taichung mayor Lu Shiow-yen made joint appearances, with Hou making an apology to Han for not doing enough in the past.
It was noted that former KMT chair and presidential candidate Hung Hsiu-chu left the party congress early. Hung denied that this was a snub, stating that she had another event to attend, and that she had already spoken with Chu and Hou.
Still, splits may persist in the pan-Blue camp. Hualien legislator Fu Kun-chi has been highly controversial in the KMT, in light of his well-documented record of political corruption. Though Fu was present at the party congress, he and his wife, Hualien county magistrate Hsu Chen-wei, also made an appearance with Gou the same day at Indigenous harvest festival commemorations. Gou seemed to be aiming to portray himself as a common man of the people through this visit to harvest festival commemorations in Hualien.
As media reports also suggest that the party congress had unusually low attendance, in-fighting in the pan-Blue camp may contribute to low turnout in the upcoming election, as William Lai continues to poll ever higher with each subsequent poll. This should not surprise. As Facebook posts by Hou and Chu after the congress emphasized KMT internal dynamics, rather than a program for the 2024 presidential campaign, this attests to the significant splits that still exist in the KMT, and this is what preoccupies the party at present.