by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: KMT/Facebook

THE ALREADY CONVOLUTED saga of a prospective alliance between the TPP and KMT took a turn for the bizarre today. This took the form of a press conference that involved all of the pan-Blue presidential candidates–Hou You-yi of the KMT, Ko Wen-je of the TPP, and independent candidate Terry Gou–openly sparring with each other. Former president Ma Ying-jeou and KMT party chair Eric Chu were also present. The deadline for candidates to register for president is 5:30 PM tomorrow.

To begin with, talks between the major parties stumbled in the last week. After both parties announced a joint ticket on November 15th, by analyzing poll results from November 7th to November 17th. This was already a compromise by the KMT, seeing as the KMT originally hoped for in-person polling, while the TPP hoped for the candidate to be decided through telephone polls. Particularly if this included mobile polling or consisted only of mobile polling, this would favor the TPP’s younger base of support, since they would be more represented in the sample.

The KMT and TPP would appoint one polling expert each while former president Ma Ying-jeou’s Ma Ying-jeou Foundation would appoint the third expert. The unusual presence of Ma Ying-jeou was due to the role he played in resolving the deadlock between the KMT and TPP, seeing as the KMT shifted toward allowing for telephone polling after Ma endorsed the idea. Who would be the presidential candidate and who would be the vice presidential candidate between Ko and Hou would be announced on November 18th.

Livestream of the meeting between the candidates

By the morning of the 18th, cooperation had already fallen apart, with Ko apparently having defied the views of his party to unilaterally agree to cooperation and seemingly belatedly realizing the terms of the agreement favored the KMT. Ko claimed that the TPP’s polling results showed three wins for him out of the six polls to be used as part of the calculation, while the KMT’s results showed five wins for Hou and one for Ko, and that this difference originated from the two parties failing to agree on the margin of error in the poll.

On November 21st, Hou called for the Ko campaign and his campaign to send two polling experts each to discuss the poll results, with the proceedings of this being live-streamed. The Ko campaign denied this request, however, stating that having another discussion about the same polls would not result in any different outcome. In the meantime, the DPP announced that Hsiao Bikhim would be Lai Ching-te’s vice presidential candidate on November 20th.

Reports then suggested that the Ko and Hou camps hoped to talk again. With Ko criticizing the exclusion of Terry Gou, who is trailing a distant third in the polls among pan-Blue candidates, Ko met with Gou privately, and some calls were exchanged between the candidates–though sometimes they strategically did not respond. Gou announced that he was to meet with Ko and Hou together yesterday, but as it turned out, Hou was campaigning in southern Taiwan and the Ko campaign stated that there were no specific plans for a meeting.

Today, then, both sides called on each other to meet. Yet this also led to bizarre crossed signals, with Hou waiting at the offices of the Ma Ying-jeou Foundation and Terry Gou and Ko meeting at the Grand Hyatt, after a two-hour meeting between the two individually. Nevertheless, Hou and Ma, along with KMT chair Eric Chu, eventually arrived at the Grand Hyatt.

What followed was a bizarre spectacle in which Ma, Chu, and Hou sat together in a press conference for twenty minutes while Gou and Ko sat together upstairs in the Grand Hyatt and it was unclear whether the involved parties would actually meet, despite being in the same building. During the waiting, Lin Tao of the KMT and Huang Shih-hsiu of the Gou camp–and formerly of the KMT–began to argue, serving as the MCs of the proceedings.

The meeting proved to be highly bizarre, as well as dominated primarily by Terry Gou, who spoke first and claimed throughout to be the host. Gou began by stressing that today is Thanksgiving and that all involved should be grateful to meet. Although Thanksgiving is not a widely celebrated holiday in Taiwan, Gou continued with the references to Thanksgiving for the rest of the meeting. Gou also continued with the framing of a prospective pan-Blue alliance as akin to a wedding, bringing up that he was married at the Grand Hyatt, and that Ma had served as a witness to the wedding.

Then, Gou lashed out at Hou for also bringing Chu and Ma with him, stating that he was the host, Gou insisted that he had set up a room and food for three people and not five, and that this was intended to be transparent–nevertheless, it seemed as though Gou was primarily angry about being unable to conduct closed-door negotiations with himself, Hou, and Ko. This took the form of rambling comments interspersed with random English phrases, references to weddings, and Thanksgiving, for over twenty minutes.

Gou next passed the microphone to Ma and Chu during this proceedings, with Ma responding that he was just a witness so would not say anything. Chu, too, tried to be diplomatic, emphasizing that unity was for Taiwan, not any individual’s political career.

From left to right, KMT chair Eric Chu, KMT presidential candidate Hou You-yi, former president Ma Ying-jeou, TPP presidential candidate Ko Wen-je. Photo credit: KMT/Facebook

In response, Hou read text messages from Ko Wen-je in which Ko stated that Gou needed a pretext to withdraw, but that it was better to do the meeting publicly if that were the case, and that he would otherwise be willing to have a private meeting. Hou emphasized that the text messages showed that Ma was an invited guest rather than an unwanted one.

Ko seemed upset about Hou reading a private text, despite the references to transparency in the election. Gou commented that when he was younger, he was afraid to hold hands with a girl publicly, much less discuss political alliances in such a public setting.

To this extent, Gou reacted with anger about being treated as not a participant in the election, but an apparent bystander. When pushed about what previous invitations from him meant, Hou stated that he hoped for Gou to be present as a witness at the blue-white alliance negotiations, much as Ma was to be a witness, and suggested that they retreat to his private room to have coffee and eat snacks. His vice presidential candidate Tammy Lai suddenly appeared during these comments, whispering in his ear. Gou suggested that taking her suggestion, media could come to the room he had set up but not be allowed to record.

Hou, however, seemed to prefer staying put, stating that the media could record their discussion in the press conference. Gou then said that if cross-party talks were to take place, he would not participate as an independent candidate, and that he would take a bathroom break, but come back after, to give the others space to talk. Ko seemed somewhat confused after this and suggested that all present take a five-minute break.

All of the assembled individuals then got up with their entourages, while the media shouted at them if they would, in fact, come back. Nevertheless, after Ko Wen-je returned, all except Gou came back to the table.

The discussion once again turned toward the polling dispute, with Ko and Hou fighting over the margin of error dispute. Hou emphasized that Ko had not been tricked into the agreement and that there was no talk of margin of error. Chu then brought up a comparison to the Judgment of Solomon in the Hebrew Bible, stating that the child that faced being cut in half was Taiwan, and that they all needed to unite to prevent the children of Taiwan from facing a fate of being cut in half. Ko claimed that he left discussion of polls to Chu and Ko, as party chairs, seeing as they were both graduates of Taiwan’s most prestigious university, National Taiwan University. However, Chu is an accountant and Ko is a surgeon by trade, neither are political scientists.

This was interrupted at 6:20 PM by Huang Shih-hsiu, the MC from the Gou camp; the room they were using was only rented until 6:30 PM. Huang began to interject his views, but was interrupted by Chu, who stated that they should let Hou and Ko speak, and that he and Chu would not interject either. In his closing comments, Ko began to emphasize that the parties needed unity to have the strongest possible combination in the election, but Chu then interrupted to state that the KMT’s polls were not rigged. Chu was then criticized by Huang for cutting in, despite saying that discussion should be left to Hou and Ko.

On the other hand, in his closing, Hou emphasized that he and Ko were a team, despite their differences. Still, Hou sought to defend the KMT’s polling methods. Of course, the proceedings of the press conference showed anything but teamwork or the possibility of cooperation. Hou stated that he sympathized with Ko because he may be facing pressure from his family and party, who were also a team with him, which might explain his behavior.

After these final remarks, a TPP representative stated that the party hoped for a Q-and-A session, and asked if the KMT would agree to this, but Ko seemed to publicly disagree with his own party, stating that he did not hope for a call-in show. Huang Shih-hsiu began to call on Terry Gou but was interrupted by Lin Tao of the KMT, who criticized him for seeking to interject his own views as moderator. A third MC then interrupted and thanked all attendees for their time, as well as that the meeting was over.

Livestream of the KMT’s press conference after the meeting

Subsequently, Ko and Gou held a Q-and-A session with the media, Gou once again returned to referencing Thanksgiving, saying that he was watching children happily celebrating Thanksgiving earlier and drinking milk tea–though Thanksgiving is, again, not a holiday widely celebrated in Taiwan. Gou still continued to be upset about being excluded from the proceedings despite originally being a participant. Ko apologized to the media for being unable to show them the formation of a unity ticket, but that he would continue to strive for a change in the political party. Gou closed by wishing all a happy Thanksgiving and stated that the sun would rise tomorrow.

As the candidates began to leave the premises, media began to shout at them as to whether the pan-Blue alliance was off. Gou responded with “Happy Thanksgiving” to many of these queries.

The pan-Blue unity ticket between some combination of the KMT, TPP, and Terry Gou in the presidential election is clearly unlikely to happen, then. The KMT and TPP are likely to clash in legislative elections as well, with the TPP having already announced its party list. Though some odd twenty hours remain until the deadline, it is unlikely that any unity ticket will emerge after today’s debacle. Moreover, the DPP will center attacks going forward on the strange spectacle of the failed alliance, as it spilled over into the public.

Although the KMT held a press conference at 7:30 PM, stating that the KMT would wait until the last moment to try and cement an alliance and would not announce a vice presidential candidate, it is unlikely an alliance will materialize. That being said, the KMT has now sacrificed the boost in publicity that would come from announcing a vice presidential candidate. But a photo posted on Facebook showed Gou and Lai, suggesting he plans to continue to run with her, while reports now indicates Ko Wen-je will register with his vice presidential candidate tomorrow morning at 11 AM.

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