It is possible that Taiwan’s political obstructionist is the kingmaker in a divided parliament. Here’s why it’s important


Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) presidential candidate Ko Wen-ji speaks during an interview in New Taipei City on December 12, 2023. Presidential candidate Ko Wen-ji has sought to portray himself as an alternative to Taiwan’s more established leaders, proposing what he calls a “pragmatic” approach to relations. With China it might attract some young voters.

I Hua Qing | AFP | Getty Images

TAIPEI — “One day, we will achieve our victory,” said Kuo Wen-ji, the defeated presidential candidate of the Taiwan People’s Party, in his speech at its meeting. Concession speech two weeks ago.

He urged his frustrated young supporters, some of them in tears, not to give up, and portrayed himself as a single social movement fighting for political change.

“For me, over the past 10 years, whether I have been in office or running for election, I have always viewed it as a social movement aimed at changing the political culture. Since this social movement has not been fully realized, let us continue to work hard.” The former Taipei City mayor told supporters in Mandarin.

Although he finished last in Taiwan’s first competitive three-way presidential race since 2000, Koo received more than a quarter of the popular vote – disrupting the usual stranglehold of the dominant political parties, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and the Kuomintang.

The 63-year-old clearly resonated with young and educated people when he spoke clearly about their everyday issues, including rising housing costs and stagnant wages at a time of high inflation.

“We need to take Koo’s rise seriously,” Wei Ting Yen, an assistant professor of government at Franklin and Marshall College, told CNBC. “There is a clear social base that encourages him and wants to support his populist rhetoric. These are anti-establishment positions. Is Taiwan seeing the rise of populism?”

This type of populist message appeals to people who feel that Taiwan’s current economic and political system does not benefit them.

Sarah Newland

Smith College

These shades of populism, combined with his shifting political affiliations in the past, contrast with Ko’s self-identification with the conviction and idealism of Taiwan’s youth-led social movements.

Populism, often seen as anti-establishment and anti-elite, can sometimes be seen as a threat to democracy; Ironically, Koo joined previous social movements in Taiwan that consolidated the island’s nascent democracy.

Koo, once a leading transplant surgeon in Taiwan, switched from allying with the Democratic Progressive Party in 2014 when he entered the race as an independent for Taipei mayor, to entering into an alliance with the main opposition Kuomintang party in the last presidential election.

Taiwan’s Young and the Restless

In any case, Taiwan’s two main parties now face a battle to meet the needs of younger voters, which may come at the expense of older votes or a focus on broader strategic interests.

“My feeling is that Ko’s personality and influence — his candor and willingness to criticize established parties, his position as a political outsider, and so on — appeals to people who feel disconnected from traditional parties,” said Sarah Newland, an associate professor at Harvard University. Government at Smith College.

“It also gave voice to and reinforced the idea that both the KMT and the DPP are ignoring key domestic concerns of voters, and this kind of populist messaging appeals to people who feel that Taiwan’s current economic and political system is not benefiting them,” she added.

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In the last My Formosa poll released before a ban on exit polls was imposed before Election Day, 53.7% of respondents aged 20 to 29 indicated they would vote for Ko for president.

Overall, 21.8% of all respondents to this poll indicated they would vote for Koo – lower than the 26.46% of the popular vote he ultimately received. January 13 elections. It was not immediately possible to obtain similar details regarding the election result.

“Although the Democratic Progressive Party emerged from the pro-democracy underground movement under martial law, young people now see it as traditionalists and part of the political establishment,” Newland said.

Political opportunism

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The Kuomintang, Beijing’s preferred political partner, has 52 seats. The ruling Progressive Democratic Party has 51 seats, while independents hold the remaining two seats.

Kuo’s party is “ideologically ambiguous,” said Ming Shu-hu, a sociology professor at National Taiwan University who studies the working class and social movements.

“Ko once pledged to follow Tsai Ing-wen’s foreign policy, but at the same time stressed that ‘both sides of the Taiwan Strait are one family’ – and these things are meaningless,” he added, referring to the island’s current president. Democratic President of the Progressive Democratic Party.

“Ku is really opportunistically arguing different things at the same time.”

A supporter of the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) waits for the official results to be announced at a rally on January 13, 2024 in Taipei, Taiwan.

Anis Lin | Getty Images News | Getty Images

The ‘litmus effect’ is waning?

Thus, Ko’s association with Taiwan’s recent history of activism – led by youth and civil society – could be seen as opportunistic.

from Wild lily And Wild strawberries Movements to the Sunflower Movement Taiwan’s path toward democracy and reform has been marked by student-led social movements in the past few decades.

The Wild Lily Movement of 1990 was seen as pivotal to the self-governing island’s first directly democratic presidential and legislative elections in 1996, while the Wild Strawberry Movement of 2008 emerged as a result of protest against alleged police violence and abuse of power.

Supporters of Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) presidential candidate Kuo Wen-jie react while waiting for the results of the presidential election at the TPP headquarters in Xinchuang in New Taipei City on January 13, 2024. (Photo by I-Hwa CHENG/AFP) (Photo by I-Hwa Cheng/AFP) French via Getty Images)

I Hua Qing | AFP | Getty Images

“The Sunflower Movement was of course an important event that contributed to the DPP’s victory in the 2014 local elections and the 2016 presidential election. But over time, the influence diminished,” National Taiwan University’s Ho noted.

During the Sunflower movement In 2014, young protesters temporarily took control of the National Legislative Council to protest a free trade agreement with China, which the then-ruling Kuomintang government had attempted to ratify in an undemocratic manner. Protesters fear that the agreement will lead to increased dependence on China.

“However, I would say that the core values ​​that underpinned the Sunflower Movement — such as the emphasis on Taiwanese identity, the refusal to integrate into a China-centered economy, and the youth’s demand for rising inequality — still stand today,” he said. Adding that these values ​​“no longer empower the DPP.”

While these same values ​​may have driven the Trans-Pacific Partnership in this election, Taiwanese have also voted for other third-party candidates in the past – but they often fall by the wayside, unable to break the cyclical stranglehold of the KMT and DPP On power.

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“If Ko and his party can work together to gain this power effectively, they can remain an important force in politics,” Newland said, referring to the Trans-Pacific Partnership’s eight seats in parliament.

“But this will require the party to be less focused on Ko as an individual, to set clearer policy goals, and to work together, and it is not clear that these things will happen in a party that has so far been really focused on just one element.” “A person,” she added.

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