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One Country, Two Women

One Country, Two Women

The Democratic Progressive Party obviously made the right choice by reaching an early decision on whom to nominate to run in the January 16, 2016 presidential election. Not that the choice was difficult. After the party’s landslide victory in last November’s regional and local elections, DPP Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen was left as the only logical choice to represent the opposition party.
Her main rival until then, former party leader Su Tseng-chang, said he would not challenge her, and only a minority of political dinosaurs opposed to women in general tried to push the mayor of Tainan in her way to prevent her from running.
Tsai has since been leading in virtually every single opinion poll pitting her against any possible candidate from the ruling Kuomintang.
While having one woman lead the polls for the presidential election is already one kind of achievement, it could soon turn out that the only two candidates having a credible chance of winning the election are both women.
Taiwan, a country which only introduced direct presidential elections in 1996, could have two women vying for the top position 20 years later.
The reason to thank this phenomenon for is the incredibly complex situation inside the KMT. With seven years of President Ma Ying-jeou’s rule behind us, no leading figure in the party has been eager to come forward and try and battle the KMT’s low popularity ratings.
It took Legislative Vice Speaker Hung Hsiu-chu to come out and launch a bid to run in the primaries. Initially, nobody took her seriously, as she herself said her candidacy was designed to force the true contenders out into the open.
However, in the end, none of the heavyweights like party chairman Eric Liluan Chu, Vice President Wu Den-yih and Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng took up the bait.
The only rival who stepped forward was another surprise, former Health Minister Yaung Chih-liang, but he failed to cross one of the many hurdles in his way, the number of endorsements necessary to be accepted. Hung came up with the sufficient amount of signatures, officially making her the only contender still in the race.
As the No.2 at the Legislative Yuan, Hung has been mostly working in the shadow of her superior, Wang. Before rising to that position however, she served as a lawmaker and earned the nickname “hot pepper” because of her sharp tongue. This can be an asset, but also a liability, as Taipei City Mayor Ko Wen-je has found out.
A recent poll by the Want Want China Times Group put her support level at around 34 percent, the level necessary for her to pass the primary. The same poll however shows that she needs to improve her appeal to Taiwan’s young voters, the age group from 20 to 29, the only group where those who disapprove of her outnumber her supporters.
The KMT as a whole already performs poorly with young people, having become the favorite target of student movements. The task of the KMT and of Hung’s campaign could become even harder as the ruling party is seen dragging its feet on lowering the voting age to 18, a limit which exists in most advanced nations of which Taiwan deserves to be part.
However, the biggest threat to Hung might not come from disillusioned voters, from young people or even from the DPP, but from within the ranks of her own party. Despite the fact that she is already the only candidate left, some KMT leaders have not given up hope that one of the heavyweights will be able to join the race at this late stage, perhaps by seeing Hung fail to reach the required 30 percent of polls.
Chu and Wang have done better, if not well enough, in polls pitting them against Tsai, while Wu, who is rumored to be the president’s favorite, has done far worse. As the sitting vice president, he has a front-row seat in the presidential race.
If KMT officials stick to their words, as many believe they will not do, then Hung should become the party’s official candidate to face Tsai.
If the two women become the main presidential hopefuls, the focus of the campaign will actually return to where it should be: not on matters of gender, but on policies.
The voters do not want to witness a battle of the sexes, but want to hear what the new president will do with her new-found power and how this will benefit the people and the country.
In the end, it all comes down to policies. Tsai was already a presidential contender in 2012 and spent years at the top of the DPP, so she is not an unknown quantity. Hung will have far more to prove, which is precisely what some KMT leaders fear, because she has a “deep blue” reputation, being even more anti-Taiwan Independence than President Ma.
A woman running the country is new but should not be feared. Even the most powerful nation on earth, the United States, looks closer than ever to electing a woman president after it lived under its first-ever black president for eight years.
At present, countries like South Korea, Brazil, Argentina and Chile already have female heads of state, while Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel is often rated as the most powerful or influential woman in the world.
France, whose national symbol is Marianne, has a history of producing strong women like Joan of Ark or Napoleon’s wife Josephine de Beauharnais. Marine Le Pen has been leading presidential opinion polls, even though her brand of politics might eventually turn away a majority of moderate voters.
Countries like Bangla Desh, Pakistan and Turkey had women as prime ministers, even though they still did not reach the forefront of women’s rights. Female prime ministers from the past half century such as Indhira Gandhi in India, Golda Meir in Israel and Margaret Thatcher in Great Britain did not suit everybody’s political taste.
The examples show that the most important aspect of leaders is not that they are women, but what their policies bring.
Still, having two women vie for the presidency would raise Taiwan’s international profile to a level way beyond what this island country of 23 million has achieved so far.
The global media will love a confrontation between two presidential women, and will accord Taiwan much more space than it would have otherwise.
So, it’s not just for the benefit of the ruling party that we should hope that Hung makes it whole out of the KMT nomination process, but for the benefit of voters and of the country as a whole.
Taiwan has everything to win, no matter which of the two women win.


Updated : 2021-09-19 10:48 GMT+08:00