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VP choices more important than ever

VP choices more important than ever

Legally speaking, at the moment there is only one presidential candidate for the January 16 election. Democratic Progressive Party Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen was nominated unanimously by her party and that will not change. Since last November’s opposition success in local elections, she has been the almost unchallenged frontrunner in the race.
On the “blue” side of politics, the picture is more confused. While Legislative Vice Speaker Hung Hsiu-chu survived the Kuomintang’s primary process, she still needs to be confirmed by the ruling party’s congress on July 19. Every step of the way, her campaign has been dogged by rumors that the KMT would not nominate her because she was not a viable candidate.
Potential contenders from within the party, with Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng in particular, said they were not interested in joining the race, despite persistent rumors that they would step in at one time or another.
Outside the two major parties, former DPP Chairman Shih Ming-teh announced a bid, but even if he survives the rigorous registration process, few opinion polls give him more than 2 or 3 percent.
People First Party Chairman James Soong has not declared yet, but is widely expected to do so some time after the KMT congress, possibly to look at how Hung will be doing in the opinion polls. At present, Soong has been pulling ahead in some surveys, making his candidacy more likely. If the KMT does choose Hung and no dissidents emerge, the present move of some disaffected ruling party members in Soong’s direction could continue and grow stronger, making another presidential bid by the PFP founder irrevocable.
While the election is still six months away and opinion polls are likely to swing back and forth several times according to current political issues and revelations by the media, an important element could be the impact of the choice of running mate on public perception.
While vice presidents usually stay in the background once they are elected, during the campaign they can be complimentary and make up for the main candidate’s alleged shortcomings.
In the United States, the vice president usually comes from another part of the country. If the president comes from New England or the Midwest, a Southerner might be the preferred running mate.
While Taiwan might not have such stark regional differences, the ethnic factor might still play a role, with a presidential candidate from the “mainlander” minority picking a representative of the “native Taiwanese” majority, or the other way round. President Ma Ying-jeou choosing Vincent Siew and later Wu Den-yih are the clearest examples of such an ethnic balance.
A male candidate might also pick a female candidate, as the DPP’s Chen Shui-bian did with Annette Lu in 2000 and 2004. This time around, the gender factor might be less likely to play a role as both major candidates are women.
The candidates might also try to expand their power base by reaching outside their traditional sources of support. They could seek a non-politician, someone like an academic or medical professional without far-reaching political experience but with enough social prestige to persuade more centrist voters and even supporters of the opposite side to come around to the ticket.
Another possibility is to find a politician from another political group which would move supporters of that party closer to the main candidate. In this scenario, Tsai could pick someone from the Taiwan Solidarity Union or from the new groups which emerged from last year’s Sunflower Movement, such as the New Power Party or the Social Democratic Party. It might not be necessary for Tsai to take that path, since her lead in the opinion polls is already high and the supporters of those small parties are highly unlikely to vote for anyone but Tsai anyway.
Former Vice President Annette Lu gave her the advice not to reach beyond the DPP to find a running mate. Still, Tsai is now in a position where she can do pretty much anything. As she said herself, the most important thing about a running mate is his quality and virtue. The opposition candidate can afford to find a vice-presidential contender anywhere she can, on the condition that he or she represent the basic values that she shares about the future of Taiwan and the need for open and clean politics.
The situation is again more confused on the “blue” side.
It would be natural for the KMT’s Hung to go and find a man who is a native Taiwanese, but the main requirement might be that he is able to offset the impact of her disastrous foray into cross-straits policies.
Hung’s tendency to make grand pronouncements and her One China views means she might be a racing car on the brink of veering out of the bend and into the ravine of irrelevance.
For a party which already faces widespread criticism over being too pro-China and of making Taiwan too economically dependent on its communist neighbor, moving even further in Beijing’s direction is the wrong strategy to follow.
A wise choice of running mate might bring Hung back in the opinion polls, though many factors suggest that could be too late. Voters already on edge over her China views and over President Ma Ying-jeou’s China-leaning policies are unlikely to forget them just because of Hung’s vice-presidential choice, even though one never knows. Voters are sometimes quick to forget a politician’s missteps.
In any event, Hung is the candidate who has the most to win if she can bring herself to make a wise choice of running mate.
As the outsider on the “blue” side of politics, Soong will have to evaluate his choice carefully as well. In the past, he has played the outsider card, picking native Taiwanese with no political reputation or experience. In 2004 of course, he was the running mate with then-KMT Chairman Lien Chan, a ticket which narrowly failed to win.
While his heyday looks over, the PFP leader could still surprise by attracting KMT voters worried about Hung’s China stance and her lack of experience. While he is also seen as a unification supporter, Soong has long based his appeal on his experience as the last governor of Taiwan, when he stomped around the country to visit locals. This image is likely to overcome any public doubts about his China views.
Again, a choice of running mate might improve his standing with prospective voters. As a native of Hunan Province, he will also need a native Taiwanese while considering his long experience in politics, a younger candidate might also do the trick.
As the campaign heats up, the media are certain to fire off questions about the choices of running mate on a daily basis. All candidates need to take their distance and pick a vice-presidential candidate who will bring dignity to the office and who is talented, clean and wise enough to complement the presidential contender’s weaker places, while being able to replace him or her if need be.
The January 16 election might signify the end of an era in Taiwanese politics, and even the vice-presidential candidates could play a role in how that turns out. The choice of a running mate is likely to be more important than ever as it could influence the fate of the ticket as a whole.


Updated : 2021-09-17 15:44 GMT+08:00