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From running mate to stumbling mate

From running mate to stumbling mate

Only last week did Kuomintang Chairman Eric Liluan Chu announce that he had picked former labor minister Jennifer Wang as his running mate in the January 16 presidential election. At the time, we wrote that vice presidents are supposed to be quiet and to stay in the background. They are usually selected because they complement the main candidate in one aspect, such as gender, ethnic background or professional experience.
Chu described himself as a specialist in economic policies and relations with China, while saying that Wang would bring a social dimension to the ticket given her reputation as a women’s rights and labor activist.
All a vice-presidential candidate has to do, is to be shown in the media as the perfect running mate complementing the main candidate. However, the worst thing that could happen is that the vice-presidential candidate drags down the ticket through words and actions which damage its reputation.
Barely one week passed between the news of Chu’s choice and the ticket’s registration with the Central Election Commission, or Wang already turned out to be a major distraction from Chu’s already shaky position.
The vice-presidential contender should have been either a plus or value-neutral, but instead she quickly developed into a minus which the KMT cannot afford, given its already paltry point of departure.
As Chu still scores more than 20 percent lower in the opinion polls than Democratic Progressive Party leader Tsai Ing-wen and talk about a DPP majority at the Legislative Yuan grows louder, the last thing the ruling party wants is to be running around dousing fires started by its vice-presidential candidate.
Before her selection, Wang must have looked to the labor leadership as the ideal person to offset an image of the KMT as the party of the rich, which was reinforced by the choice of former Vice President Lien Chan’s son Sean Lien to run for mayor of Taipei City against political novice Ko Wen-je last year.
Before joining the government in 2008, Wang was known as an activist for women’s rights and for labor rights, the type of person one was more likely to find on the DPP side of the political spectrum.
Even though that reputation obviously contributed to her pairing with Chu, it should have been clear from her period in government that she could not expect a free ride.
As soon as her nomination by the KMT became known, labor groups took to the streets to remind the public of certain aspects of her policies between 2008 and 2012 which were anything but labor-friendly.
She sued laid-off factory workers to return government subsidies, she promoted unpaid leave and she advocated the NT$22,000 monthly wage for young people, activists said.
As soon as the critics spoke out, Wang did what most government officials would do: she blamed her predecessors. Wang claimed that all those policies had been launched by the previous labor minister, Chen Chu, conveniently now serving as head of the Tsai campaign office, and that she had only been executing a process in progress.
When Chen denied the allegations and the story did not seem to stick, Wang reportedly still tried to downplay her part in the unpopular policies, which looked anything like they were taken by an official supposedly sympathetic to the problems of working-class people.
However, it has been a bunch of allegations completely unrelated to her policies as labor minister which has damaged her image the most. Wang also became the target of accusations of speculation and profit-making surrounding government-linked real estate.
At first, Wang was accused of buying a military dwelling and reselling it at a profit. While there is no law barring somebody without any ties to the military – such as Wang – from purchasing such apartments, the move looked suspiciously like a government official taking advantage of a privileged position to make money. Wang denied any illegal or unsuitable behavior, saying she had bought the place on behalf of her sister.
However, the first accusations had not died down, or it became known that three different military properties had been involved, turning the alleged process from an isolated incident into what looked like a regular money-making scheme.
Following the allegations about speculation with military apartments, it was revealed that her husband, a Judicial Yuan official, lived with her at a low-rent apartment for government officials. The rent was so far below market prices that it again elicited accusations of government privilege, especially in a in a city where housing prices have become unaffordable but for the well-off. Wang and her husband defended their presence by saying the apartment was more than ten years old and they had spent a considerable amount of money on reparation and restoration. Nevertheless, they later announced they would move out soon.
The latest accusations looked like a slap in the face of hard-working low-wage citizens, especially considering Wang’s background as a labor activist.
The list of embarrassing allegations did not end there though, because KMT lawmaker Lo Shu-lei came up with the story that Wang had also bought a piece of land from a farmer in the Miaoli countryside but later forced the same person to buy it back at a much higher price. Lo’s motivation was drawn into question as she was said to be seeking revenge against the KMT for not being nominated on the party’s at-large legislative list. The wife of the farmer in question later appeared in public to deny the lawmaker’s story.
The accusations, true or not, looked like depicting the former social activist as indulging in profiteering off the back of the taxpayer, the military and the farmers.
The last time the KMT was faced with an unpopular candidate, it just replaced her. Just last October, a party congress ended Legislative Vice Speaker Hung Hsiu-chu’s presidential bid and replaced her with Chu, but that strategy won’t work with Wang, as both candidates on the ticket already registered with the Central Election Commission Wednesday.
Given the general feeling of tiredness among the electorate with KMT government members and politicians, the party cannot afford any more stumbling on the way to the January 16 ballot box. Chu’s selection of Wang looks like another serious misstep which will only subtract points from the KMT’s chances. The stumbling also looks like a choice for the party’s ticket will only prolong the era of President Ma Ying-jeou, with Chu looking more and more like the “Ma 2.0” of Taiwan politics which critics have already described.


Updated : 2021-09-23 04:47 GMT+08:00