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Terry Gou’s KMT candidacy could help DPP in Taiwan presidential election

A primary battle between Gou and Han could show KMT more divided than DPP and may open the door for an outsider

Terry Gou.

Terry Gou. (CNA photo)

KAOHSIUNG (Taiwan News) -- The KMT presidential candidate race is back in the spotlight this week after it was announced that the President of Hon Hai/Foxconn, one of Taiwan’s biggest and most successful companies, was entering the fray.

Terry Gou (郭台銘) has no formal political experience but the success of his business has seen him glad-handing the great and good across the globe.

However, it is his connections to the powerful and not-so-good Communist leaders in China that are most controversial. Gou has said little in the past few days to belie fears that he is another KMT pro-unification candidate.

Despite his candidacy only being announced on Saturday, Gou has already put his foot in it on several occasions. The most worrying of his comments to date is his statement that “democracy alone does not provide food to eat.”

The not so subtle meaning behind this phrase seems to be that he is willing to sell-out Taiwan’s democracy if he thinks the economic terms are right. Given his personal and business links to Communist China, this is a hugely concerning position to take and suggests he poses a significant threat to Taiwan’s democracy and sovereignty.

He has been widely attacked for this comment and rightly so. President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said that democratic candidates needed to have democratic credentials before accusing Gou and the KMT of trying to take Taiwan into Communist China’s flawed "One Country Two Systems" model.

Meanwhile, the leader of the New Power Party (NPP), Huang Kuo-chang (黃國昌) highlighted an MIT study which showed that, contrary to Gou’s suggestions, democracy and genuine GDP growth (as opposed to China’s politically massaged figures) are intrinsically linked.

Gou will no doubt make many more ill-advised comments of this nature during the primary process. The question is what impact his candidacy will have on the KMT party as a whole.

A civil war in the offing?

There has been much comment about the rivalry between President Tsai and William Lai (賴淸德). Some commentators have suggested that it is dividing the DPP and alienating voters, implying that this will work to the KMT's advantage.

However, the KMT’s primaries are shaping up to be even more brutal. Terry Gou is a successful businessman who is used to getting what he wants. He will not have entered this race with any other intention than winning. It seems certain that he will say and do whatever he needs to achieve this goal.

But he is also an outsider, albeit a high-profile one, with no prior political experience. He is likely to face at least one established KMT political figure with several others already hinting at a run.

The KMT is far from a united party and such a battle could prove deeply damaging for their electoral chances, especially if focus remains on their pro-China agenda which a substantial majority of Taiwanese people fundamentally oppose.

If there is one KMT name that could unite the party at the moment it is a man who is every bit as prone to a gaff as Terry Gou. Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) swept to victory in the Kaohsiung Mayoral elections last November and his brand of brash populism littered with rhetoric, invective, and no shortage of lies and false promises has, for some reason, proved popular with KMT supporters across the country.

Even before he won in Kaohsiung he was being touted as a possible presidential candidate. He has used the suggestion to keep himself in the headlines, never categorically confirming or denying his interest in the role.

However, his comment that he needs to “help Taiwan in order to help Kaohsiung” suggests that he would be more than happy to abandon the city in order to run for president if the opportunity arose.

Whether he will or not remains up in the air, despite his much anticipated and publicised announcement yesterday. Han was expected to announce his candidacy, but instead he ruled out taking part in the KMT primaries “under the current system.”

His comments and "five major points" suggest a man who now firmly believes his own hype. He essentially said he was not willing to compete against the likes of Terry Gou and expected a coronation rather than a campaign.

Han's reluctance to go up against Terry Gou may be a smart position to take. Gou is, after all, all the things Han claims to be, but isn’t. He is a successful businessman rather than a career politician and has a genuine track record of economic success and employment-creation, items which Han boasted of himself during his mayoral campaign.

A showdown between these two high-profile candidates could be a bruising battle with no guarantee that the winner would take all. After all, recent polls suggest that William Lai would beat both Han and Gou as things stand.

Han thinks he now has the leverage to avoid such a tussle. As a newcomer, Terry Gou has no choice but to play by the existing rules. Given that his announcement was a formal KMT affair, it would seem odd for the party to then pull the plug and hand the candidacy to Han unopposed.

It also seems unlikely that Han will let this one opportunity for the top job pass him by. After all, his bluster and bravado is going to come unstuck sooner or later. It is unlikely he can survive five years as Kaohsiung Mayor unscathed.

A third way?

This suggests that the scene is set for a KMT civil war. If the DPP can resolve their own internal differences quickly, that could work to their advantage.

But it could also open the way up for a third way to emerge. Independent Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) is often mentioned. His polling isn’t great but he has won Taipei twice in a row without the support of either major party.

Or perhaps another dark-horse candidate could emerge to shake up the system. A high-profile openly pro-independence figure perhaps? We shall have to wait and see, but what is certain is that the race for the 2020 presidential elections is going to be the most fiercely fought in Taiwan’s short democratic history.