TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- An opinion piece in Up Media posted on Friday (May 10) examines the reasons behind the sudden rise and fall of support for Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜).
When Han won the Kaohsiung mayoral election in November, he was riding a surge of support among voters which became referred to as the "Han wave" (韓流). However, after a controversial trip to China, proposed free trade zone, unanswered questions from councilors, campaign funding revelations, and an indecisive bid for the Taiwan presidency, the "Han wave" has deteriorated into the "cold wave" (寒流).
In 2018, with the motto "a bowl of minced pork rice and a bottle of mineral water," Han went south to Kaohsiung to run for mayor with the odds stacked against him. However, his appeal to "northern wanderers" to return to vote with the catchy slogan "people will come, goods will go out, and Kaohsiung will become rich" (貨出得去、人進得來，高雄發大財), he won 89,000 votes in the Kaohsiung mayoral election.
The Democratic Progressive Party lost Kaohsiung and found itself losing its stronghold for 20 years to the Han wave. What had been eight Kuomingtang (KMT) counties and cities, became 15.
Blue (KMT) supporters were overjoyed because the popularity and hope had been restored to the party. Han was like a savior to those disappointed with the DPP.
Although he had no profound economic theory, his "Kaohsiung will become rich" (高雄發大財) slogan gave those from the lowest rungs of society hope and attracted many loyal "Han fans." However, this very slogan was like a fuse that started to cause those at the grassroots level to begin to take pause at the rhetoric.
When a Kaohsiung City Council member asked a question about his proposed free economic zone in Kaohsiung on May 3, Han dodged the inquiry by simply repeating his slogan, "Kaohsiung will become rich."
Video of Han's response quickly spread to the internet and started to cause a backlash. Netizens criticized him for dodging questions and only using empty words.
On May 9, another member of the City Council questioned Han about the construction of the Qiaotou Science Park. He again dodged the question and answered by saying, "Ask the deputy director of the Bureau of Economic Development to reply to me and I will answer the question."
He then refused to stand to answer questions by saying "Why should I stand like a student?" Large numbers of netizens then took screenshots of the exchange and shared the video, causing negative comments about Han to surge again.
The myth of Han's Spartan "a bowl of minced pork rice and a bottle of mineral water" campaign was shattered after it became known that his election campaign had received NT$129 million (US$4.1 million) in donations and had spent NT$114 million, leaving only NT$15.6 million unspent. As soon as the figures were released, "people woke up to the realization the that actual value of the bowl of minced pork rice and bottled water was actually NT$129 million," wrote Up Media.
The performance of Han's appointees has also been less than stellar thus far. Tourism Bureau Director Pan Heng-hsu (潘恆旭) had originally boasted that Hong Kong singer G.E.M. and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger would come to Kaohsiung, but both visits fell through.
A few days ago, it came to light that Kao Mei-lan (高美蘭), the Tourism Bureau Executive Secretary was the "girlfriend" of Han's wife Li Chia-fen (李佳芬). This raised questions of nepotism in the city government.
There are also signs of dissent among the ranks of KMT leaders, with a video leaked on Tuesday (May 7) showing KMT legislator Wayne Chiang (蔣萬安) telling a person when he thought the microphone was off that "Han fans are irrational and I have no idea why they are supporting him." Chiang was then attacked relentlessly for the next two days by Han fans, some of whom even threatened to kill him.
The Up Media piece closed by saying, "Politicians are becoming more and more like internet stars, who want to have a voice on the social network. But when the tide recedes, the kind of leader Taiwan needs is a naked person, not a god. Maybe after Chiang's microphone is turned off, one can think clearly."