Han Kuo-yu recall leaves Kaohsiung at a crossroads

With tit-for-tat recalls and a big generational divide, Kaohsiung’s political immediate future is on a knife-edge.

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(CNA photo)

KAOHSIUNG (Taiwan News) – Since the result of Saturday’s recall election in Kaohsiung and the subsequent tragic news about the apparent suicide of Kaohsiung Council-Speaker Hsu Kun-yuan (許崑源), the mood in Kaohsiung has been strange.

While those who opposed Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) are elated that they have succeeded in removing him, their celebrations have been tempered somewhat by the tragedy that followed hot on the heels of the result being announced.

Those who still backed Han, despite the lack of progress he had made on any of his election promises, were angered by the result and even more so when they heard about the death of Hsu.

The Han camp has done little to quell that sense of anger and the hastily announced farewell event looks set to stoke those feelings still further.

There will, no doubt, be an investigation into the death of Hsu Kun-yuan and the reasons why he apparently felt the need to take his own life. It is too early to say whether this will be related to the failings of the Han administration and anything else that might emerge about his time in office.

But if anyone thought that the removal of Han would help to heal the chasm that his election has created in Kaohsiung, and indeed Taiwanese society more widely, they are sadly mistaken.

The case of Jie Huang

You only have to look at the treatment of New Power Party City Councilor Jie Huang (黃捷) when she went to pay her respects to Hsu Kun-yuan at the funeral home where his body was resting.

Jie has been one of the most vocal critics of the Han administration and has publicly challenged the former Mayor and his team over their myriad of failures and broken promises on numerous occasions.

On arriving to pay her respects to Hsu, Jie was told in no uncertain terms that her presence was not welcome. One female city government worker, Wu Qiuli (吳秋麗), the current director of Legal Affairs Bureau of the Kaohsiung City Government, apparently criticized her for wearing red lipstick and no mask and told her she was despised and not welcome because of her political allegiance.

Jie left the funeral home in tears and told the media gathered outside that as a fellow Councilor, she had every right to pay her respect. She noted that KMT councilors who were laughing, joking, and taking selfies outside the funeral home were not similarly chastised and plenty of other people who attended had worn red lipstick and far more inappropriate attire.

If such personal abuse were not bad enough, Han’s supporters have also taken it upon themselves to try and launch a series of so-called ‘revenge recalls’, with Jie Huang one of the main targets.

With thresholds for recalling councilors much lower than the Mayor, such recalls have a decent chance of succeeding.

Jie Huang is a Councilor for Fengshan District where there are 294,083 voters registered. The threshold for the first stage of her recall will require just 2,941 signatures while the second stage will only need 29,409. To remove her from office, a mere 73,521 people need to support the recall motion.

A divided city

Such tit-for-tat political scalpings serve no-ones interests and appear to come straight from the Chinese Communist Party’s playbook. While the removal of politicians who fail to deliver is perfectly legitimate, no democratic society should tolerate the removal of politicians merely as an act of revenge.

It is possible that the momentum behind a campaign such as this will drop off as Han’s administration fades into history, but to assume this is the case is to underestimate the determination of his backers.

Many of Han’s supporters were elderly ex-public sector workers who were angered by President Tsai’s pension reforms and bought into Han’s rhetoric and the wave of fake news that brought him into power.

While the man himself might have been removed, the wave of propaganda, much of it originating from Communist China is still there. LINE groups and Facebook pages are full of conspiracy theories and fake stories designed to stir up Han’s supporters.

This propaganda continues to stoke up tensions in the city where there is a growing generational divide with many families split into older generations who supported Han and the children and grandchildren who opposed him.

It was no coincidence that Wu Qiuli justified her attack on Jie Huang at the funeral home by saying she was older than her and therefore perfectly entitled to level such criticism.

DPP must avoid playing politics with Kaohsiung

The removal of Han Kuo-yu is a big step forward for Kaohsiung, but there is much more that needs to be done to ensure his toxic legacy doesn’t linger. The KMT is still licking its wounds in Kaohsiung and has little motivation to help deliver this, so the onus is on the DPP.

They must put an interim Mayor of Kaohsiung in place that both political parties can support, even if the KMT’s backing is grudging.

Yang Ming-jou (楊明州) is the man they have chosen. He is a career civil servant but having served as Deputy Mayor under previous DPP incumbent Chen Chu (陳菊) is unlikely to be the unifying character the city really needs.

More importantly, the DPP needs to put forward a candidate for the Mayoral elections who can offer a clean break with the past and a bold, bright, and united new future for the city.

The suggestion that Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁), the current Deputy Premier and candidate who lost to Han Kuo-yu in humiliating fashion just 18 months ago, might be the man they go with is therefore deeply troubling.

His candidacy will simply fuel the feeling among Han supporters that their votes have been overturned by the DPP government who are determined to install their preferred candidate come what may.

Regardless of Chen’s policies, his candidacy will only serve to drive a further wedge into Kaohsiung society and further alienate Han supporters. It will also drive more support behind anti-democratic tit-for-tat recalls that could ultimately end up making a mockery of a vital democratic tool.

It is vital that the DPP does not choose Chen Chi-mai. Ideally, it should be someone slightly older who is able to bring together Kaohsiung’s feuding generations and restore faith in the city’s democracy.

Han Kuo-yu is gone. But he leaves Kaohsiung at a crossroads and in a very fragile state.

Responsibility for the city’s future in the short term lies with the DPP. But they must make decisions in the best interests of the city and the country, and not for their own political agenda.