TAICHUNG (Taiwan News) — On April 17, 2019 Foxconn (Hon Hai) founder Terry Gou (郭台銘) announced he would be following instructions given to him in a dream by the sea goddess Matsu (媽祖) and run for president by joining the Kuomintang (KMT) primary. However, with his KMT membership lapsed, and the party having a requirement to have been a party member for one year, he wasn’t eligible.
Noting that Gou had arranged a NT$45 million interest-free million using the name of his mother to save the party when it was in dire straits, then KMT Chair Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) rode to the rescue by giving Gou an honorary membership certificate. With this somewhat dubious workaround of the rules, Wu joined the KMT primary.
It turns out that Matsu may have been having a bit of fun with Gou, and he lost the primary to then Kaohsiung Mayor Daniel Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜), coming second with only 27.73% support. He put the blame for his loss on the KMT’s leaders, slamming them as “conservative” and “corrupt,” quit the party in a huff and went on to urge his supporters to vote for the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) or the People’s First Party (PFP) in the 2020 national elections.
It’s all up to 'gods'
Now he’s back. On Sunday (Jan. 22) during two temple visits he told reporters that he had “asked the gods and will let them decide” whether he should run for president. He declined to divulge what their decision was.
We have some hints at what “the gods” might decide. Since 2019 he’s remained politically active and in the spotlight.
He most famously arranged for the import of 10 million vaccines during the pandemic, while also slamming the government repeatedly for their handling of it. When there is a big tragedy in the news, he’s often ready to step up with big donations, ensuring he’ll get big news coverage.
Back in 2019, when asked in an interview if Gou would consider running in 2024, one of his top aides replied “yes.” One senses that “the gods” may have made up their minds already.
Unless “the gods” includes New Taipei Mayor Hou Yu-ih (侯友宜) of the KMT, who is the most popular politician in the country. If Hou decides to run, Gou might think better of it.
If he runs, with what party?
If he runs, the big unanswered question is with which party? Will he go with the KMT again, the Taiwan People’s Party, run as an independent, or even set up his own party?
Speculation has been running rampant in the local press for months, imagining “dream tickets” of him running with Hou Yu-ih of the KMT or former Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) of the TPP. The problem with those hypothetical matchups is who would be willing to play second fiddle as the vice presidential candidate?
Hou has been, and still is, Taiwan’s most popular politician and the one on the pan-blue side with the highest chance of winning, so it’s hard to imagine he’d accept being number two. Gou and Ko have rather high opinions of themselves.
If Gou were younger, it might make sense to dip his toe in the water as a vice presidential candidate, but he’ll be 73 by election day. Waiting four or eight more years for a shot at the top job seems unlikely.
If he decides to try again in a KMT primary, he has some obstacles. Like last time, he’s not a party member at present and runs into the one-year membership rule problem.
It is unclear if Eric Chu (朱立倫), who may have presidential ambitions of his own, would be as accommodating as Wu Den-ih was in 2019. However, multiple polls have shown that if Eric Chu ran he’d come in an embarrassing third behind the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) Lai Ching-te (賴清德) the TPP’s Ko, so Chu needs to consider carefully if running for president is a good idea, or if he should put party interests first.
Then there is the problem of Hou Yu-ih, if he joins the primary polling shows that Hou would beat Gou, who would come in second, like he did in 2019. On the other hand, a recent TVBS poll showed that in two sets of hypothetical presidential matchups comparing Hou and Gou as the KMT's candidate against Lai and Ko, in both cases Hou and Gou were the frontrunners with identical 34% support, so if Hou doesn't run Gou looks to be the KMT's best bet.
Strategically, running as the TPP candidate might be a good bet. Gou would get some KMT voters, Ko supporters and a large chunk of independents.
Aged 63, Ko is young enough to make another run later, his party is in serious danger of turning into a one-man band, so putting Gou at the top of the ticket would strengthen the party and give it a respectable chance to win. Could Ko swallow his ego and his ambitions and step aside for Gou?
If Ko is thinking long-term, he just might. A combined Gou-Ko ticket would be formidable.
Both the KMT and TPP got enough votes in the last election cycle to qualify to simply nominate a presidential candidate and register them. Running as an independent or under the banner of a newly formed party would require signature drives to qualify to register as a candidate, which is a hassle, but Gou could probably throw enough money at it to solve the problem easily enough.
That scenario, however, turns the election into a complicated four-way race. Many of the people who would normally support him at the head of the ticket of either the KMT or TPP would be forced to make some difficult choices, effectively splitting the vote while leaving the pan-green vote united.
If he does run, Gou would be a colorful candidate. He has very powerful strengths, but also very powerful weaknesses. That will be the subject of a future column.