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The KMT's mega dilemma

Eric Chu has to decide whether to allow Terry Gou into the presidential primary

The KMT's mega dilemma

(CNA photo)

TAICHUNG (Taiwan News) — For the last few weeks, the politics sections on every local Chinese language news website have been packed with articles regarding Foxconn founder Terry Gou’s (郭台銘) allegedly divinely-approved bid to rejoin the Kuomintang (KMT) so he can run in their presidential primary. The speculation and opinion on the subject has hit a fever pitch.

It is highly likely that he will be allowed to rejoin the party. The giant question looming over the political scene is when, which is up to KMT Chair Eric Chu (朱立倫) and presumably the membership committee (which usually votes the way the chair indicates).

As background for this column, yesterday’s column “Who is Taiwan's 'Genghis Khan' at the gates of KMT?” delves into the origins of the current situation, the background of Terry Gou, and all the trials and tribulations of his last primary run. In a nutshell, Terry Gou claimed that he was told by Matsu in a dream to run for president in 2019, lost in the primary, impetuously attacked the KMT, and renounced his party membership.

Party rules state that he is only eligible to rejoin the party after four years, which is this September, after the primary.

In 2019, the KMT changed its rules to accommodate Gou joining the primary by lifting the one-year membership requirement to run. If Eric Chu wants him to run, he can figure out a way — and everyone knows it.

Chu faces a complicated dilemma

This creates a complicated dilemma for Chu. Chu is a skilled politician and shrewdly punted the decision until after the upcoming March 4 Nantou legislative by-election, claiming that he was putting his full attention into that race.

I don’t buy that, of course, but it was a very smart move. It allows him to see how Gou is playing in the press, time to see who and how many in his party are for and against Gou and how strongly, and also to see if Gou either makes another gaffe or comes up with a sweetener for the party, like a major cash donation.

Probably the most basic consideration for Chu is whether he thinks he has a shot at winning himself. There is no doubt he wants another shot at running for president after having lost in 2016, but the polling looks grim.

Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation (TPOF) polling shows that in a primary competing against Terry Gou, New Taipei Mayor Hou Yu-ih (侯友宜) and media personality Jaw Shaw-kong's (趙少康), Eric Chu comes in third at 7.9%, well behind Gou and Hou, though ahead of Jaw. That poll didn’t include now-declared candidate Chang Ya-chung (張亞中), but both Gou and Hou would likely poll well ahead of Chang as well.

For Chu to win the primary, he’d have to see off Gou and Hou. However, Hou hasn’t declared if he’s running or not, which complicates matters — Hou is Taiwan’s most popular politician.

TVBS polled hypothetical three-way matchups between three potential KMT candidates, the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) Lai Ching-te (賴淸德) and the Taiwan People’s Party’s Ko Wen-je (柯文哲). When the KMT candidate was either Hou or Gou, they had the highest support at 34%, but when the candidate was Chu, he scored a paltry 14% and came in dead last after Lai and Ko.

Chu faces the reality of his own unelectability

Faced with this grim fact, he may well have decided he would be better off politically by trying to score a big win as party chair by getting a KMT president elected in hopes of getting a plum reward like being chosen as premier. There would be some irony if Hou won. Hou was Chu’s protege and a deputy mayor of his when Chu was New Taipei mayor.

Chu is talking like he realizes he might not be a good candidate. He’s repeatedly been saying that he will “selflessly” work to get the “strongest candidate.”

In spite of Hou having previously been his protege, there are rumors of a rift between the two, and Hou has bucked Chu as party chair in very public ways, including standing him up just the other day. That being said, Chu recently praised Hou as a strong “hen” (母雞) able to boost the electability of downstream candidates (chicks, 小雞).

Hou has not yet declared his candidacy, which is a major problem for Chu, who is deciding whether to admit Gou to run in the primary. If Gou is allowed in, and then Hou enters the race, the primary could badly fracture the party, which happened when Gou entered the 2019 race.

However, it could be worse if Gou is rebuffed and Hou doesn’t enter the race. Then the KMT would be left without a strong candidate unless Taichung Mayor Lu Shiow-yen (盧秀燕) can be convinced to join.

Even worse, if rejected, Gou could run as an independent, create a new party or even potentially run with the Taiwan People’s Party, though both Gou and Ko Wen-je so far have talked like that won’t happen. However, things can, and often do, change dramatically in Taiwan politics and that can’t be ruled out (a topic explored at length in this previous column).

The newspapers have been chock full of talk that Hou and Gou have an arrangement between the two whereby if one declares the other won’t run. I haven’t been able to find a shred of proof that such an arrangement has been made, and neither of them appears to have in any way indicated it exists.

If Gou were to run outside of the KMT, with his funding he would cause quite a splash and split the pan-blue vote. Lai Ching-te is probably hoping this is exactly what will happen.

Gou’s support within the KMT

Chu also has internal politics to consider. The powerful 49er families that fled the Chinese Civil War that have powerful sway within the party are widely suspicious of Hou, whose family has been in Taiwan for hundreds of years, and suspect he may be another secret pro-independence supporter like former President Lee Tung-hui (李登輝) because Hou studiously avoids the topic.

Gou is from a 49er family, has strong ties to China, is suspicious of buying weapons from the United States, and is ideologically deep blue — so on paper he should appeal to them. Though he has his supporters in the party, intriguingly some deep blue politicians have come out against him — my suspicion is due to a combination of the damage he did to party unity last time, and because he hasn’t been loyal to the KMT in past.

Deep blue firebrand Alex Tsai (蔡正元) declared if Gou became the party’s nominee he’d “leave the party and support Lai Ching-te” and that if the party changed the rules to allow Gou in the primary the KMT would be like a “public toilet.” While it’s inconceivable Tsai would actually support Lai, it is a strong statement from Tsai, even by his rather outrageous standards.

Also, intriguingly deep blue former KMT Chair Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱) has strongly thrown her support behind Hou, not Gou. Alex Tsai supports Chang Ya-chung, which is less surprising.

Deep blue media outlet Want Want China Times Chair Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明) reportedly is unhappy with Gou, though he denies it. That the China Times recently ran an editorial headlined “Will the KMT be defiled by Terry Gou once again” suggests otherwise.

I spend hours every day going through local media across the political spectrum, and my sense is that opposition to Gou in the KMT is stronger than his support by a fair margin, at least judging by the comments of KMT politicians. Referring to Gou’s seeking out approval from deities to run, a KMT city councilor mocked him by asking “will everything in international and domestic affairs be decided by divination?”

Gou’s electability

Chu will also have to consider Gou’s electability. In the TVBS poll mentioned above, he came out ahead of both Lai Ching-te and Ko Wen-je, garnering the same 34% support as when Hou was the polled candidate.

Gou is also very well-known, popular, and admired for his business acumen. His support for his former employee Ann Kao (高虹安) was considered a significant factor in her winning the Hsinchu mayoral race.

He’s one of the richest people in the country. That’s a big plus for a party that is as cash-strapped as the KMT.

But Chu knows better, he’s too shrewd a politician not to. First, Gou has only ever run in one presidential primary, and is vastly less experienced in politics than Hou Yu-ih or Chu.

Then there is the matter of Gou’s ideology and his character, which was laid out in yesterday’s column. In summary, he is gaffe-prone, thin-skinned, and prone to angry outbursts.

He is also ideologically far too deep blue for mainstream voters, has extensive ties with China, is reportedly on good terms with Xi Jinping, and has said disparaging things about democracy, all of which will come under serious scrutiny if he does become the nominee. In 2018, KMT nominee Daniel Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) started the year well ahead in the polls but as the public grew more aware of his similarly deep-blue ideology the voters sent him down to a landslide defeat.

Eric Chu has a really tough decision to make. If he lets Gou in, the KMT primary is going to be a wild ride.

Courtney Donovan Smith (石東文) is a regular contributing columnist for Taiwan News, the central Taiwan correspondent for ICRT FM100 Radio News, co-publisher of Compass Magazine, co-founder of Taiwan Report ( and former chair of the Taichung American Chamber of Commerce. For more columns by the author, click here. Follow him on Twitter: @donovan_smith.