TAICHUNG (Taiwan News) — Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) presidential candidate Ko Wen-je (柯文哲, aka ‘Ko P’) is increasingly in the driver’s seat in negotiations to unify the opposition to “take down” Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate and current Vice President Lai Ching-te (賴清德).
Not only has Ko been continuously courted by the fading independent candidate Terry Gou (郭台銘), but now powerful figures in the Kuomintang (KMT) are coming out in support of a Ko-led ticket. In a shift in tone since just a week ago, the opposition appears to be putting the acrimony aside and getting serious about trying to make something work. The pressure on all three camps is intense.
It is not hard to see why. Opposition figures regularly say that 60% or even 65% of the public wants a change in administration, and while their numbers are wrong, their fundamental point is correct that a majority wants a change.
Likely they are looking at polling which asks whether they want the DPP to retain control of both the executive and legislative branches, and some polls suggest that nearly 60% do support the DPP losing one or the other. Polling on the DPP losing the executive branch only, or adding up the support for all the opposition candidates on our Taiwan News Poll of Polls, indicate support in the low 50s, though still a majority.
In the last column, we looked at the faltering efforts to form a unity KMT-TPP ticket. In it, the representatives of each campaign put forward plans to determine the top of the ticket that the other side would not accept, and very public recriminations followed.
Big changes in the landscape
Two big things have since changed. One is that Ko has met in person with KMT candidate Hou Yu-ih (侯友宜) and KMT Party Chair Eric Chu (朱立倫).
The other is that the chairman of the Broadcasting Corporation of China, media personality, former politician, and founder of the Blue Fighters (戰鬥藍) political grouping, Jaw Shaw-kong (趙少康), dropped a bombshell shift in opinion after insisting until just last week that Hou must be at the top of the ticket. He is now calling for the KMT to accept Ko as the presidential candidate if he wins — as expected — in a polling primary, Gou as the vice presidential candidate, and Hou to form the Cabinet as premier.
That Ko is meeting with Chu directly is highly significant. Unlike Hou and the Hou campaign, as head of the party, his viewpoint is what is best for the party as a whole.
There is still some sniping between the Hou and Ko camps in the media, but the tone coming from Chu is more upbeat on cooperation. Aside from discussing a unity presidential ticket, Chu and Ko are discussing cooperation in the legislative elections and a coalition government if they win.
The parties have already been loosely cooperating in legislative elections in a few districts, with each party backing off fielding a candidate to let the other face off against the DPP unopposed by fellow opposition parties. They are discussing extending this to try and maximize their collective clout in the legislature to block the DPP from regaining the majority. A post-election coalition government has been proposed by Ko for a while, but now it appears specifics are being negotiated between the parties.
Chu potentially has the power to engineer the sacking of Hou as the party’s presidential candidate if he decides it is worthwhile. He did just that during a previous stint as party chair in 2015, replacing a sinking candidate with himself in that case.
Possible outlines of a deal
If Chu can swallow the ignominy of his over 100-year-old party not fielding a candidate this time, the outlines of potential deals beneficial to both sides can be envisioned. Several crucial bargaining chips are on the table that Ko can play.
One of Ko’s campaign promises is to strengthen the role of the premier in the government, at the expense of the role of the president. He is polling higher than Hou, so he would be the obvious better presidential candidate, but Hou could be offered the premiership and given power to form the cabinet.
That might be paired with a promise that the reverse would happen in the 2028 election, with the KMT candidate running for president and Ko promised the premiership. They might also alternate parties on which party the vice presidential candidate comes from.
These arrangements would mean that jointly they would be co-ruling parties if they won. Other possible arrangements could be made, but the most likely posts for horse trading are president and premier.
Chu would prefer that the KMT be the ruling party outright, but he might calculate that gaining control over the cabinet would be better than the alternative of getting nothing and the DPP returning to power. If he wanted to pursue such a deal, he would need to not only convince Hou it is a good idea but would probably need to get power brokers in the party to back him, including former President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who might not be keen on the idea.
The calculation for Ko is split, on the one hand, if he becomes president that boosts the visibility of himself and his four-year-old party and gives him real power, but on the other hand, it dilutes the TPP brand by merging it potentially too closely to the much larger KMT and risking getting absorbed in the process.
Hints of progress
The question is whether or not they are discussing these types of arrangements. They forgot my invitation to the meetings, so I can not be sure.
However, Ko said something interesting to the press on Friday (Oct. 20). While he confirmed that at this point both parties are still independently running presidential candidates, when speaking of a potential future coalition candidate cabinet he said: “If there is cooperation with the KMT, the KMT has more people than the TPP, of course (they would be) the main force.”
Meanwhile, CNA is citing an inside party source as saying that the Hou campaign is holding off on publicly opening their national campaign office to see if the negotiations make progress. This suggests there may have been some movement in the negotiations since the apparent deadlock last week.
They will likely be able to reach agreements on cooperating in the legislative races and on a potential coalition government. It will be harder to reach an agreement on the presidential race, but it is looking less unlikely now that they have taken this out of the hands of underlings and are tackling it at the highest level.
There is another potentially major piece of the puzzle that could complicate things further. Terry Gou is making statements to the effect that his negotiations with Ko are fairly far along.
We will tackle that in the next column.