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Facing 'complicated' negotiations with KMT, Ko Wen-je may deal with Terry Gou instead

While still trying to strike a deal with KMT, Ko campaign also eyeing cooperation with Gou

Facing 'complicated' negotiations with KMT, Ko Wen-je may deal with Terry Gou instead

(CNA photo)

TAICHUNG (Taiwan News) — On October 23, the nationalistic Chinese state-owned Global Times wrote the following:

“At present, the ruling secessionist DPP's candidate for the island leader election Lai Ching-te's advantage over the opposition party candidates is further narrowing. And once the two opposition parties negotiate successfully and forge a non-DPP coalition, the election will be very unfavorable to Lai.”

Note the wording, they wrote “once the two opposition parties negotiate successfully,” not “if the two opposition parties negotiate successfully.” Is this wishful thinking on their part, or do they know something we do not?

There is nothing in the press suggesting that they are making any progress. If anything, the situation has gotten more contentious between the two sides.

Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) presidential candidate Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) accused the camp of Kuomintang (KMT) candidate Hou Yu-ih (侯友宜) of trying to create a “forced marriage,” which bizarrely and somewhat cringeworthily seemed to lead everyone to liken the situation to a romance or wedding. Both Ko and Hou have been trading barbs with each other in the media.

KMT Chair Eric Chu (朱立倫) has been doing his best to rise above the sniping between the two camps and keep a positive outlook, but so far to no avail. He has had more success getting the parties to cooperate in district legislative seats. The latest example of cooperation between the two will see the TPP’s candidate in the Banqiao East District race step aside and throw his support behind the KMT’s candidate.

Hou on Friday (Oct. 27) said “it is not the matchmaker who decides, the final decision on a marriage is mine.” This statement is fairly obviously directed at Eric Chu.

The catch for Hou is that while he can refuse to be on the ticket, Eric Chu outranks him in the KMT. If Chu wanted, he could call for a vote to replace Hou. According to KMT party rules, they can not formally nominate Ko as their presidential candidate because he has not been a KMT party member for a year (though they have made an exception to this rule before), but as far as I know there is nothing preventing them from not nominating a presidential candidate and only nominating one for vice president.

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, catch a tiger by the toe

On Oct. 18, Ko said that working with the KMT was “too complicated” and that working with independent candidate and Foxconn founder Terry Gou (郭台銘) was “much simpler.” Ko sent Gou a nice flower arrangement for his 73rd birthday event that read “happy birthday, wish you the best.”

While talks have been sputtering along with the KMT, Ko has also met with Gou about cooperation. They both describe how well they get along and how their relationship goes way back.

Gou has openly courted Ko and repeatedly stressed that they have a lot of room to cooperate and that his political outlook is "highly correlated" to Ko’s. He has also said if they cooperate, Gou would offer the roughly 400 sites he has opened to obtain signatures from the public to the TPP to use as campaign offices. He also promised to back the TPP financially out of his personal fortune.

A face-saving deal might be just what Gou is looking for. In the lastest Taiwan News Poll of Polls released on Oct. 26, he stood at only 8.66% support. With more recent polls added, he’s since slid to 8.3%. Even an outsized personality like Gou, who associates himself with the image of a tiger, must realize that it does not look good.

A deal might help with two other problems as well. Seven people are being investigated for bribing voters during Gou’s drive to get signed forms to qualify for the race, though the campaign office denies the suspects had any connection to Gou’s team.

Additionally, three of Foxconn’s facilities are being investigated for tax and land use irregularity. Although Gou is no longer on the board of Foxconn nor holds any post in the company, he still owns around 12.6% of the firm. In the past few days, at least five pieces in the Global Times, including the one quoted at the beginning of this column, have all but come out and said that it is Terry Gou’s responsibility to step aside so a unity candidate can emerge to defeat the “secessionist” Lai Ching-te.

Hinting at a deal

When asked about the tricky question of which candidate might be at the top of the ticket, Gou said something very interesting. “I already have the vice presidential candidate Tammy Lai (賴佩霞), there is no ‘who-pairs-with-who’ problem, we just need to cooperate to win the election.” This smells very much like one of the puzzle pieces necessary to reach a cooperative agreement.

Another hint is that Gou has taken to repeatedly talking about the three reasons he is running for president: for cross-strait peace, a flourishing economy and clean government. Combine that with his repeatedly mentioning his “highly correlated” thinking on the issues with Ko, and more puzzle pieces fall into place.

A deal that would include the now American passport-free Tammy Lai as the vice presidential candidate and some access to future policy forming, on his three reasons for running and he can claim he has accomplished his goals and declare victory. Face saved.

Three proposed ideas on how to accomplish this were put forth by someone on Ko’s team and reported in Mirror Media. Is is not certain if Ko or Gou have discussed any of these options directly. The proposals might have even been leaked intentionally to get the ball rolling.

The first proposal is simply that either Gou or Gou’s chosen representative fills the vice presidential slot.

The second is intriguing and might appeal to Gou. They describe it as Gou representing a “special envoy” to the TPP, and compared it to Morris Chang (張忠謀) representing Taiwan in APEC meetings on behalf of the president.

This was pitched noting that Ko and Gou are “extremely good friends” and communicate well, so Ko and the TPP would meet with Gou and listen to his recommendations, and incorporate many of them. This would give Gou influence over the direction of an entire political party.

The third idea is to revive a plan that Ko and Gou discussed in 2019 but never put into motion, which is that Gou would nominate party-list lawmaker candidates who are voted in by percentage of the vote on a party ballot rather than individually in electoral districts. This would include some safe districts that are almost certainly going to win seats in the legislature, and would sweeten the pot for any potential deal.

These ideas sound fairly reasonable and may appeal to Gou. Other possibilities not on the list could include appointing Gou as premier if Ko wins, or putting him on the party list with an eye to get him elected as the legislative speaker since there is a strong possibility that the TPP will hold the balance of power in the next legislature, with neither the KMT nor DPP able to form an outright majority. It also would not be surprising if the monicker “spiritual advisor” to the party was bandied about.

Ko weighing his options

There are plenty of options in the proposals being bandied about that would be face-saving for Gou, give him some actual power and influence in the TPP, and allow him to declare victory. He would probably also relish the chance to help the TPP grow at the expense of the KMT and get his revenge on them for passing him over twice as their presidential candidate.

Ko is probably holding off for now to see how things work with the KMT. Ko has called for Gou to be included in talks, or at least be considered in any TPP-KMT deal. A tie-up with the KMT could potentially mean a lot more votes than a tie-up with Gou alone.

But Ko is probably right that a deal with Gou would be much simpler to accomplish. For Ko, there would be several advantages but also some potential downsides.

The resources that Gou could bring to the table would be a big help, not just for his own campaign, but possibly even more for downstream candidates running for legislator seats in electoral districts, as well as to boost the party list vote. Subsidies for political parties are determined by the party list vote, so that could be a second big boost for the TPP’s coffers to compete with the two larger parties.

Additionally, a large number of Gou supporters will likely switch to supporting Ko. If, for example, three-quarters of Gou supporters switch to Ko that would put Ko only about three points behind Lai, and well ahead of Hou, some of whose supporters might switch to Ko as the stronger candidate.

A potential downside for Ko and the TPP is becoming too financially dependent on Gou, who is a notoriously fickle and temperamental character. He also could become a demanding distraction.

It is still possible that an arrangement on the presidential race with the KMT could happen, but a deal with the Gou campaign looks far easier to make a reality. A joint ticket with the KMT would put them well ahead of Lai, but a deal with Gou ensures a much tighter race between Ko and Lai.

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 X (prev. Twitter): @donovan_smith.