Taiwan’s electoral tides shift: Kuomintang gains momentum despite failed alliance

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Hou Yu-ih

28th November 2023 – (Taipei) Taiwan’s mainland-oriented opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT), has witnessed a surge in support, even amidst the breakdown of its attempt to form a joint ticket to challenge the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), as per recent polls.

Despite the political turbulence, DPP’s presidential candidate and current Taiwanese Vice-President, William Lai Ching-te, remains the favourite to win the upcoming January election. This conclusion is based on several polls conducted following the unsuccessful bid by the KMT and the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) to form a united front, a development that left political observers spellbound.

According to a survey conducted by the mainland-oriented broadcaster TVBS from 24th – 26th November, Lai has the backing of 34 per cent of respondents. However, the KMT’s presidential contender, Hou Yu-ih, and his running mate, Jaw Shaw-kong, are not far behind, garnering the support of 31 per cent of respondents. The TPP’s candidate, Ko Wen-je, another Beijing-friendly contender, was preferred by 23 per cent of respondents.

The failure of KMT and TPP to form a unity ticket seems to have had an unexpected consequence. Subsequent polls revealed that Hou performed better than anticipated, with the gap between Lai and Hou narrowing, indicating a potential shift in Taiwan’s electoral landscape.

A Gallup survey released on Tuesday showed a minuscule difference in the popularity of Lai and Hou, with Lai marginally ahead at 31.01 per cent, and Hou close behind with 30.94 per cent. Another poll by the KMT-leaning United Daily News saw Hou trailing Lai by a mere three percentage points.

The KMT, known for its Beijing-friendly stance, is one of the three parties vying for the presidency in January. Over the past year, several party leaders, including vice-chairman Andrew Hsia, have visited the mainland, receiving a warm welcome from officials who advocated for stronger cross-strait ties and shared opposition to Taiwan’s pro-independence parties.

Beijing continues to claim Taiwan as part of its territory and aims for peaceful reunification, even though it does not dismiss the potential use of force. While most countries, including the United States, do not recognise Taiwan as an independent state, there is a general resistance to any forceful modification of the existing status quo.

The aspirations for a collaboration between the KMT and the TPP were shattered due to disagreements over the choice of presidential candidate for a unified ticket. This development has likely left Beijing uneasy, as the inability to form a united opposition is predicted to pave an easier path to victory for the DPP.

Lai and his running mate, Hsiao Bi-khim, the former de facto ambassador of Taipei to the U.S., have been labelled as separatists by Beijing. However, Lai has pledged to follow the foreign policy approach of the current leader, Tsai Ing-wen, aligning more closely with Washington and its allies, and advocating for a higher international standing for Taiwan.

Despite the failed alliance, both Hou and Ko have registered to run for president independently, announcing their running mates last Friday. Jaw, a prominent media personality and CEO of the Broadcasting Corporation of China, joined Hou’s ticket as the vice-presidential candidate, while the TPP’s Ko selected legislator Wu Hsin-ying to accompany him in the race.

Zhu Songling, a Taiwan affairs specialist at Beijing Union University, attributed the rise in Hou’s polls to various factors, including the combination of Hou and Jaw, which has consolidated the KMT’s traditional support base.

Zhu suggested that Hou and the KMT’s ability to sustain this momentum and further close the gap will be contingent on their campaign policy proposals and their ability to engage voters’ ongoing attention by leading the discussion of issues during the campaign period.

Meanwhile, the TPP’s Ko Wen-je’s approval rating for the first time surpassed the former frontrunner, the DPP’s Lai Ching-te, as per a new poll result, indicating a nuanced shift in Taiwan’s recently drama-filled presidential race.

The poll, conducted by the Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation (TPOF), revealed that Ko leads the race with a 31.9% approval rating, followed by Lai at 29.2% and KMT’s Hou You-yi at 23.6%.