November 16, 2023
TAIPEI – Taiwan’s two main opposition parties have agreed to put up a joint ticket for the Jan 13 presidential election, in a move set to shake up a race that has far-reaching implications for the island’s future.
After weeks of stalled discussions, the more established Kuomintang (KMT) and the smaller Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) announced on Wednesday that they would team up and determine which party’s candidate would run for president, based on a review of opinion polls.
The result will be announced on Saturday morning, according to a joint statement released following a 2½-hour meeting between KMT candidate Hou Yu-ih and the TPP’s Dr Ko Wen-je.
Also at the meeting were KMT chairman Eric Chu and former Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou.
“No matter what – whoever is the lead and whoever is the deputy – everyone will work together,” Mr Hou told reporters after the meeting.
Dr Ko described the agreement as a “historic moment”.
The agreement comes just a week or so before a Nov 24 registration deadline and after the two parties had argued for weeks over which method would be best in determining whether Mr Hou or Dr Ko would lead a joint ticket.
Analysts believed that such a team-up would be the only way for the opposition – all seen as more mainland-friendly – to present a formidable challenge to the ruling independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
For months, current Taiwan Vice-President William Lai Ching-te has maintained a commanding lead in opinion polls, with various polls pegging support levels for the DPP candidate at between 30 per cent and 38 per cent.
Mr Hou, who is New Taipei mayor, and Dr Ko, the TPP’s founder and chairman, are neck and neck in second place, with each having around 20 per cent of support.
Meanwhile, Mr Terry Gou, the billionaire founder of Apple supplier Foxconn, trails in fourth place with about 8 per cent of support. He plans to run as an independent candidate along with actress Tammy Lai, who had played a successful presidential candidate in Netflix drama Wave Makers, as his running mate.
“A blue-white presidential ticket is a game changer,” political scientist Chen Shih-min said, referring to the opposition party colours, where the KMT is blue and the TPP, white.
“Mr Lai will certainly feel pressure in this election now,” added the National Taiwan University associate professor.
In the statement, some details were revealed on how the make-up of the joint presidential bid would be settled.
For starters, the KMT, the TPP and Mr Ma will each recommend a polling expert. The three experts will then collate and assess publicly released poll results from Nov 7 to Friday, together with the results of internal surveys conducted by the two political parties.
Prof Chen said such an arrangement would likely benefit Mr Hou, leading him to run as the presidential candidate and Dr Ko as his running mate.
“Former president Ma is a senior KMT member, so he would more likely help Hou,” Prof Chen said.
“If you look at their faces at the joint press conference after the meeting, all of the KMT members looked so happy, while Dr Ko and his team looked very serious,” he added.
Local media outlets zoomed in on how Dr Ko’s campaign spokeswoman Vicky Chen teared up while standing behind him.
“It would seem Ko has chosen to give in to the KMT,” Prof Chen said. “He may have relented to help secure more seats for his party in a future coalition government.”
In the statement, the KMT and the TPP pledged to form a coalition government if they win the election. The TPP would focus on providing checks and balances, while the KMT would be responsible for Taiwan’s construction and development.
Should a blue-white team win the election, Prof Chen said that cross-strait dialogue would likely restart.
All three opposition candidates blame the DPP for deteriorating cross-strait ties, and have pledged to engage in talks with China.
Beijing cut official contact with Taipei in 2016 after the election of the DPP’s Ms Tsai Ing-wen, citing her refusal to endorse the concept of a single Chinese nation.
“But the alliance would also have to convince voters that their policies are in the best interests of Taiwan,” Prof Chen added.
In response to a reporter’s questions about a blue-white ticket, a spokesperson for Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office said on Wednesday that people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait should oppose Taiwan independence and push cross-strait relations back to the “right track” of peaceful development.