December 29, 2023
SINGAPORE – With two weeks to go before the Taiwan presidential election on Jan 13, leading contender Lai Ching-te has widened his lead in the latest polls, as he plays the China card against his closest rival.
During the second round of televised policy presentations on Dec 26, Mr Lai of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) accused main opposition party Kuomintang (KMT) of being pro-Beijing, arguing that the KMT plans to put all its eggs in one China basket instead of diversifying the island’s economy.
“This allegation shows Lai’s campaign strategy is to hit on the linkage between China and the KMT, an old trick,” Dr Liu Fu-kuo from National Chengchi University told The Straits Times.
China sees Taiwan as part of its territory to be reunified eventually, but most Taiwanese prefer maintaining the status quo.
The DPP and KMT differ pointedly over their China policy. While the KMT recognises the so-called “92 Consensus”, which posits that there is one China across both sides of the Taiwan Strait, the independence-leaning DPP does not.
According to the latest poll findings released by pollster My Formosa on Dec 28, Mr Lai and his running mate Hsiao Bi-khim have garnered 40.0 per cent of support versus 28.9 per cent for the KMT team – a gap of 11.1 percentage points. This has widened from the previous My Formosa poll on Dec 26, where the DPP had a lead of 9 percentage points.
The KMT is fielding Mr Hou Yu-ih and running mate Jaw Shaw-kong.
In last place in the three-horse race are Dr Ko Wen-je of the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) and his running mate Cynthia Wu. They scored 17.6 per cent in the latest My Formosa poll, up from 16.6 per cent in the previous survey.
In another poll, whose findings were released by online news platform EToday on Dec 27, the DPP pair is at 38.1 per cent, compared with 34.8 per cent for the KMT team, and 19.2 per cent for the TPP ticket.
The DPP duo have also seen their lead over their KMT rivals widen from the previous EToday survey, from 1.4 to 3.3 percentage points.
Current President Tsai Ing-wen has to step down at the end of her second term, under constitutional limits.
In recent days, Mr Hou has faced increased scrutiny over a condominium owned by his wife, which is situated near Chinese Culture University in Taipei and whose units are rented out to students.
His opponents have questioned if the couple is profiteering by charging overly high rentals, which they said is ironic, given that Mr Hou has promised to make housing affordable for young people.
On Dec 27, he showed reporters a letter from his wife, who promised to let out 50 units of the property at subsidised rates to low-income youth.
Mr Lai and Dr Ko have also been embroiled in controversies over property.
Mr Lai has drawn criticism over his childhood home in a former mining area in New Taipei City, which has allegedly been expanded illegally. A plot of land in Hsinchu that Dr Ko co-owns is said to be used as a carpark even though it is actually designated for farming and grazing.
In response, Mr Lai has promised to turn his childhood home into a mining museum, while Dr Ko said he would convert the carpark back to farmland.
During the televised policy presentations on Dec 20, Mr Hou and Dr Ko took a dig at the DPP government for shortages in supplies, from Covid-19 vaccines and electricity to eggs. Mr Hou, a former top cop, also stressed his law-and-order credentials and slammed the DPP government for failing to stop scams.
Despite the controversy over Mr Lai’s childhood home and criticisms of the DPP government, he has done relatively well in recent polls.
Professor Dafydd Fell from SOAS University of London noted that the DPP is holding up in the polls, saying its “support levels are surprisingly high for a second-term presidential party”.
While they still lag behind the DPP team, the KMT pair have improved their poll numbers since registering their candidacy in late November.
“So far, the pair is campaigning hard and well,” said Dr Liu, singling out Mr Jaw for his eloquence and rich experience in the media. He noted that Mr Jaw has done well at political rallies and has influence over the so-called deep blue supporters who favour closer ties with China.
Analysts said factors that could swing the outcome in the final weeks include Beijing’s actions and whether supporters of Dr Ko would switch allegiance to Mr Hou.
Prof Fell said “much will depend on whether more of Ko’s supporters will abandon Ko at the last minute, but also who the remaining undecided voters will opt for”.
He added that Dr Ko is fighting hard and “in December, he’s not lost much support yet”.
Dr Yen Wei-Ting from the Franklin and Marshall College in the United States told ST that “anything could happen” in these last weeks, adding that Taiwan has seen more election intervention by China. For example, this could be through disseminating social media posts to influence voters to choose Beijing-friendly parties.
“Taiwan will need to observe if there are any abnormal events, especially information campaigns, in the last few weeks, which may have an impact on electoral results,” she added.