October 6, 2023
SINGAPORE – With the Taiwan presidential election just three months away, observers are watching whether the opposition in Taiwan will put up a united front to unseat the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
With Kuomintang (KMT) candidate Hou Yu-ih and the Taiwan People’s Party’s Mr Ko Wen-je both consistently trailing the DPP’s Mr William Lai Ching-te in opinion polls, there have been calls from supporters of both opposition parties for the duo to team up on a combined ticket.
While the KMT is by far the more established party, former Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou, a senior KMT official, did not dismiss the possibility of a combined bid in which Mr Ko, 64, a high-profile former Taipei mayor, contests as the presidential candidate with Mr Hou, 66, as his running mate.
Asked about this combination on the sidelines of the Asia Future Summit on Thursday, Mr Ma, 73, said both sides have started to discuss a collaboration but nothing definite can be said about it for now. What is for sure, he added, is that polls have shown that about 60 per cent of voters want the DPP to be “taken off the shelf”.
Before his trip to Singapore, Mr Ma made the headlines in Taiwan for declaring that he would boycott the Oct 10 National Day ceremony hosted by Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen this year.
During his interview with The Straits Times, Mr Ma reiterated his objection to how the event is being referred to as “Taiwan National Day”, instead of the National Day of the Republic of China, in reference to the official name of Taiwan.
He said he had already voiced his objection in 2022 and was “not surprised” that the DPP did it again this year.
“It’s obvious that they want to pursue the path of Taiwan independence. This is harmful for Taiwan and may bring about war,” he said in Mandarin.
“If the KMT were in power, we can guarantee peace. Our energy policy is also better than that of the DPP. I think Mr Hou should still have a chance (at winning the presidential election),” he argued, noting that the KMT, unlike the ruling DPP, does not object to the use of nuclear energy. Electricity outages have caused concern in Taiwan, he added.
Both sides of the Taiwan Strait have been ruled separately since the KMT fled to Taiwan in the wake of its defeat by the Communist Party of China in a civil war in 1949. During Mr Ma’s two terms as Taiwan’s president from 2008 to 2016, the two former foes shelved their political differences to forge greater trade links. But cross-strait relations have cooled since the DPP’s Ms Tsai came to power in 2016.
Overall, Mr Ma is not worried about war breaking out over the Taiwan Strait, which he believes is “very unlikely”. He said: “It would not be good for both sides and would result in long-lasting hatred.”
Mr Ma was one of the speakers at the Asia Future Summit 2023, themed Revisiting Lee Kuan Yew’s View Of The World: Looking Ahead To Singapore And Asia’s Future Amid Turbulent Times. He said Mr Lee had visited Taiwan 25 times and got on very well with the late Taiwan president Chiang Ching-kuo.
During the interview with ST, Mr Ma recounted an anecdote about Singapore’s founding prime minister: Mr Lee once visited Sun Moon Lake with Mr Chiang and conversed in the Minnan dialect with shop owners there. Upon hearing this, the mainland-born Mr Chiang told Mr Lee: “Sorry, I still don’t know how to speak Minnanese.”
At a panel discussion at the summit on Wednesday, Mr Ma, an avid jogger, also shared an anecdote from his visit to Singapore as justice minister decades ago. He said he would go for a run, even on overseas trips, and the Singapore authorities had arranged for security officers to accompany him – but they could not keep up. The next day, an athlete was tasked to run alongside him instead, and this time, “I was the one who couldn’t keep up”, said Mr Ma.
Mr Ma, who is in Singapore until Saturday, has been active in fostering exchanges between youth from Taiwan and China through the Ma Ying-jeou Foundation. He is also leading a delegation of Taiwanese students from his foundation to visit public housing in Singapore, among other places.
Asked if he had kept up with his jogging on this trip, Mr Ma, who looks fit and in good health, told ST: “Yes, I run daily.”
The Asia Future Summit is an inaugural collaboration between The Straits Times, Lianhe Zaobao and The Business Times.
OCBC is the presenting sponsor for the Asia Future Summit 2023. The event is also supported by GuocoLand and Kingsford Group.