TAIPEI: Imagine you’re a presidential campaign director. With just four months to go before Election Day, which of the following would you not want your candidate to post on Facebook?
A) She’s worried about the “sense of defeat” within your party.
B) She regards voters as complacent about the nation’s problems, comparing them to “frogs being boiled in water.”
C) She feels she can’t calm down, appeals for Buddha to help her, and says she’s going to lay off the trail for several days to “start a deep rethinking process.”
D) All of the above.
For the strategists in Taiwan’s Nationalist Party — also known as the Kuomintang, or KMT — scenario “D” is not hypothetical.
With autumn arriving, the establishment party’s campaign machinery had hoped at this point to be shifting into high gear, riding on its longtime dominance and the accomplishments of President Ma Ying-jeou, who’s termed out after eight years in office.
Instead, the KMT looks to be heading toward a historic defeat come voting Jan. 16.
The party of Gen. Chiang Kai-shek appears on track to lose not just Taiwan’s presidency, which has happened only once before, but is also in danger of forfeiting control of parliament. That would be unprecedented since Chiang and millions of his supporters lost China’s civil war in 1949 and set up a completely separate government on the island, 100 miles off the mainland’s southeastern coast.
Despite the KMT’s longtime anti-Communist stance, Ma has pursued closer economic ties with mainland China. While pleasing business interests, his approach has worried many voters — especially those in their 20s and 30s — who see themselves as distinct from mainland Chinese, fear becoming too fiscally integrated with their giant neighbor, and say closer links have failed to deliver widespread benefits.
That partly explains why polls show KMT presidential candidate Hung Hsiu-chu, 67, a teacher-turned-legislator, was drawing as little as 13 percent support even before her recent Facebook posts, though others simply find her off-putting and unpresidential. After a four-day pause, Hung returned to campaigning Sept. 5, vowing to fight on until the votes are counted in January.
The possibility that the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party will win the presidency, and have a supportive legislature to work with, is stoking anticipation and anxiety both in Taiwan and mainland China.
Karen Cheng, a translator and activist who participated in the spring 2014 “Sunflower” student movement that occupied Taiwan’s legislature for nearly a month to protest a trade pact with mainland China, is eager for the DPP’s Tsai Ing-wen to win the presidency. Tsai, a 59-year-old lawyer-turned-politician with a law degree from Cornell and a doctorate from Cambridge, is leading opinion polls with about 40 percent support.