In Taiwan, Ko Wen-je’s TPP becomes kingmaker

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By Tingwei Lin

Taiwan’s freshly elected politicians will meet from Thursday, with a new party enjoying an outsized influence over legislation after breaking through the self-ruled island’s long-entrenched two-party system.

Taiwan People’s Party’s Ko Wen-je (center) campaigns in Taichung, Taiwan on January 6, 2024. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Taiwan’s political landscape has been dominated for decades by two parties, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the opposition Kuomintang (KMT), both defined by how they would approach the democratic island’s relationship with China — which claims Taiwan as its territory.

The DPP’s Lai Ching-te won this month’s election to be president, but neither of the major parties won enough seats to secure a majority in the 113-seat legislature.

Taiwan People’s Party’s (TPP) Ko Wen-je came last in the race to be president, but his party secured eight seats and a quarter of the votes to emerge as kingmaker in the new legislature.

When newly elected legislators take their seats on February 1, the first order of business will be to elect the speaker — an important role that will define Taiwan’s legislative agenda.

Taiwan People's Party's Ko Wen-je campaigns in Taichung, Taiwan on January 6, 2024. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.
Taiwan People’s Party’s Ko Wen-je campaigns in Taichung, Taiwan on January 6, 2024. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

After that, whichever party has the TPP’s support will have enough votes to pass legislation.

“For the first time ever, you have a viable third party option that… gets to play that decisive kingmaking minority party status in the parliament,” said political analyst Wen-ti Sung.

TPP’s arrival could mean a more diverse and vibrant democratic scene for Taiwan’s future — or it could also translate to a logjam in parliament.

But “a greater share of voters who previously felt underrepresented by existing political parties may now feel… a greater sense of empowerment,” Sung said.

‘Real problems’

The ruling DPP has long portrayed itself as defenders of Taiwan’s democracy, with current President Tsai Ing-wen and president-elect Lai, her deputy, maintaining that the island is “already independent”.

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen (center), Democratic Progressive Party presidential candidate Lai Ching-te (left) and vice-presidential candidate Hsiao Bi khim (second from right) at an election rally in Taipei, Taiwan on January 11, 2024. Photo : Kyle Lam/HKFP.Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen (center), Democratic Progressive Party presidential candidate Lai Ching-te (left) and vice-presidential candidate Hsiao Bi khim (second from right) at an election rally in Taipei, Taiwan on January 11, 2024. Photo : Kyle Lam/HKFP.
Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen (center), Democratic Progressive Party presidential candidate Lai Ching-te (left) and vice-presidential candidate Hsiao Bi khim (second from right) at an election rally in Taipei, Taiwan on January 11, 2024. Photo : Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Beijing rejects this position, and has cut off all high-level communications since Tsai’s election in 2016. It has also increased the rhetoric in recent years on Taiwan’s “unification”, and increased military and political pressures on the island.

Opposition KMT — the oldest party in Taiwan — advocates for a more cooperative line, and sees the island’s economic prosperity interlinked with closer ties with China.

Ko has differentiated himself by saying it is pointless to argue about the two scenarios of “unification” or “independence”, when there are “real problems” in Taiwan.

He appealed to voters by focusing his campaign on everyday issues like soaring housing costs and stagnant wages.

An election campaign of Taiwan People's Party's Ko Wen-je in Taichung, Taiwan on January 6, 2024. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.An election campaign of Taiwan People's Party's Ko Wen-je in Taichung, Taiwan on January 6, 2024. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.
An election campaign of Taiwan People’s Party’s Ko Wen-je in Taichung, Taiwan on January 6, 2024. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

This message resonated with supporters like Chen Jin-chi, who said she was sick of the “blue-green rivalry” — referring to the KMT and DPP’s colours.

“At least three million people are no longer blindly supporting a certain party and are willing to… hear what this person has to say or what change he wants to bring,” she told AFP.

After eight years in power, the ruling DPP’s brand as a progressive hope for the youth has also faded, and they are now regarded as part of the political establishment.

Still ‘a success’

Ko’s appeal as a straight-shooter means some voters have looked past controversial comments and gaffes about women or the LGBTQ community.

Tens of thousands turn out for the final rally of Kuomintang in Banqiao, New Taipei City, Taiwan on January 12. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.Tens of thousands turn out for the final rally of Kuomintang in Banqiao, New Taipei City, Taiwan on January 12. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.
Tens of thousands turn out for the final rally of Kuomintang in Banqiao, New Taipei City, Taiwan on January 12. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Critics, however, say his party’s lack of ideological clarity could spell trouble in Taiwan’s raucous political atmosphere.

Ko already had a public falling-out with KMT in the lead-up to the election, when the parties failed to form an alliance over a disagreement on who should be on the presidential ticket.

He has been coy about who TPP will cooperate with in the legislature.

“Do you know what it means to be the ‘crucial minority’? It means receiving numerous unwanted phone calls every day,” Ko said last week, in his usual off-the-cuff manner.

On Monday, both KMT and DPP’s prospective speaker candidates visited TPP’s legislators to seek their backing, but no decision was announced.

Dateline:

Taipei, Taiwan

Type of Story: News Service

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Tags: Taiwan Wenjes TPP kingmaker

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