Written by Hiro Fu.
This article was originally published by The News Lens and can be found here.
Media personality Jaw Shaw-kong has taken Taiwanese media by storm with the consecutive announcements of his return to the Kuomintang (KMT), possible bid for party chairman, and intent to gun for the 2024 presidency. The daily coverage following Jaw’s return foreshadows his impact on the political landscape, but will he be able to, as he claims, “Make Taiwan Great Again” or even make the KMT great again, for that matter?
Jaw may be the strong leader that the party needs, but the challenges he faces include winning popular support, maintaining a coherent political platform, and most importantly, consolidating power in a fractured party.
Who is Jaw Shaw-kong?
Representing the KMT, Jaw was elected to Taipei City Council in 1981 and served two terms before he was elected as a legislator. In 1991, he was appointed by the KMT-led government to serve as the Minister of Environmental Protection Administration.
His relationship with the KMT soured when the late President Lee Teng-hui assumed leadership in 1988 — Jaw accused Lee of moving the party away from the goal of unification. In 1993, he co-founded the New Party with other pro-unification mainlanders within the KMT and, in the following year, ran for Taipei mayoralty, only to lose to Chen Shui-bian.
In 1996, Jaw announced withdrawal from politics. He founded UFO Radio, which later acquired the Broadcasting Corporation of China (BCC), one of Taiwan’s largest broadcasting companies, in 2006. Today, he is best known for hosting a televised talk show, “Situation Room,” and other online programs.
Some KMT members appear to welcome Jaw’s sensational comeback. Whereas party traditionalists such as Ma Ying-jeou and populist Han Kuo-yu can only retain the dwindling deep-blue voter base, Jaw’s potential supporters are more likely to be blue-leaning moderates often referred to as “Knowledgeable Blue” or “Economic Blue,” characterized by their success in business. They are considered the kind of voters the KMT needs to win over to reverse its string of defeats.
Jaw is believed to have the potential to rally the blue-leaning voters who abandoned the KMT in the 2020 elections. Many KMT supporters might cringe at voting for a figure as divisive as Han, but Jaw’s image as an intellectual and dash of charisma might make him a more favourable option in elections than traditional candidates for the KMT.
Despite Jaw’s intention to run for party chairman, he has backtracked after government officials warned that the BCC will be fined if he serves as the KMT chairman while occupying the chairmanship of the radio station. Political party workers in Taiwan are prohibited from running or investing in radio businesses.
The incumbent chairman Johnny Chiang announced recently that he would be running for a second term, saying the KMT needs a “kingmaker” like himself to back its 2024 presidential candidate. KMT members believe Chiang’s statement shows he will not run for the candidacy and sends a signal to potential competitors, including Jaw, to join the contest.
But if Jaw represents the KMT in 2024, he will be faced with the overwhelming support for the Democratic Progressive Party. While public opinion can be fickle, as seen in the recent decline of Tsai’s poll numbers, the DPP has the upper hand in mobilizing the young voters. With the DPP’s revised vision of Taiwan as a “popular sovereignty” and Tsai’s willingness to push for “meaningful dialogue” with Beijing, the KMT risks fading into irrelevance.
To lead the KMT, a party that favours closer ties with China, Jaw’s priority would be to mend fences with Beijing. He has proposed policy ideas that could potentially be included in his future election campaign platform, such as a redefining cross-strait relations based on economic cooperation. He believes Taiwan should “rely on China in economy and on the United States in national security,” but it remains to be seen if he can appeal to non-blue-leaning and young voters with this idea.
While the presidential race is more than three years ahead, Jaw has been vying for media attention by holding press conferences. But his early bid for candidacy and outspokenness could put him at a disadvantage.
Finally, Jaw’s biggest challenge may come from within — the KMT’s divided inner factions. Though traditional KMT supporters are likely to vote for Jaw for either chairmanship or presidential candidacy, the younger KMT faction, with which Chiang is associated, hasn’t responded to Jaw’s moves yet. Many members of the younger faction, seen as representative of moderates, are likely to run for local elections in 2022. Without their support, it is unlikely that substantial, positive change will come after Jaw’s rise in the KMT.
With the chairmanship election in July and local elections in 2022 ahead, uncertainties loom over his bid for presidency. But with much media attention on Jaw, it has become clear the KMT has begun to imagine returning to power under his leadership, but it may do better in the meantime if it commits to the roles of a responsible opposition party to the Tsai administration instead.
Hiro Fu is an undergraduate studying politics and media at the University of California, Berkeley. He is from Taipei, Taiwan.