Written by Mingke Ma.
Image credit: 郭台銘/ Facebook.
Unlike the nomination process for the General Election in 2020, the Chinese Nationalist Party (中國國民黨, KMT) decided to forgo a party primary election to nominate its presidential candidate for the upcoming General Election in 2024 to ‘avoid internal strife’. New Taipei City Mayor Hou You-yi (侯友宜) and the founder of Foxconn, Terry Gou（郭台銘）, have publicly declared their interest in endeavouring for the KMT’s presidential nomination. In this piece, I will show that although Hou seems more likely to receive the KMT’s final nomination, Terry Gou remains an important asset for the KMT’s overall electoral prospects.
The KMT will nominate its presidential candidate based on the decision of a special committee. However, until today, the KMT still has not published the specific criteria and procedure for this internal nomination process. For the nominations of parliamentarian candidates, the KMT adopts a ‘30% party member votes and 70% poll results’ approach. If the KMT follows the same criteria, which requires its presidential candidate to have the highest level of internal party support and prospects to win the presidential race against the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)’s candidate Lai Ching-te, then Ho You-yi is the most likely candidate.
Table 1. Voters’ Preference of KMT candidates (2023/2 and 2023/4 in comparison)
|Hou You-yi||Terry Gou||Undecided||Don’t know|
Table 2. Voters’ Preference (2023/4)
|Lai Ching-te||Hou You-yi||Ko Wen-je||Undecided||Don’t know|
Table 3. Voters’ Preference (2023/4)
|Lai Ching-te||Terry Gou||Ko Wen-je||Undecided||Don’t know|
Sources: Taiwan Public Opinion Foundation.
Let’s take a look at the electoral polls first. Table 1 shows Hou You-yi remains the most popular presidential candidate for the KMT. Although Terry Gou’s campaigns, including his visits to the United States and Japan, have boosted his support rate by 3.6% per cent between February to April, Hou keeps leading the race with a safe 13.6% margin. Compared with candidates from other parties, Hou can attract votes from the voters who support the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) or the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), as Tables 2 and 3 suggest. The percentage of interviewees who answered “undecided” and “don’t know” across the different situations when Hou and Gou’s names were on the questionnaires are similar. However, when Hou was in the presidential race in the opinion poll, the KMT candidate’s popularity increased by 3.7%, with a corresponding decrease in the support rates of Lai and Ko. It suggests Ko’s ability to enlarge the KMT’s support for the presidential election to those swing voters favouring its rivals when Gou represents the KMT.
Hou’s capability to attract swing voters could be associated with his successful mayorship and a nativist image. According to a survey in March, 74.8% of the inquired New Taipei City residents approved Hou’s performance in his mayorship. His high popularity has been perceived across the inquired residents who recognised themselves with different political parties. Existing criticism views Hou’s presidential run as a betrayal against the residents of New Taipei City, given he must step down in the middle of his second four-year mayorship if he wins the election. However, compared to Han Kuo-yu, who received similar criticism during his presidential race for 2020, Hou never promised to reject the presidential run during his campaign for re-election in 2022. In that re-election, the percentage of Hou’s votes obtained increased from 57.15% in 2018 to 62.42% in 2022. This increase confirms the popularity of Hou’s governance of New Taipei City and the fact that his presidential run will not jeopardise his support base in the City, which starkly contrasts Han Kuo-yu’s situation in Kaohsiung.
Hou also has a strong nativist image. Former DPP parliamentarian Kuo Jeng-liang characterised Hou as a rare KMT politician with a strong “Taiwan flavour 台灣味”. Hou has a track record of public service in the arenas that were closely associated with Taiwan society’s daily life. His career in public service began as a policeman in the 1980s, rising to the Taiwanese police force’s director-general from 2006 to 2008. Crime remained a top social issue that attracted massive attention during his service in the police force. He had also utilised this experience to boost his electoral support in his previous mayorship elections by constructing an image of trustworthiness. His experience in the police force made him a unique candidate compared to other KMT notables, who began their public service career at more elitist institutions with less direct interactions with people’s daily life, including the parliament, city councils and universities. As a native of Chiayi in the south of Taiwan, Hou’s popularity in the south is also strong. Directors of the KMT’s local party organisations at several localities in south Taiwan view Hou as the most capable presidential candidate that could boost the popularity of local KMT parliamentary candidates. In the General Election in 2020, no KMT candidates in the single-member districts won the parliamentary election against their components. Hou’s nativist image is believed to be able to expand the KMT’s electoral geography.
Hou’s higher electoral popularity made his presidential bid receive massive support from the KMT parliamentarians and local party organisations, who faced pressures from the upcoming General Election. He also had a close relationship with the KMT’s party chairperson Eric Chu, when Hou was serving as Chu’s deputy mayor of New Taipei City. Hou’s major challenge with the party would be those hardliners who disliked Hou’s lack of narratives related to cross-strait relations. In KMT’s chairperson election in 2021, Chang Ya-chung’s swift unification agenda attracted 32.59% of the votes among the KMT’s party members, which made the elected chairperson Eric Chu receive a historically-low vote share of 45.78%. However, the hardliners seemed to be more discontent with Terry Gou’s open criticism of KMT following his failure in the party primary in 2019. Gou criticised the KMT’s standing committee members as ‘corrupt’ and withdrew himself from the KMT party membership that he only obtained in April 2019. The KMT has been losing general elections since 2016, and such a sense of crisis may strengthen Hou’s support within the party.
Hou seems to be leading the race in the KMT’s nomination process. However, to maximise the KMT’s popularity, Gou remains an important actor. In his speech at Tunghai University, Gou touched upon areas outside Hou’s expertise but could attract massive societal attention, such as technology and economic development. Taiwan’s current socio-economic situation has been characterised as entering the ‘high-income trap’, where the Taiwanese economy faces decreasing returns on its traditional export-orientated development strategy. Taiwan’s major export partners in the Asia Pacific and the West all face decline in their consumption demand following the economic recovery after the pandemic, inflation, and the high-interest rates. The Taiwanese educational system could not cultivate the youth with the skills that most of the growing industries require. This contributes to the puzzling co-existence of a high unemployment rate and the enterprises’ difficulty in recruiting employees with desired skill sets. Following the ongoing Ukrainian war, the global energy crisis worsened Taiwan’s energy situation, in which the delayed green transformation correlates with the increase in energy bills for Taiwanese households.
Figure 1. Interest over time across four political figures
Source: Google trends
As one of the most successful Taiwanese entrepreneurs, Gou has the authority and reputation to deliver answers to these economic and social challenges that Taiwan is facing. The google trends result in Figure 1 also shows that Gou remains a figure that can attract massive public attention. KMT’s candidate for Tainan mayoral election in 2022, Hsieh Lung-chieh, suggests putting Gou at the top of KMT’s party list for the parliamentary election to integrate him into the general election. Compared to Hou, Gou’s weaker support inside the KMT and popularity against other parties’ presidential candidates make him unlikely to be nominated by the KMT in the final presidential race. However, Gou remains an important asset for the KMT, given his ability to articulate plausible solutions related to Taiwan’s social, economic, and technological challenges. Putting Gou in the Legislative Yuan could also mediate his lack of administrative and electoral experiences’ potential damage to the KMT’s overall electoral outlook.
In summary, Hou You-yi remains the most powerful and most likely presidential candidate to represent the KMT in the upcoming presidential election. However, to maximise the KMT’s electoral prospects, the party should also seek ways to integrate Gou’s entrepreneurial and technological expertise into the overall electoral campaign.
Mingke Ma is an MPhil candidate in Global and Area Studies at the University of Oxford. He is interested in the comparative political economy of East Asia.