Two of Taiwan’s rival opposition parties have announced they will collaborate on a joint ticket in the upcoming presidential election, in what could be a major political upset for the East Asian democracy.
The deal will bring together the Kuomintang (KMT), one of Taiwan’s two major political parties, and the independent Taiwan People’s Party in their bid to take the presidency and legislature in the national vote planned for January 13.
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The parties did not reveal further details of the collaboration but said they would base their decisions on the results of polling, which has been under way since November 7. The outcome will be announced on November 18.
The presidential candidates for both parties, the TPP’s Ko Wen-je and the KMT’s Hou Yu-ih have until now been polling far behind Vice President William Lai, the candidate for the ruling Democratic People’s Party.
Polling from Taiwanese broadcaster TVBS released on October 24 showed support for Lai at 33 percent, followed by Ko and Huo, both on 22 percent. Founder and independent billionaire candidate Terry Gou was in last place with 8 percent.
Taiwan’s two main political parties typically flip power every eight years and past patterns would suggest the island should shift back to the KMT. Until now, it appeared that Lai might win the DPP an unprecedented third consecutive term in office – but the opposition’s move to work together makes that chance less certain.
Ko, a former mayor of Taipei, has found surprising support among younger Taiwanese voters who view the ruling DPP – once Taiwan’s outsider pro-democracy political party – as the “establishment”.
They have also managed to look past Ko’s penchant for flaunting his academic credentials as well as his controversial and unapologetic remarks on women, foreigners, LGBTQ people and Black Americans, to name a few.
The KMT’s more plain-spoken Hou Yu-ih, by contrast, is a former policeman who served as mayor of the larger New Taipei City, Taiwan’s largest city.
As a relative political newcomer, Hou might also have to contend with influence from inside his party like that of former President Ma Ying-jeou, who helped broker the deal between the TPP and KMT this week.
If successful, a KMT-TPP government would be expected to move Taiwan back towards Beijing and away from the United States given the KMT has a better working relationship with the Communist Party leadership than the DPP.
Ko’s TPP has never held a national office, but he has taken jabs at the current government for “provoking” China and spending too much on ramping up the island’s military in a bid to deter any potential Chinese attack.
Tensions with China have escalated since President Tsai Ing-wen first took office in 2016, and quietly but unapologetically began to raise Taiwan’s international profile and recognition as a de facto independent state from China.
These efforts culminated last year with an historic visit by then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan, to which China responded with several days of military exercises in the Taiwan Strait.
Beijing borrowed from a similar playbook in April when Tsai made an unofficial visit to the US and met top legislators and officials.
Hou and Ko, however, may appeal to China fatigue among Taiwanese voters who prioritise political stability and a better economy over issues like Taiwan’s sovereignty.
Beijing maintains that the self-ruled island is part of its territory and has not ruled out the use of force to achieve its goal.