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Coalition emerges to challenge ruling party in Taiwan

Coalition emerges to challenge ruling party in Taiwan

KMT and TPP uniting raises questions about presidential ticket dynamics as well as the potential impact of US-China-Taipei relations.

Analysis | Asia-Pacific

After a prolonged period of speculation, conjecture, and anticipation, the contours of a Blue-White coalition poised to challenge the incumbent Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in Taiwan’s 2024 presidential election began to crystallize late last month.

In a joint press conference following private negotiations, Eric Chu, the chairman of the Kuomintang (KMT), and Ko Wen-je, the 2024 presidential candidate and chairman of the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) unveiled a united front committing to championing the “third wave of democratic reform” in Taiwan, a clear repudiation of the entrenched winner-takes-all “democratic dictatorship” political culture. Encouragingly for coalition supporters, the KMT and TPP have also confirmed their commitment to collaborate in the legislative elections, with a shared objective of breaking the DPP’s legislative majority since 2016.

This alliance signifies a robust intent to not only overhaul Taiwan’s electoral system but more importantly, also dismantle the nearly decade-long dominance of the DPP over Taiwan’s politics.

The journey toward forming the Blue-White Coalition has been tumultuous, marked by clear ideological and political disparities between the KMT and the TPP. Although the glue of a strong shared discontent with the governance of DPP has been holding the KMT and TPP together in the prolonged negotiation of joining forces, the delicate dance of ambition and pragmatism underscores the different realities faced by both parties.

The storied over-a-century-old KMT desires to retake the presidency, reverse its decline of a decade, and channel its deep-rooted legacy to rekindle its past preeminence. Meanwhile, the four-year-young TPP is striving to expand its influence and establish itself as a revolutionary “third force” that enthralls the younger electorate with pledges to disrupt the entrenched KMT-DPP dominance, thereby necessitating some level of strategic neutrality from close cooperation with KMT.

For the young TPP, being able to gain the current popularity is already a remarkable victory; for the KMT, anything short of securing the presidential palace next January would be a failure. As a result, despite both Eric Chu and the KMT presidential candidate Hou Yu-ih have been lobbying for Ko to accept a vice-presidential slot beside Hou, forming a joint president ticket that is led by KMT, with polling continuing to place Ko and Hou neck and neck, Ko is loath to settle for second. For a star politician that is trending upward like Ko, assuming the vice presidency might be valued less than holding on to the “third force” value, which might eventually promise a better chance to win the presidency in future elections.

The situation has led observers to continue casting doubts on the likelihood of a Hou-Ko joint ticket, despite the recent breakthrough of negotiations.

Terry Gou, founder of the world’s largest contract electronics maker Foxconn, has been pursuing his campaign despite being marginalized a bit by the recent progress of the Blue-White coalition. Gou’s recent submission of over a million petition signatures — triple the threshold of 289,667 signatures for an independent presidential candidacy — signals some positive momentum that Gou possessed.

However, faced with a storm of scrutiny consisting of Foxconn’s politically charged tax probe by Beijing — a move seen as China’s strategic ploy to express disapproval of Gou’s campaign — and the bribery allegations tied to his petitioning process, Terry Gou’s resolve to stay in this presidential race is being tested. This situation adds layers of complexity yet flexibility to the potential Blue-White coalition. The difficulty for the KMT and TPP to align in the presidential ticket could pivot the political chessboard toward alternative alliances, such as a Terry Gou endorsement of Ko or Hou after a possible withdrawal from the race. While such scenarios could certainly present a challenge to the DPP candidate Lai Ching-te’s presidential bid, the polls suggest they would not be as formidable as a united KMT-TPP ticket with Hou-Ko or Ko-Hou, which according to polls, would achieve an easy victory.

If unable to negotiate a joint ticket before the imminent November 24 candidate registration deadline, KMT, TPP, and Terry Gou would likely not be able to thwart Lai’s presidential bid, as he continues to outpace each contender.

In light of these unfolding developments in Taiwan, it becomes imperative for Washington to fully grasp the ramifications of a potential Taiwanese Blue-White coalition government on the delicate dynamics of the Washington-Beijing-Taipei triangle. A thorough analysis and strategic foresight are required to determine the most appropriate U.S. policy approach in the event of a coalition government materializing in 2024.

Given the intricate situations in Ukraine and Israel demanding Washington’s attention, the prospect of a Blue-White coalition government in Taiwan could provide a welcome respite to Washington, as both parties have demonstrated a clear willingness to jointly improve cross-strait dialogues after the election.

Interestingly, Bonnie Glaser and Joel Wuthnow, eminent U.S. experts on cross-strait relations and China’s military affairs, have recently argued that Xi Jinping is not prepared to attack Taiwan due to the political and economic hardships that Xi is facing. Taking cues from their expert analyses, a transition to a Blue-White government in Taiwan in 2024 could indeed also provide a breather for Xi, as it would mitigate the need for Xi to grapple with the challenging decision of military engagement, especially in light of the potential for his adopting a more confrontational stance toward Beijing by Lai Ching-te, a self-claimed "political worker of Taiwan Independence.”

Amid the current global turmoil, the emergence of a Blue-White coalition in Taiwan could present a unique opportunity for both Washington and Beijing to steer clear of conflict in the Taiwan Strait at least for the next four years.

However, the most prominent challenge for a possible Blue-White coalition government to regional security lies precisely in the transition period that it would require. The lack of a historical precedent in Taiwan raises questions about the stability of such coalition governance. Besides, if the KMT and TPP cannot even align smoothly in the election period, how can they cooperate well in a coalition government?

In the delicate transition phase, the nascent coalition would need to navigate internal tensions and differing policy priorities, potentially leading to a period of weakened governance. This fragility could inadvertently create openings for Beijing to amplify its influence and infiltration into Taiwanese society, and may well leverage its close ties with the KMT or Ko Wen-je to exploit any discernible fractures that might emerge within the coalition.

In light of these unfolding events, it becomes imperative for Washington to deepen its engagement and understanding of both Ko Wen-je and Hou Yu-ih to come to a more reliable judgment on the prospective mutual trust and ideological alignment of a potential Blue-White coalition. The recent visit by Laura Rosenberger, Chairwoman of the American Institute in Taiwan, to Taiwan, where she engaged with leading candidates Lai, Ko, and Hou, underscores this necessity. It is reasonable to believe that the potential of a Blue-White coalition would be a topic of discussion in her confidential conversations with Ko and Hou.

Sustaining and intensifying such diplomatic interactions is crucial, as it will reinforce its preparedness for the challenges brought by a Blue-White coalition government. In terms of the ongoing electoral campaign, prudence dictates that Washington should continue to adopt a stance of measured restraint and uphold a balanced posture. This is essential as both potential outcomes — a continuation of the DPP government or the advent of a KMT-TPP coalition — present their distinct sets of pros and cons from the vantage point of U.S. interests in the region.

Eric Chu, chairman of Taiwan's opposition Kuomintang (KMT), negotiates with Taiwan People's Party (TPP) Ko Wen-Je for a collaborative effort in the upcoming elections. October 30, 2023. Editorial credit: jamesonwu1972 / Shutterstock.com

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