Taiwan presidential election: Can KMT’s Eric Chu debate his way to more votes?

By Chin Chiang

At the first presidential debate on Dec. 27, opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate Tsai Ing-wen didn’t open her presentation by outlining her political views, but rather jumped straight to attacking her Kuomintang (KMT) opponent Eric Chu.

KMT presidential candidate Eric Chu

KMT presidential candidate Eric Chu; Initium Media photo

The latest polls show Chu clearly lagging behind Tsai. If Chu and running mate Jennifer (Ju-Hsuan) Wang want to reverse their decline, the ongoing televised debates are some of their last remaining opportunities.

For the KMT, forecasts for the upcoming elections are gloomy. Many observers see the Jan. 16, 2016 presidential election as an extension of the Nov. 29, 2014 “nine-in-one” local legislative race, — meaning the KMT will keep losing.

KMT launches counter-campaign in debates to remedy image

Both the “nine-in-one” elections and recent polls show that support for the KMT is weakest among young voters. According to a survey conducted in late November by the Taiwan Indicators Survey Research company, support for Tsai Ing-wen is 2.36 times greater than for Eric Chu, at 45% to 19%. Among voters aged 30-39, however, support for Tsai is 3.38 times greater, 54% to 16%.

Younger Taiwanese have lost faith in the current KMT Ma administration. The waves of discontent continue to grow, as demonstrated by recent social movements. “Winning comes from striving” is a slogan that no longer attracts listeners as young Taiwanese realize that the problem is not merely “not trying hard enough.” The difficulty of finding employment, a decline in real wages, the rise in housing prices, and a widening income gap have become an issue of generational justice and resource distribution.

To reverse the KMT’s image of “respecting production over distribution” and “respecting capitalists over workers,” Chu and Wang have used the two debates in late December to counter-attack.

The truth is, from the beginning of the election campaign, KMT vice presidential candidate Jennifer Wang has not been able to shine. Wang has been hounded by negative media for her decisions as Minister of the Council of Labor Affairs, such as proposing unpaid leave, suing laid-off workers, and the “22K policy” which is blamed for decreasing young people’s wages. Added to this was the ethical debate over her purchase of military housing. During that episode, presidential candidate Eric Chu worked tirelessly to defend her, but unfortunately was not able to highlight Wang’s public welfare and social movement contributions.

During the vice presidential debate, Wang stressed her background in public service. At times choked with emotion, she described how she was born to a working-class family and had thrown herself into the women’s movement during her youth. She described her journey of helping domestic abuse victims as a lawyer and how she fought for worker’s benefits during her time on the Council of Labor Affairs. Wang emphasized that she stands with workers, supports raising the basic wage, and wants to change the “growth raises wages” mentality of the past to one of “wages stimulates growth.”

Following Wang’s efforts to reverse election trends, Chu also highlighted his goal to achieve wage-driven economic growth during the Dec. 27 presidential debate by proposing a “Three Bows and Four Arrows” and “Three Strategy” plan. Even more detailed than Wang, Chu provided concrete numbers, promising to raise basic wages from$20,008 New Taiwan dollars (NT) to NT$22,000 during his first year in office. This would be further increased to NT$30,000 over his presidency, equivalent to a 50% increase over four years.

Directly confronting the issue of generational justice

Eric Chu believes that dramatically raising wages represents a change in mindset. Previous development strategy in Taiwan relied on industrial and commercial profits to stimulate economic growth, but future growth should be spurred by wage increases.

Chu also proposed increasing taxes on the wealthy while lowering taxes for the middle class. Taxes collected from the wealthy will be used to reduce the tax burden on the middle class, and provide aid to small and medium enterprises and low-income households.

The KMT’s proposal to raise basic wages leans left. For a party long associated with “monied interests,” this shows an attempt to answer the repeated calls for generational justice and more equitable resource distribution following the Sunflower Movement. 

Facing the upcoming elections, Eric Chu is trying to directly confront the generational issues plaguing the KMT. However, this particular shift runs counter to the KMT’s traditional path. With the election less than half a month away, it is difficult to be optimistic about Chu’s chances for changing the current election climate.

This article was first published in Chinese on Dec. 28, 2015 by The Initium Media, a Hong Kong-based digital media company. Asia Times has translated it with permission with editing for brevity and clarity.

Translated for Asia Times by Mengxi Seeley



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