Cross Strait

Han solo

The rise and fall of one of Taiwan’s most colourful politicians


Han Kuo-yu: lost the recall vote

Han Kuo-yu was first elected to Taiwan’s legislative body in 1992. His political career started with a literal bang when he slapped Chen Shui-bian, another lawmaker, in a debate about war veterans.

In 1994 Han was one of four KMT lawmakers to face recall votes but he survived the no-confidence ballot. But by the time Chen became the island’s president in 2000, Han had already lost his seat in a general election and was taking a long exile from politics (he became a farmer).

Han then made an incredible comeback in 2018, becoming the first Kuomintang candidate in 20 years to win the mayorship in Kaohsiung, a city that had long been a stronghold of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (see WiC434).

His sudden re-emergence onto Taiwan’s political scene (see WiC436) was coined ‘the Han Wave’. At one point he was seen as the KMT’s best bet for retaking office from the DPP and he outgunned Foxconn’s Terry Gou, the island’s richest man, to become the KMT’s presidential candidate last year (see WiC449).

However, Han’s fall has come even quicker than his return to the spotlight. He lost the presidential election in a landslide to the DPP’s Tsai Eng-wen in January (see WiC479). And last week, he became the first mayor in Taiwan to lose a recall vote.

On Saturday, the 62 year-old conceded defeat after more than 900,000 people in Kaohsiung – a figure that surpassed the 25% threshold of eligible voters – backed his removal as their mayor. The KMT’s image was further damaged after Hsu Kun-yuan, an ally of Han’s in Kaohsiung’s local legislative body, plunged to his death from his apartment.

The petition to oust Han was filed by a group of DPP supporters in December 2019, prior to the presidential election. They accused him of failing in his responsibilities to Kaohsiung, in part because he had been absent from his mayoral duties during the months he ran for president. Han had then vowed he would spend more time in Kaohsiung than Taipei should he win the race.

Political analysts agree that Han entered the presidential race four years too early. His decision not only angered supporters in Kaohsiung but also irked some of the elite in the KMT camp, Taiwan’s United Daily News noted.

Han had earlier promised to focus on improving Kaohsiung’s local economy and forge stronger ties with the mainland. As tensions over the Taiwan Strait have grown, that stance has look more awkward, however.

Political commentators say that the KMT is unlikely to win in Kaohsiung in the vote to replace him. Indeed, many believe the party might suffer further losses in local government elections set for late 2020, thanks to its stance of seeking closer ties with Beijing. This has been noted in mainland China too, where analysts on a recent talk show on CCTV, the country’s state broadcaster, acknowledged the declining popularity of the KMT. This pointed to a “worrisome pro-independence trend” among young Taiwanese voters, they added. It’s true that the KMT has been struggling to reconnect with the island’s younger generation, despite an effort to reassert more of a “Taiwan first” stance. “The KMT is not operating in the same political climate as a decade ago. Its brand has been tarnished through association with Beijing, its core electorate is waning in numbers,” the Taipei Times warned.

Meanwhile tensions over the island look set to increase as the US presidential election gets closer. The Trump administration upped the ante this week when a US military transport jet was flown across the island on Tuesday. The mission is being interpreted as a signal of Washington’s support amid a more confrontational tone from Beijing. At last month’s parliamentary gathering, Premier Li Keqiang omitted the word ‘peaceful’ when talking about the ‘reunification of Taiwan’ as a matter of government policy.

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