國民黨已宣布徵召侯友宜參選 2024 年 1 月台灣總統大選，而台灣民眾黨的柯文哲也決定角逐總統選舉。然而，國民黨將如何調整其競選策略以爭取台灣選民的支持，尤其是中間和務實的選民支持，仍有待觀察，而柯文哲可能會成為「造王者」，甚至是強勁的對手，足以在明年的大舉中製造意外的結果。
第一，執政民進黨已經提名副總統賴清德參選，國民黨不應再浪費時間，宜大力為侯友宜造勢，讓他的知名度上升，在現在到 2024 年初的選戰期中競爭，甚至超越賴清德。
國民黨的侯友宜能否贏得 2024 年總統大選，將取決於幾個因素：
諷刺的是，那些有黑道背景的國民黨地方黨員中，有幾個可能不願意支持他。事實上，台灣傳媒在侯友宜正式獲提名為黨內候選人後，立即質疑他會否接近那些背景可疑的國民黨地方人士。 侯友宜一直打電話聯繫藍營縣市長，特別是因為他們將構成強大的地方「樁腳」，在台灣總統選舉中為侯友宜爭取選票。 侯友宜打擊犯罪的形象及其尋求國民黨地方精英無條件支持的必要性，其困境可見一斑。
第四，賴清德目前在他的平台上似乎缺乏政治創新，這種現象可能有助於侯友宜的選情。賴清德目前只強調和平的重要性，但受到幾個問題的妨礙：來自總統蔡英文的沉重包袱和責任、一直採取對抗和挑釁大陸的政策（特別是在 2022 年夏天冒着激怒大陸領導層的風險，發展與時任美國眾議院議長佩洛西的關係）、不願對大陸採取更友好的政策，並在他的競選綱領中延續了強烈的意識形態基調。如果賴清德和他的幕僚不能打造一個對中間派選民更具吸引力的平台，侯友宜甚至新星柯文哲都有機會擊敗民進黨。
綜上所述，國民黨提名侯友宜、民眾黨提名柯文哲參加台灣2024年總統選舉的決定，已經掀開了島內政治發展的新篇章。侯、柯、賴之間非常緊張的三路角逐，將是台灣島內外所有觀察人士分析的最精彩的選戰。最重要的是，他們的競選政綱將決定選民，尤其是年輕、中間派和年長選民如何在 2024 年 1 月的選舉日投票。此刻，侯友宜和賴清德似乎都是有力的競爭者，但柯文哲是黑馬也是潛在的「造王者」，以及隱藏版的強大候選人，他們可以並且很可能在接下來的8個月內聲勢突然上升。如果民進黨在蔡英文執政的最後一年和賴清德的新領導下有如日落西山，那麼侯友宜的新面孔和柯文哲的創新平台可能會帶來 一場高度不可預測的激烈競爭、在政治上激動人心且意義空前的台灣總統選舉。
OPINION – Will Ko Wen-je or Hou Yu-ih win the 2024 presidential election in Taiwan?
The Kuomintang (KMT) has nominated Hou Yu-ih as its presidential candidate running for the January 2024 presidential election in Taiwan, while Ko Wen-je of the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) has decided to make a similar move. Nevertheless, it remains to be seen how the KMT will shape its campaign strategies in such a way as to woo the support of Taiwan voters, especially those who are moderates and pragmatists, while Ko Wen-je will likely be a kingmaker or even a strong contender producing an upset in the 2024 election.
Hou Yu-ih’s nomination as the KMT presidential candidate is not surprising for several reasons.
First, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has already nominated its vice-president William Lai as the candidate, and as such, the KMT should not waste any time to groom Hou and make his popularity increase in such a way as to compete and even outrival Lai in the current transition leading to early 2024.
Second, business tycoon Terry Guo of the KMT announced that he would seek nomination, but Guo’s popularity in public opinion polls have lagged behind Hou, and therefore the KMT leadership had to make a more decisive move to inform Guo that he is not the favoured candidate. The decision to nominate Hou can be interpreted as a move to settle the KMT’s internal dispute and possible split because of any controversy over nomination.
It is reported in the Taiwan media that Guo appears to be unhappy and that he is visiting Japan for a trip that makes him absent in a KMT rally in support of Hou. It is also rumoured that KMT party chair Eric Chu received Guo’s visit cooly, and that Chu told Guo that, if Guo could persuade Hou not to run, then the party centre would alter its decision.
Obviously, Eric Chu did not want to use his personal whim to impose any candidate onto the KMT nomination ticket – a shrewd move given the fact that public opinion polls were undoubtedly a more accurate indicator deciding who is the best candidate running for the presidential election. Chu did a good job in maintaining his relative neutrality while using the poll results as a legitimizing means of deciding the most popular candidate within the KMT.
Terry Guo has given an image of showing political fluctuations as he withdrew from the KMT in the past. Although Guo re-joined the KMT, his internal support has waned.
Guo’s image as a successful businessman in mainland China, however, would perhaps position him well as a potential middleman in cross-strait relations, along with former KMT president Ma Ying-jeou. It is unclear whether Guo would decide to play the role of a middleman.
Ke’s TPP would likely nominate its own younger member, former Taipei deputy mayor Huang Shan-shan according to media reports, as a running mate.
Whether Hou Yu-ih of the KMT would win the 2024 presidential election will depend on several factors.
First, he needs to come up with a powerful and attractive campaign platform, especially one on cross-strait relations. It is reported that Hou is personally weak in his articulation of cross-strait relations and understanding of international politics. Hence, he has been studying these political issues to beef up his image as a strong KMT candidate with a cross-strait platform and international relations profile attractive to voters.
Second, Hou needs to concretely address Taiwan’s law and order issues as crime and drug addiction appear to be on the rise. Hou as a former police commissioner does help him as a candidate who can and will deal with crime-related issues.
Ironically, a few of those KMT local members with shady background would perhaps be reluctant to support him, and in fact the Taiwan media immediately questioned Hou whether he would approach those KMT local elites with suspected background once he was formally nominated as the party candidate. Hou has been acting diplomatically by calling and contacting the local elites of the KMT, especially as they would constitute powerful local “piling legs” which grasp votes for Hou in Taiwan’s presidential elections. The dilemma of Hou’s image of fighting crime in general and of his necessity to seek unconditional support of KMT’s local elite can be seen.
Third, it remains to be seen how the mainland policies and gestures toward the KMT will be shaped in such a way as to converge with Hou’s platform as the only candidate bringing about peace across the two straits. The mainland has begun to relax the restrictions for Taiwan tourists to visit mainland – a carrot-type policy showing concrete economic benefits to the people of Taiwan. It is likely that mainland relations with Taiwan will continue to be slightly relaxed in a way beneficial to the political image of Hou.
Fourth, William Lai currently appears to lack political innovation in his platform and this phenomenon would likely help Hou’s campaign. At present, Lai only emphasizes the importance of peace, but he is hampered by several issues: the heavy baggage and liability from president Tsai Ing-wen who has been adopting a policy of confronting and provoking the mainland (especially cultivating relations with Nancy Pelosi in the summer of 2022 at the risk of alienating the mainland leadership); the reluctance of adopting a more friendly policy toward the mainland; and the continuation of a strong ideological tone in his campaign platform. If Lai and his advisors fail to shape a platform more attractive to moderate voters, Hou and even the rising star Ko Wen-je would have a chance of defeating the DPP.
Fifth, the most exciting dark horse in the 2024 election is and will be Ko Wen-je who recently visited the US for three weeks. His political platform is far more special than William Lai and Hou Yu-ih by putting forward five mutuals – mutual knowledge, understanding, respect, cooperation, and accommodation while arguing for a new status quo (no unification and no conflicts) as well as projecting Taiwan as a bridge between mainland China and the US.
Ko Wen-je’s point on Taiwan as a Sino-US bridge distinguishes himself from the anti-mainland William Lai and the currently status quo supporter Hou Yu-ih. Hou rejects the “one country, two systems,” but he has not yet come up with a constructive proposal with the mainland.
If Hou can reshape his platform with more concrete and constructive ideas on cross-strait relations, moderate votes would perhaps be more interested in the KMT. Otherwise, Ko’s TPP would perhaps be a powerful kingmaker and even a dark horse in the 2024 presidential elections.
Ko Wen-je’s another distinguishing platform quite different from Hou and Lai is his emphasis on the formation of a coalition government if he were elected as the Taiwan president – an innovation that would call for broad political consensus. In a sense, Ko’s platform would likely have an unintended consequence of facilitating the mainland’s united front work on Taiwan. Having a coalition government means that, theoretically and practically, the mainland would be able to appeal to such government for a closer economic, socio-cultural, and political relations in the years to come.
At this moment, the mainland perhaps finds Hou Yu-ih from the KMT a more favourable candidate as cross-strait relations have already been propelled in a closer way during the Ma Ying-jeou era. Having a political comeback from the KMT would facilitate the mainland’s outreaching work toward Taiwan.
Recent public opinion polls have shown that Ko Wen-je is much stronger than conventional wisdom expected, and that more elderly voters tend to reject the continuation of DPP rule. If this trend persists, the DPP would likely witness the end of its presidential rule in 2024. Although public opinion polls show that many young voters still support the DPP, the party appears to suffer from its long period of governance and its constantly confrontational policy toward the mainland, especially among the elderly voters who yearn for stability and real peace.
Given that Ko Wen-je was popular among many young, moderate, and pragmatic voters, he will likely draw supporters away from both the DPP’s light green camp and the KMT’s light blue force. If Ko succeeds in doing so, he would perhaps bring about a tremendous upset in the 2024 elections.
If the above analysis that the DPP’s rule is very likely endangered, the political implications for both the mainland and the US will be tremendous. The mainland authorities may have to figure how to interact with Hou’s KMT in a constructive way, coming up with policies favourable to Taiwan’s pragmatic and moderate voters. On the other hand, the mainland will have to ponder how to deal with Ko Wen-je constructively if he is going to constitute a formidable force in the upcoming election.
Similarly, the US policymakers may have to rethink whether their policy of perhaps excessively supporting the DPP should continue, especially if the election result would produce a non-DPP government. Some hawkish US strategists have often exaggerated “the China threat” on Taiwan; nevertheless, a more productive and more pragmatic US policy is to study the possibilities and scenarios of making cross-strait relations peaceful, trustful, and constructive with dialogue and negotiations rather than producing mutual confrontations, shouting matches and conflicts.
In conclusion, the decision of the KMT to nominate Hou Yu-ih and that of the TPP to nominate Ko Wen-je to participate in the 2024 presidential election in Taiwan has already opened a new page on the island’s political development. The very tight and tense three-way race between Hou, Ko and Lai will be the most exciting electoral contest for all observers to analyse inside and outside the island of Taiwan. Most importantly, their campaign platforms will determine how voters, especially the young, moderates and elderly ones, will cast their ballots on the election day in January 2024. At this moment, both Hou and Lai seem to be strong contenders, but Ko is a dark horse and a potential kingmaker as well as a hiddenly strong candidate who can and will likely climb up suddenly in the forthcoming eight months. If a sunset of the DPP in the final year of Tsai Ing-wen and under the new leadership of William Lai is perhaps looming, then the new fresh face of Hou Yu-ih and the innovative platform of Ko Wen-je will likely bring about a hotly contested, highly unpredictable, politically exciting, and unprecedentedly significant presidential election in Taiwan.