Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu at his swearing-in ceremony. Photo: Handout

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen has won a hotly contested ruling party primary, setting up a likely campaign for re-election in January. The victory grants Tsai something of a reprieve after her waning public support culminated in her party’s devastating losses to the Kuominang (KMT) in regional elections in November. However, five hopefuls are vying for the KMT nomination to run against her, including the populist Han Kuo-yu. The latest polls indicate a tight race.

The mayor of Kaohsiung, Han Kuo-yu, has officially joined the race to become Taiwan’s next president. While many of his rivals within the KMT are recalibrating their strategies and looking for new ways to stand out in a field eclipsed by Terry Kuo, Han is pressing ahead.

Voters encountering Han on the presidential campaign trail these days express great enthusiasm. Crowds are waving flags and cheering in cities all over Taiwan, rallying under the banner of the “decisive battle in 2020 to win back Taiwan!”

In early June, a cacophonous sea of tens of thousands of people waved flags, chanted and blasted air horns at a rally in eastern Taiwan to express support for Han’s presidential bid. A college student who heard Han’s speech at a rally said he learned that a man once described by the mass media as a “vegetable dealer” believes in entrepreneurship and markets. And at a rally on Ketagalan Boulevard in front of the Presidential Office, a retired teacher emphasized that he’d heard that Han is a “Sun Yat-sen–like partisan.” He said, “He seems like a real leader.”

Han’s supporters are ordinary citizens who are tired of both the Blue and  Green, and their long-running contest to be the most rotten party, hoping the two sides of the Strait will turn to peace from peril and overcome the predicament of being hijacked by pro-unification and pro-Taiwan independence ideologies. In the last election, Han Kuo-yu created the Han vogue; in this presidential election, he must take it further, making the dreams of ordinary citizens come true.

In any case, in the nine-in-one local elections last November, the Han wave  crushed the Democratic Progressive Party’s aura. Han relied on what he had said about the hardships of the people – the true picture of goods not being shipped out, people not coming in, and people not making money.

Han raised the subject of the “Free Economic Zone” (FEZ); it looks like this will become an important policy plank when he runs for president. The Kaohsiung Free Trade Special Zone not only increases employment and overall prosperity in the three southern cities and counties, Kaohsiung, Pingtung and Tainan, but could also be the last opportunity for Taiwan to break out of the low-income trap.

Taiwan’s economic growth has stagnated in recent years, largely due to stringent laws and regulations, especially in the areas of education, employment, finance, medical care, pharmaceuticals, logistics and professional services

Taiwan’s economic growth has stagnated in recent years, largely due to stringent laws and regulations, especially in the areas of education, employment, finance, medical care, pharmaceuticals, logistics and professional services.

If the laws and regulations are massively eased in the FEZ, it will probably attract a large amount of investment, both domestic and foreign; various innovations in services, coupled with infrastructure improvements such as bigger airports, will definitely stimulate Taiwan’s long-stagnant economy.

Han has his strong suits; he won in Kaohsiung City, and after he won the election, his related endeavors, such as hisgrassroots economic development plans and a FEZ for the development of the Greater Kaohsiung area, have shown, without question, that he has made prosperity his top priority. He said he would recognize the “1992 Consensus” under “economics 100%, politics zero,” in order to strive for a strong economy by sweeping away interference.

In order to make all people in Taiwan more prosperous, besides motivation and capability, one must have an in-depth understanding of international economic trends and Taiwan’s economic malaise. Otherwise, with the wrong prescription, it could well make the economy progressively worse. For this reason, let Han “transcend Kaohsiung City,” assume the position of president of the Republic of China.

Han is facing an unprecedented challenge. If he wants Taiwan to secure a better future, he has a duty to become stronger. He must strengthen his obviously inadequate team; he should not only clearly segregate the campaign team and the city administration team, but also painstakingly recruit and enrich a high-level brain trust so that he can have more steady, wholesome, and solid concepts and policies for planning and governance in his administration on the national level in the future. The FEZ, which Han advocated, has become a principal Blue-Green confrontational issue in the 2020 presidential election; Han must shoulder the responsibility of leading the narrative. Only by so doing can a willing, devoted, and hardworking Han achieve a seamless linkage with “Taiwan must win in 2020.”

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Following Tsai’s four-year administration, the race in 2020 is the final choice between “Taiwan independence and no independence.” This is a momentous and crucial matter, allowing for not even the slightest misstep. Therefore, we must remind Han, in a serious tone, that what he created last year was not a KMT miracle, but a miracle of swing voters.  At the three huge campaign rallies in Kaohsiung City, how many were not traditional supporters of the KMT?

Facing the rumblings in the KMT presidential primary and the turbulent waves of the anti-Han army, Han has been extremely calm and determined, confronting 2020 at his own pace.

Most voters are hoping to change the status quo. The DPP, during its three-year administration, has been shackled by a narrow-minded ideology, being constrained by its anti-China and counter-China splittist path, and even relying on the United States for self-aggrandizement, and disregarding the sustained escalation of strained cross-Strait ties. This not only restrained the development of cross-Strait economic-trade relations, undermining Taiwan’s grassroots economy, but also pushed Taiwan toward a perilous state.

Han shot to political stardom after ending the DPP’s 20-year rule in its traditional stronghold Kaohsiung during local elections last November, with the media describing his rising popularity as the “Han tide.” Earlier this month, tens of thousands of supporters gathered in Taipei and Hualien for rallies that were seen as shows of strength before announcing his run.

Many of the participants were waving Republic of China flags and chanting slogans, expressing their fervent desire to see Han replace incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party in the election scheduled for January 11 next year. Supporters see him as a plain-talking maverick and political outsider who has shaken up the staid KMT.

The 2020 election is so important that Taiwan voters must not lose sight of the big picture. Han said he would aim to move Taiwan away from poverty and unhappiness once he becomes Taiwan’s leader, and observers say he is the ideal candidate to make Taiwan safer and more prosperous. Han Kuo-Yu is the answer for Taiwan in 2020.

Kent Wang

Kent Wang is a research fellow at the Institute for Taiwan-America Studies (ITAS), a conservative Washington-based think-tank focusing on aspects of US-Taiwan relations, and is broadly interested in the United States-Taiwan-China trilateral equation, as well as in East Asian security architecture.

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