After her meteoric rise, Hung Hsiu-chu must face down harsh realities
Deputy Speaker Hung Hsiu- chu’s fairy tale run to secure her party’s candidacy has taken the Kuomintang (KMT), the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and much of the nation by surprise. But as the dust settles and the shock starts to wear off from her undeni- ably gutsy feat, tough questions regarding her electability still loom ahead. It remains to be seen how far her audacity will continue to propel her beyond the party stronghold which initially cast her aside as cannon fodder, toward the broader Taiwanese electorate.
After a lull caused by the KMT top brass refusing to sit down in a somewhat ghoulish game of musical chairs to finalize its candidate for president, they finally have their woman: a plain-spoken, direct, stick-to-my-guns politician who seems to be the perfect coun- terpoint to the DPP’s soft-spoken, erudite yet emotionally distant Tsai Ing-wen. And whereas Tsai has seemingly flip-flopped on crossstrait issues in order to toe the U.S. line, Hung makes no effort to hide her support for eventual unification.
The Southern Question
However, as much as Hung’s revitalization of the pan-blue support base has energized voters who stayed home rather than vote during the KMT’s 2014 election debacle, it is unclear whether her rhetoric will find resonance in Southern and even Central Taiwan. Indeed, Hung has said that she requires both time and opportunities to win over those who do not support her presidential bid, but how?
A feature published by an opposition-leaning think tank on Monday also questioned Hung’s experience in elections, as she has not ever been in a one-on-one face-off before. In those elections she did win, she depended heavily on her base in then-Taipei County’s Yonghe, a traditional pan-blue stronghold.
While some of Hung’s supporters argue that a country cannot be conceptually divided into regions, it is a feat of wishful thinking to imagine away the KMT’s attraction (or lack thereof) south of the Zhuoshui River. Hung’s meeting with well- connected Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng will be an important step in gauging whether she can broaden her support there.
Securing Party Unity
of a Hung- Wang meeting also relates squarely to whether the dark horse candidate can effectively bring the pan-blue coalition under a united banner. People First Party Chairman James Soong, who was an also-ran in 2012, still has significant pull, and his waiting until August to finalize his intentions will make it a challenge to solidify the not-so-well-oiled KMT party machine and bring it to battle readiness. To her credit, Hung has already shown that the public can be stirred to support her for playing by the rules of the KMT, something that boosted her prospects after Wang’s “obliged to run” remarks seemingly backfired. It remains to be seen if the same party elders whose feathers she ruffled will indeed support her.
Whether Hung can convert surprise into a sustained platform that can transcend regional and ideological divides will now depend more on whether she can rally the electorate to demand a reformed KMT which has allowed her run to continue, rather than on suspending disbelief alone.