Hung Hsiu-chu talks about her campaign to ‘reawaken hope’
Her emergence as the Kuomintang’s prospective presidential candidate may have been the product of unusual circumstances, but “Little Hot Pepper” Hung Hsiu-chu is ready to wage a vigorous campaign against heavy favorite Tsai Ing-wen.
On the eve of the Dragon Boat Festival, Deputy Legislative Speaker Hung Hsiu-chu was taking a break in her garden with an African tortoise she adopted three years ago. Hung, who does everything at high speed, was disarmed by the plodding terrapin, bending down to lightly caress her shelled friend and enjoy a rare moment of relaxation.
2015 has been a whirlwind for the veteran politician, who has rarely gotten more than five hours of sleep a night after being propelled into the spotlight by a series of events best described as “surprises.”
Hung surprised many by entering the KMT’s presidential primary and then shocked observers when she registered sufficient support in opinion polls to meet the high threshold set by the KMT, a bar set deliberately high to keep candidates with limited appeal — like Hung — from getting the party’s presidential nomination.
The result means that Taiwan’s 2016 presidential election will be between two women. As the decided underdog against Democratic Progressive Party Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen, Hung is expected to run an aggressive campaign, suited to her fiery style that has earned her the nickname “Little Hot Pepper.”
According to KMT insiders, Hung seemingly backed into the nomination after KMT heavyweights opted not to enter the party primary. They say Vice President Wu Den- yih wanted to run, but was held back by consistently low poll numbers. Legislative Speaker Wang Jinpyng also was interested in running, but his close advisors were divided over the idea. While some wanted Wang to vie for the presidency, others hoped he would try to remain as the head of Taiwan’s legislative body, a position he has held since 1999. As someone who tries to please everybody, Wang vacillated and never made a final decision.
The other factor was that many party heavyweights were unwilling to enter the KMT’s presidential primary and stand at the same starting line with a relative no-name like Hung, instead hoping that the party would “draft” them to run once lower-profile candidates such as Hung fell by the wayside.
But ultimately, against all odds, Hung cleared the necessary hurdles and emerged as the KMT’s likely candidate. She is now expected to be formally nominated by the party as its presidential candidate at the KMT party congress on July 19.
In this interview with CommonWealth Magazine, t he 67-year-old Hung discusses the looming campaign, her hopes for the election and her personal plans.
CommonWealth Magazine: When you entered the KMT presidential primary, your slogan was “Bringing Change.” Has the KMT changed?
Hung Hsiu-chu: That’s a good question. I hope that through my campaign, the KMT can get back its right to discourse, restore its vitality and momentum, and establish a real democratic model within the party. These are all the beginnings of change.
A 100- year- old party has a deep-seated culture and changing it cannot happen overnight. But through this opportunity, we want to awaken everybody, restore some vitality and give people a sense of hope. Then we want to get more young people to feel that this party is pretty good.
CW: It will now be a presidential battle between two women. What are your expectations for the race?
Hung: I hope there won’t be all sorts of smear campaigns and speculation. Everybody should restrain those below them from doing that kind of thing. We are both women; things should be more dignified.
How Hung Differs from Tsai
CW: How do you think you differ from Tsai Ing-wen?
Hung: The biggest difference is that up to now she has not answered anything. I often joke that while she may be very welleducated, she always makes sure people don’t know the answers to questions. As for me, there are times when I say too much. We don’t have a rigorous process where we first compose drafts or try to pre- empt things, and it can be exhausting.
Actually, that’s really against my nature. Normally, I’m very laid- back and not at all as fierce and intense as I’m portrayed in the media. It’s just that I have different roles in different venues. In private, I’m very ordinary and casual and I enjoy a good laugh. Now I suddenly have to restrain myself and worry that a joke I let slip may end up making headlines. My goodness. It really wears you down.
CW: So why then did you decide to run and put forth so much effort?
Hung: Actually, I made a decision during this year’s Lunar New Year holiday to retire soon. At the time, I felt that, considering my background, reaching the point I have now has done my ancestors justice and has not let my parents down.
I’ve worked my entire life and have never lived a life I can truly call my own. By retiring, I can choose the “old gal” life I want to lead. I have a lot of interests, but I’ve always been tied to my work and have never had a chance to just let go. Retiring would mean living a free and leisurely life.
But the blow from the KMT’s loss in the local elections ( in November 2014), didn’t just cause me a lot of pain, it gave the pan-blue camp a big shock. Many people felt pain, and many others were indifferent. That indifference only made us feel sadder. Since when had a 100-yearold party fallen to that extent? Would that loss of confidence and slump in morale lead to a lack of optimism among our supporters and cause them to give up?
At that time, all newspapers were talking about was ‘ Ko P’ (Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je), while the KMT had disappeared. How could the KMT contest the 2016 presidential election under such circumstances? It was in consideration of this that I started to become more vocal after the Lunar New Year break.
But when the KMT primary began, everybody still seemed indifferent, so I decided to pick up an application for the primary to get things going. If a small, humble woman like me dared to take such a big step, would you heavyweights who have so much influence and have been nurtured by the party and the country be willing to come out and carry the torch at this most difficult time for the party?
Hung Hsiu-chu displays her earrings and necklace featuring a “little pepper” donated by her supporters on June 22.