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

Ing- wen

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.

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