This morning Eric Chu said he would not run for president in 2016. I have a few thoughts.
First, this wasn’t really an announcement. It was more like something that just slipped out. Chu was touring a temple, reporters were badgering him about whether he would serve out his mayoral term, and an exasperated Chu spat out, “I won’t run in 2016, is that good enough?” In other words, this was not something that came out at a carefully planned press conference, and it might not be his final decision. He might have been trying to get the media to stop asking him that same damn question for the n thousandth time!
Second, it sounds like he means it, and today’s slip (if that is what it was) will make it a little harder to backtrack and accept the KMT’s nomination. It might also cost him a handful of votes from people who won’t trust him.
Third, Chu’s strong point is supposed to be his coolness. He is not supposed to get rattled. I don’t care if he was having a bad day. Dodging routine questions about future plans is basic politics 101. If he can’t handle this sort of minor pressure, how is he going to hold up in a full campaign?
Fourth, this is a signal to the rest of the KMT to start the high pressure tactics. Chu is the only viable candidate who isn’t hated by a large part of the party and who is acceptable to the general electorate. Wang is detested by a large chunk of the party, including the Ma group and the military Huang Fu-hsing system. If Wang gets the KMT nomination, the best case scenario is that Ma and Huang Fu-hsing will smile politely and stay seated. At worst, they might decide to go down swinging and back a minor party candidate representing the “true spirit of Sun Yat-sen.” There is no chance that they will thoroughly mobilize to elect Wang. Wu has the opposite problem. He is too closely associated with Ma, and he is extremely unpopular in the general electorate. Hau is not exactly in the Ma camp, but his family background labels him clearly in the Chinese KMT camp. If either one of those (or Hung Hsiu-chu) is at the top of the ticket, the KMT is going to suffer massive losses in the legislature and Tsai is going to win in a landslide. The KMT needs Chu. If I had clout in the party, I would be using every tactic possible to put pressure on him to run. In the party chair race, he seemed to want the party to beg him to run. Now is the time for massive, shameless, overt, craven begging. They’ve got about two weeks until he makes a final final decision. Apparently, he is planning on not running at this point. It would be a disaster for the KMT if they can’t get him to change his mind.
A side note while I’m on the topic of the KMT presidential nomination. Yesterday the KMT announced that of its 350,000 members, only 90,000 or so are eligible to vote in the party primary. There are two large blocs in this 90,000: Huang Fu-hsing (military) system members and people over 75 years old. (Longtime members over 75 are exempt from paying party dues.) This means that while President Ma has very little support in the society at large, he and his faction will be very powerful in any vote of party members.
Currently, the presidential nomination is to be decided by 70% polls and 30% party member votes. Wang and Chu both favor changing this to 100% polls. I think they want to cut Ma out of the process. Wang’s only chance of winning is to draw on his support in the general electorate. If Chu runs, he is favored to win no matter what the process is. However, with 100% polls he wouldn’t have to go to Ma and ask for support. There are always costs to things like that.
One of the downsides to the KMT’s culture of waiting for the rest of the party to beg you to take the crown rather than actively and overtly pursuing it is that no one has prepared for the party vote. Since no one is officially a candidate, no one has done the dirty work of making sure that their supporters within the party bothered to pay dues. As a result, the KMT expression of “party will” will reflect the preferences of old soldiers and older geriatrics.