Han is, um, unique

The KMT has nominated Han Kuo-yu to run for Kaohsiung mayor, and I want to say a few words about him. This is a near hopeless race for the KMT, so Han is highly unlikely to win. Chen Chi-mai is almost certain to win, and he is a talented and promising politician who will join Lai, Lin, and Cheng vying for the 2024 presidential nomination. So this is not an post about the horse race; it is about how Han is not a normal KMT candidate.

The KMT has been doing terribly in the south for several years, but it can’t afford to write off the entire region. If it wants to be competitive in future presidential races, it has to figure out some sort of appeal for southern voters. What it has now just isn’t working. The KMT could have nominated a standard KMT candidate and tried the same script again; instead it nominated Han who promises to try a new strategy.

Han came up in Zhonghe politics, up in New Taipei City. He served three terms in the legislature (1992-2001), though he was pretty anonymous. He drew strength from the KMT’s Huang Fu-hsing military system, and he was a pretty standard military-sponsored politician. Like a couple other Huang Fu-hsing representatives (eg: Shih Tai-sheng), Han also is reported as having extensive ties to organized crime gangs. (Gee, that was a strangely constructed sentence!)

Han mostly disappeared from the public eye for about 15 years. Then, a couple years ago, he emerged as head of the Taipei City farmers association, where he was allied with former Yunlin county magistrate Chang Jung-wei (who other people have also suggested might just perhaps be deeply enmeshed in criminal networks).

And then last year, Han ran for KMT chair. He didn’t win; he only got 5.8% of the votes. However, his discourse was interesting and very different from all the other candidates. I watched all the debates on youtube, and this is what I wrote about Han:

 

Five of the candidates sounded rather similar. Han sounded completely different. During both debates, Han didn’t talk about things like the 1992 Consensus, KMT party assets, or other partisan topics. Instead, he talked about the difficulties of everyday life for lower income and less educated people. Good jobs are scarce, drug use is common, things are too expensive, and life is generally hard. Notably, he did not blame all of these woes solely on President Tsai and the DPP. He was complaining about the effects of President Ma’s policies just as much. His discourse was limited to expressing the pain felt by the lower class. He did not bother to offer any solutions, not even Trump-esque claims that everything could be easily fixed if only someone really wanted to. This was a campaign aimed at the people who know the system is rigged against them and will continue to be rigged against them. It was also aimed at young men, especially the types who might drive a truck or join a gang. This may not have been the best strategy for a KMT party chair race, since I would wager that KMT members are less likely than the general population to be young, unemployed, financially struggling, or to feel that the system is rigged against them. Nevertheless, Han didn’t do terribly. I wonder how many candidates will pick up this campaign strategy for the city and county councilor elections next year.

 

There are two names that I really don’t want to drop into this post, but I can’t think of any better way to make the point. The first is Donald Trump. Han is pushing an angry, populist message aimed at young and middle-aged men with low education levels and who want blue collar jobs. There are, of course, lots of aspects of Trump’s discourse that are missing (eg: immigration, attacks on the media, anti-trade), but the target audience is similar.

The second name—well maybe I’ll just let you guess. Unlike the standard-issue KMT-allied (alleged) organized crime boss (think Chang Jung-wei, Lo Fu-chu, Yen Ching-piao, Lin Ming-yi, …), Han is not merely allied with Chinese nationalism for convenience or patronage benefits. Coming from the Huang Fu-hsing system, Chinese nationalism is a core principal for Han. This makes him a different type of gangster. I am suggesting that the KMT might be interested in seeing how Han’s discourse plays out, but I suspect the PRC is also watching this very closely. If Han does well, they might be even more aggressive in sponsoring crime gangs in Taiwan politics.

 

I don’t know if Han’s message will work. I suspect it will not. If it doesn’t, he doesn’t have the deep organizational networks to overcome the lack of a compelling message. It’s entirely possible that more conventional KMT city council candidates will panic and encourage a more standard politician to run an independent mayoral campaign, worrying that their voters will not want to turn out to vote for a mayoral candidate like Han. However, if Han somehow manages to break into the low 40s, KMT presidential and legislative candidates (in green districts) in 2020 might decide to copy his populist approach. It’s worth keeping an eye on.

(Would it have been wrong to title this post “Han Solo” just for the extra clicks?)

6 Responses to “Han is, um, unique”

  1. Frank Says:

    Yes the title should be Han Solo……no doubt

  2. Michael Says:

    As always insightful and interesting – you have renewed my flagging interest in Taiwan’s elections. Thanks. M

  3. Sam Chang Says:

    Have you noticed our citizens’ initiative to let voters decide, through a general referendum,  whether voters should have the option to vote against on a ballot, was rejected by the Central Election Commission, for “non compliance with law(s)”, without specific explanation of how and why?  

    傳送自 Yahoo奇摩電子信箱 Android 版 在 2018 年 年 5月 月 23 日 日週三,時間:上午 1:23 , Frozen Garlic 寫道: #yiv5282249845 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv5282249845 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv5282249845 a.yiv5282249845primaryactionlink:link, #yiv5282249845 a.yiv5282249845primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv5282249845 a.yiv5282249845primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv5282249845 a.yiv5282249845primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv5282249845 WordPress.com | frozengarlic posted: “The KMT has nominated Han Kuo-yu to run for Kaohsiung mayor, and I want to say a few words about him. This is a near hopeless race for the KMT, so Han is highly unlikely to win. Chen Chi-mai is almost certain to win, and he is a talented and promising pol” | |

  4. KF Says:

    As a Kaohsiung native and current resident, it is disappointing that KMT sent a politician of such questionable calibre to contend for mayor of a municipality office. In fact, it is downright offensive to many that KMT would consider Han’s “brashness” as attractive to southern Taiwan’s “earthy” sensibilities. Further, Han’s highly publicized initial lack of commitment to Kaohsiung seriously damaged his credibility.

    There are PLENTY of KMT supporters in Kaohsiung, but it is very difficult for supporters to rally behind sub-par candidates who are unwilling to venture out of their comfort zones. KMT is also perceived to have devolved their level of politics to petty regional and local factions in Kaohsiung. That Kaohsiung is not a high priority is keenly felt, and somewhat resented.

  5. channamasala Says:

    Chang An-lo?

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