2020 ELECTIONS/Presidential debate sees attacks on media, personal vitriol

12/29/2019 10:15 PM
Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) of the Kuomintang (KMT)
Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) of the Kuomintang (KMT)

Taipei, Dec. 29 (CNA) Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) of the Kuomintang (KMT) lashed out at media questions and its behavior at Sunday's televised presidential debate, which also saw plenty of personal vitriol between Han and incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文).

Han blasted Apple Daily and Sanlih E-Television over what he felt was the ongoing smear campaign he has been subject to since he successfully ran for Kaohsiung mayor in the second half of 2018.

In Sunday's debate, five media representatives each asked the candidates a question in the second part of the debate, after the opening statements, and it was a question by the tabloid-like Apple Daily, the largest newspaper in the country, that set him off.

Apple Daily deputy editor-in-chief Tsai Jih-yun (蔡日雲) brought up a payment Han made to a woman surnamed Wang (with whom he allegedly had an extramarital relationship) and asked him how he could convince people he was somebody who was trustworthy and they could vote for.

Han, who had his DNA tested to prove the woman's child was not his, was clearly angered by the question about his personal life, and said the query reflected the "tabloid" nature of the paper and its lack of standards and ethics.

He further accused the newspaper of a "double standard" as it paid close attention to gossip about him but not to gossip related to President Tsai for fear of displeasing the ruling administration.

Mocking Apple Daily for what he saw as its thirst for gossip, he wondered why the Apple Daily editor did not ask him whether he was previously married or when he lost his virginity.

Later, a question from the government-leaning Liberty Times that said China was part of the KMT's election strategy set Han off on a more controlled rant against Sanlih E-Television, which is known to favor the DPP.

He accused the channel of having "no conscience" and of being one of the main sources of the DPP's smear campaign against him.

Han said he fully respected media freedom but did not respect these "low quality" media outlets.

The Kaohsiung mayor also questioned CNA's query by editor-in-chief Jay Chen (陳正杰).

The question focused on the growing concern among democracies around the world on China's increasingly hardline stance against Taiwan, its repression of people in Xinjiang, and stern opposition to Hong Kong's democracy.

Chen asked how Han and Soong would interact with China without making concessions to the nation's sovereignty, democracy and freedom, should they win the election.

In response, Han said the question shows exactly how the CNA's editor-in-chief has "limited" Taiwan with his question and has been "restricted by ideology," calling it a "pity."

Chen later said the question was important for a future president of Taiwan and regretted that Han did not elaborate on his answer because of the limited time.

At the same time, Apple Daily lodged a protest to Han in response to the KMT candidate's criticism of the newspaper.

In a statement, the newspaper accused Han of dodging the questions the deputy editor-in-chief asked before further raising unfounded accusations against the daily, "setting the worst example in a democratic election."

Sanlih, meanwhile, said it will file suit against Han over the latter's criticism of the network.

Asked to comment on Han's lashing out against media during the debate, two Taiwanese professors, Chu Chao-hsiang (曲兆祥) and Fan Shih-ping (范世平), said the move was expected to lose some swing voters' support for losing his temper publicly.

Aside from the attacks on the media, Han and Tsai went at it over their use of cyber armies.

In a part of the debate in which the candidates asked each other questions, Han criticized Tsai for what he described as her poor performance.

"The only thing the DPP has made progress on is how to make use of an internet army in launching a smear campaign against me," Han noted.

Tsai responded by saying Han was actually the one who benefited with the so-called internet army from China, which she said helped Han win the Kaohsiung mayoral race in November 2018.

Tsai also said Facebook recently removed a huge number of groups or fan pages supporting Han after finding them violating related rules, according to Tsai, who said it showed the Han camp was spreading disinformation.

Facebook Taiwan did not specify what rules the groups violated.

Tsai, meanwhile, continued to accuse Han of lacking the qualities to become a nation's leader with his discriminatory, emotional, misleading remarks and failure to keep his promises.

"Isn't being trustworthy one of the most important characteristics of being a president?" Tsai asked.

In response, the Kaohsiung mayor said Tsai herself has repeatedly failed to live up to her words and was not qualified to criticize him for that.

"You promised to be humble yet we have seen you pushing through an anti-infiltration act (in the Legislative Yuan)," Han said, accusing Tsai of acting like a dictator.

(By Joseph Yeh)

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