ANALYSIS/KMT vice president pick could be double-edged sword, analysts warn
By Chung Yu-chen, CNA staff reporter
"If elected, I won't be a voiceless vice president," declared Jaw Shau-kong (趙少康), the once political "golden boy," shortly after being named as the Kuomintang's (KMT) vice presidential candidate on the last day of registration for Taiwan's 2024 presidential election.
Following the dramatic breakdown of the purported alliance between Taiwan's main opposition parties, the KMT and Taiwan People's Party (TPP), recent polling has shown a sharp increase in support for the KMT.
This surge in backing has been attributed by some observers to the choice of the charismatic Jaw as the running mate of KMT presidential candidate Hou Yu-ih (侯友宜).
According to the results of a poll conducted by mnews (鏡新聞), a subsidiary of Mirror Media, on Nov. 24-25 -- after Jaw was announced as Hou's running mate -- the Hou-Jaw ticket received 28.7 percent approval, an 8 percent jump from a poll conducted Oct. 29-30.
In addition, among KMT supporters, Hou's approval rating increased significantly, from 64.4 percent to 82.6 percent, the mnews poll showed.
The latest TVBS poll conducted Nov. 24-26 showed the KMT's Hou gaining 5 percentage points from TVBS' previous poll in late October to 31 percent support, while support for the TPP's Ko fell 6 percentage points to 23 percent.
Support for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) remained unchanged at 34 percent.
As a former senior political figure with election experience, Jaw is expected to effectively "consolidate" the KMT base, especially those who found it difficult to get behind Hou, a native Taiwanese, due to perceptions of him being "not KMT enough."
For that reason, the 73-year-old Jaw's background as a second-generation "mainlander" is viewed by some as an ideal complement to Hou's appeal to pro-KMT Taiwanese.
Native Taiwanese, often referred to as "Benshengren," constitute an identity distinct from "mainlanders" or "Waishengren," which refers to individuals who relocated to Taiwan following the Chinese Civil War in 1949, predominantly with the KMT government at the time, and their descendants.
Though the impact of this distinction has diminished appreciably over the years, it has still affected support for Hou within the party.
By selecting Jaw as Hou's running mate, the KMT is trying to appeal to those who have a stronger Chinese identity and want better relations with China, said Dafydd Fell, director of the Centre of Taiwan Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London.
Many of these voters were not enthusiastic about Hou, who has tended to be vague on national identity-related issues, Fell told CNA in a recent email.
However, nominating a politician whose political peak was over two decades ago raises concerns, Fell said.
Jaw's previous association with the New Party, which was a more overtly pro-unification party, could also put off some voters at a time when the political climate has shifted dramatically in Taiwan, he said, referring to a distancing from China.
Sharing a similar view, Chang Chun-hao (張峻豪), a political science professor at Tunghai University, told CNA that he believes Jaw will continue to put forward pro-China policy proposals that will make young swing voters even less likely to support the KMT.
Furthermore, Chang mentioned that Jaw being Hou's running mate would not necessarily have a positive impact in the long term, despite the recent boost in the polls.
As Jaw gains more prominence through election campaign events held across Taiwan, there is concern in some quarters that he could overshadow Hou, according to Chang.
He added that Hou has been widely seen as lacking debating skills and an international perspective since being chosen as the KMT's presidential candidate.
In Jaw's early years in politics, he was a standout in the KMT, with his excellent ability to articulate policy points and a fresh image, earning him the moniker "political golden boy."
Jaw was one of the most colorful characters on the political scene in the 90s, the SOAS's Fell recalled.
"Even today we still talk about his theatrical performance in the first televised election debate for Taipei City mayor in 1994," he said.
After two terms as a Taipei City councilor, Jaw ascended to the Legislative Yuan in 1987, and at the age of 41 secured a spot in the Cabinet in 1991 as head of the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA), now the Ministry of Environment.
Amid the KMT's process of localization that began in 1989, however, the disputes over the KMT's future direction drove a wedge between Jaw and senior party members. In 1990, he established the "New Kuomintang Alliance" to push for intraparty reform.
Dissatisfaction with the party's choice of legislators led him to resign as EPA chief in 1992, and the following year, Jaw and a group of former KMT politicians established the "New Party."
Chance for political comeback
Jaw entered the Taipei mayoral race in 1994 but with the "blue" vote divided between KMT incumbent Huang Ta-chou (黃大洲) and Jaw, DPP candidate Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) secured victory with 44 percent of the vote to Jaw's 30 percent, consigning the KMT to an ignominious third place with 26 percent in the nation's capital.
Two years later, Jaw withdrew from politics and made a swift transition to the media landscape. He has since wielded influence across radio and television and is currently the chairman of Taiwan's Broadcasting Corporation of China.
Despite this shift in focus, Jaw's passion for politics has remained undiminished.
Following the KMT's crushing defeat in the 2020 presidential election, Jaw rejoined the party the following year and took the lead in establishing the "Bluefighters (戰鬥藍)," a faction known for its more combative stances.
In the 2022 local elections, the Jaw-led "Bluefighters" played a crucial role in unifying KMT members and provided substantial campaign support for the KMT's candidates.
As a result, the party won 14 out of 22 mayoral and county magistrate seats against the DPP's five.
With less than two months left until the presidential election on Jan. 13, all eyes are on whether Jaw can work his electoral magic again on a national level.
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