【明報專訊】TAIWAN will go to the polls in the coming Saturday's "nine-in-one" elections. Drawing the most attention is the mayoral elections in the six special municipalities — Taipei, New Taipei City, Taoyuan, Taichung, Tainan, Kaohsiung, which are commonly known as the "six capitals". And of the six races, it is that in Kaohsiung, a southern city as well as a stronghold of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), that is the most gripping. Han Kuo-yu, the underdog candidate from the Kuomintang (KMT) parachuted into the race, has enjoyed rising popularity on the strength of his alternative yet friendly image, so much so that he has become a new political idol across Taiwan. Now he is ahead of his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) opponent in opinion surveys. Whatever the election results, the "Han wave" he has triggered will go down in history as the most peculiar political phenomenon in Taiwan in the year 2018.
Southern Taiwan has long been a stronghold of the DPP, and Kaohsiung is an especially deep green region. There the DPP has been in government for more than twenty years. In the presidential election two years ago, the DPP defeated the KMT by more than 560,000 votes in Kaohsiung. The mayoral election of Kaohsiung four years ago also saw Chen Chu, the DPP candidate, trounce the KMT candidate by 540,000 votes. That Han, an outsider to the city, has turned the tide in a place where "even the earth is green three metres deep" is the story of "the race between the tortoise and the rabbit" come true. A heavy blow to the DPP government, it also raises hopes of a KMT revival. It can even be a wild card in the 2020 presidential election.
Han, whose strategy is to put himself in the direst situation and seeks survival, campaigns like no one else. He has talked with farmers and fishermen when presenting himself as a vegetable vendor. He refrains from mentioning issues such as "opposition to Taiwan's independence" and "the 1992 consensus", talking only about selling agricultural products across the strait. A member of the KMT, he takes great pains to distance himself from the old image of the KMT, stressing that "the election will be a vote of no confidence in the DPP by citizens of Kaohsiung and Han". In a departure from traditional politics, he did not launch any vitriolic attacks on his opponent. He has cultivated a friendly image with his eloquence and plain language. He sings with his heart out and downs wine with deep bowls, which people of Kaohsiung find relatable. All of a sudden he has become the darling of the media. Wherever he goes, he stirs passion like a pop star. The "Han wave" has swept across Taiwan, with Han even campaigning for candidates of the same party in other municipalities and magistrates, bringing hopes of KMT revival in many mayoral elections.
The "nine-in-one" elections are seen as a "mid-term test" for Tsai Ing-wen, the Taiwanese president. No matter whether there will be a "Han wave" miracle, the leadership of Tsai and Chen Chu, now secretary general to the president, in the DPP is likely to be challenged. The political climate of Taiwan will also be changed. Even if Han loses, he might be able to carry what is left of the "Han wave" into 2020 and become a presidential candidate.
The "Han wave" reflects one thing: the Taiwanese people are tired of ideological manipulation and want an end to the bitter disagreements between the Blue and Green camps.
stronghold : an area in which there is a lot of support for a particular belief or group of people, especially a political party
trounce : to defeat sb completely
vitriolic : full of anger and hatred