My best wishes to Andrew and his family. Great to have so much detailed attention for Taiwan in the latest episode as well as some insight in the views of the important higher business circles. I cannot help but share some thoughts on what I think adds context to your discussion on the January 2024 elections.

The comment by Bill that the Ma Ying-jeou visit was a success made me perk up as someone who follows both Chinese and Taiwanese politics and has written his PhD dissertation on the PRC bubbles that develop in Taiwan and Singapore. To me the whole visit was a perfect illustration of the two entirely different realities that have come into being on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. What looked like a great success and proud nationalist Chinese moment to China and the small, elderly circle of elite Mainlanders in Taiwan appears entirely outdated on the other side. Outside Ma’s bubble, talk about the Chinese nation and Sun Yat-sen has a worse effect than fall flat: it alienates people.

Polling data: ‘60.6 percent were satisfied with Tsai’s performance during her visit, while only 35 percent were satisfied with Ma’s’ https://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2023/04/14/2003797925

A harsh but very insightful take, for those who can read Mandarin, on the way the small circle of elite Mainlanders have shut themselves off from Taiwanese society and now live in a parallel world is here: https://voicettank.org/外省人如何建構何以今日疏離如此/

Of course, if the jumble of often politically motivated surveys on visits makes one thing clear, is that in the end public opinion in Taiwan always splits along partisan lines. But Ma’s continued hold over the KMT and his ability to block previous chair Johnny Chiang Chi-chen’s attempts at reforming its China policy into something more electable are signs of deep troubles for the KMT. He antagonised the people so badly during his second term that for a while a majority supported the occupation of the legislature as part of the Sunflower Movement resulting in the first legislative majority ever for the DPP in 2016. His Chinese nationalism has only intensified since then, but the KMT simply won’t move on.

The difficulty to get to the most obvious candidate—New Taipei mayor Hou You-yi—demonstrates this again. Hou is generally seen as a moderate and precisely a threat for the KMT establishment because he is a native Taiwanese benshengren and thus strikes in them the fear of another ‘traitor’ Lee Teng-hui. He also has managed to get far by staying out of national controversies and cross-Strait politics, but he will have to start talking about the topics if he becomes a national candidate.

Hou has another weakness that might help explain DPP’s Lai Ching-te choice for the ‘democracy vs authoritarianism’ framing. Apart from allowing the DPP to mobilise the crucial Taiwan-vs-China vote, the frame also hits the former party-state party KMT. But it is specifically dangerous to Hou, because he was a police commander during the martial law period. In fact, he was in charge of the operation against magazine editor Nylon Deng (Cheng Nan-jung) that led to Deng’s self-immolation at the end of a siege of his office by Hou’s forces. That day is now Taiwan’s annual Freedom of Expression Day…

The DPP did indeed do not so great in the 2022 local elections. But local elections are always the DPP’s to lose. The KMT has incumbency advantage there and the remnants of the local patronage networks it built during its dictatorship. Local elections also don’t concern the Taiwan-China split as much, which hurts the DPP’s voter mobilisation. Moreover, although people’s judgement of the 2022 election outcome was coloured by the bad results in the mayor and magistrate races, the DPP actually *gained* 39 councillor seats nation-wide to a total of 277 while the KMT *lost* 27, its total down to 367. Were there really a clear winner and a clear loser?

The biggest risk for *both* KMT and DPP is the fact that many Taiwanese indeed want to just live their lives. The Chinese risk is more abstract, the concrete challenge consists of low wages, high cost of living and the unaffordability of real estate. Although some commentators write him off, former Taipei mayor and third force party TPP chair Ko Wen-je is now in the US as behooves a Taiwanese presidential candidate. He will probably run for the TPP and what I hear from Taipei and see in the polls is that Ko and his message of ‘no to warmongering DPP, no to China-bowing KMT’ should not just ignored, even if he is an unlikely victor.

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