Billionaire iPhone shakes the presidential elections in Taiwan

Terry Gou, the billionaire founder of iPhone maker Foxconn, has a dramatic manifesto for Taiwan’s presidency: to rescue the country from the “brink of the abyss” and make it the richest country in Asia.

“I have created a world-class company from scratch. I will apply this pioneering spirit to improve everyone’s lives!” Gu wrote on Facebook after announcing his campaign for the presidential election scheduled for January 13 this week.

Joe’s resume is impressive, given that Foxconn is the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer, with revenues of $208 billion last year. But analysts said his candidacy’s chances of success are slim, and its most likely effect will be to disperse support among those who want Taiwan to take a more conciliatory stance toward China than the ruling Democratic Progressive Party.

The competition has geopolitical implications. A DPP victory in January could heighten tensions in the Taiwan Strait, because China considers the party separatist and has threatened to launch an attack if Taipei resists indefinite unification. Ju and other opposition politicians accuse the Democratic Progressive Party, which refuses to describe Taiwan as part of China and pledges to defend its sovereignty against Beijing, of pushing the issue to the brink of conflict.

But opinion polls indicate that Lai Cheng Tee, the Democratic Progressive Party candidate and current vice president, is leading the race in the one-round election, winning the first majority with 33% to 40% of the votes. None of the opposition candidates got more than 30 percent.

Lai Ching Te waves to the camera
Vice President Lai Ching Tie has a clear lead in opinion polls © Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images

“Luo would have a much greater impact as Michael Bloomberg than Donald Trump,” said Nathan Patu, an expert on Taiwan elections at Academia Sinica in Taipei, who sees parallels with the billionaire former New York mayor’s bid. .

Gu, who has built his manufacturing business almost exclusively in China, shares with his rival opposition candidates the position that Taiwan is part of the greater Chinese nation.

The Foxconn founder said the opposition can only win if it is united, but did not say how he would work with rivals Ko Wen Jie and Hui Yue.

Ko, a 63-year-old former surgeon, participated in a wave of youth protests against the then-ruling Kuomintang party to win the Taipei mayoral election in 2014 in cooperation with the Democratic Progressive Party.

But Koo became a vocal critic of Democratic Progressive Party Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen after she came to power in 2016. Koo founded his own Taiwan People’s Party, which targets swing voters but is often closer to the Kuomintang.

Koo Win J
Ko Wen-ji served as mayor of Taipei from 2014 to 2022 © Jameson Wu/Eyepress/ Reuters

Ko’s appeal among swing voters and young people in particular hurt Hu, the KMT candidate and current mayor of New Taipei City, the municipality surrounding the capital.

The KMT chose Huo, an unassuming former police officer who prides himself on his ability to “get things done,” because of his strong popularity before becoming the party’s candidate.

But he struggled to mobilize the KMT’s traditional core of Chinese nationalists, many of whom came from families who fled to Taiwan in 1949 following the party’s defeat in the Chinese Civil War. Hu’s family had lived in Taiwan for many generations, and he only grudgingly endorsed the party’s emphasis on Chinese identity.

“Mainstream public opinion is seeking to get rid of the DPP, but the opposition candidates’ poll ratings are poor and morale is low,” Gu said on Monday. I hope that the faltering opposition forces will be able to unify their ranks.”

That seems unlikely. Formosa, one of Taiwan’s largest pollsters, puts Lai’s approval rating of the latter at 36 percent, with Ku and Hu at 19 percent and 18 percent, respectively, and Jo trailing at 9.7 percent.

More than 30 percent of respondents who did not support Lai said they would vote for the opposition candidate with the highest poll ratings, indicating their willingness to switch allegiance that analysts predict will fuel competition between the three.

“There is a large group of anti-DPP protest voters who are frantically thinking about strategic voting, guessing how they or other people can do it. So there could be some big swings ahead,” said Patou. “Multi-candidate races are like These are inherently unstable, and are bound to continue that way until Election Day.”

Having three candidates from the other side of the political spectrum “on paper” would make things easier for the DPP, said Lev Nachman, a political science professor at National Chengchi University in Taipei.

But he added that one of the possible scenarios is Koo’s withdrawal under an agreement with the Kuomintang to cede some areas to his party in the legislative elections that will be held alongside the presidential elections. Alternatively, Kou could team up with Gu.

“Although this is unlikely, Lai should not breathe a sigh of relief that (the DPP) won the race,” Nachman said.

The three opposition candidates blame the DPP for soaring property prices and stubbornly low salaries, issues that are resonating with the public as the economy slows sharply.

Taiwan’s growth over the past three years has been stalled by the global semiconductor boom and the success in containing the COVID-19 pandemic. But demand for chip exports is declining, and GDP growth is expected to fall below 2 percent this year.

Some DPP politicians feel a general fatigue with the party.

“People don’t think the DPP has the same values ​​as before, and they think we have become arrogant,” said a senior party official. “Even young voters don’t think it necessary for us to stay in power. Many are dissatisfied with economic issues such as junior salaries, but some also no longer know what we stand for. Other than the Chinese factor, what can the DPP offer?

Analysts believe that the growing discontent among DPP supporters and the growing importance of swing voters that contributed to Koo’s rise reflect broader changes in Taiwan’s political landscape.

Young people tend to be “less attached to the DPP and to the party’s identity in general,” Nachman said.

The problems the DPP is facing will only help the opposition if Jo, Kou, and Hou can reach an agreement. Initial signs are not promising. The KMT said a recent attempt to negotiate with the Foxconn founder collapsed because he insisted the party make him its candidate. Joe’s campaign denies the allegation.

Analysts said Joe’s ego and lack of political experience would hinder his bid, citing an example of how much of his press conference was set aside solely to introduce the campaign spokesperson.

“He’s spending a lot of money, but he’s not running a professional campaign,” Pato said. “It is much easier to turn power into money than money into power.”

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