One Of These Seven People Is Likely To Win Taiwan’s High-Stakes Presidential Vote In 2024, Gallup Pollster Says

Gallup Market Research Taiwan pollster Tim Ting had a smile on his face and newspaper clippings spread across a conference room table next to his Taipei polling operation of 30 people on Friday. He predicted the Taipei mayor elections on Nov. 26 correctly; a rival Liberty Times poll was wrong on a number of counts, and the news reports prove it.

“I would quit if I had been that wrong,” the 68-year-old who has tracked Taiwan elections for three decades said in an interview. In closely watched local elections in one of the world’s top geopolitical hot spots and tech hubs, Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won only five mayoral or county magistrate seats, compared with the previous seven, due to weak candidates and the wrong strategy, Ting said. The main opposition Chinese Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang (KMT), by contrast won 13 of 21 races.

Next up: Presidential elections in January 2024. Incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen, who ranked No. 17 on the latest Forbes list of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women unveiled this month, can’t run again due to rules that limit her to two four-year terms.

What will likely be the big issues? China — though the differences among the candidates could be more perceived than real, Ting said. The DPP will play up its willingness to stand up against maland bullying; its economic policies would create more business distance between the two sides, Ting said. The KMT, though founded on the mainland in 1919, isn’t likely to promote a change in the status quo in the self-governing democracy of 24 million that Beijing claims sovereignty over. The KMT is strong in northern Taiwan, where many mainland families settled in the late 1940s after then KMT leader Chiang Kai-Shek lost a civil war to the Communist Party’s Mao Zedong and moved its capital to Taipei.

Taiwan has come a long way since, becoming the world’s No. 22 economy and a vital source of semiconductors. Local chip industry leader TSMC just last week said it would boost investment in Arizona to $40 billion — one of the largest outlays by a foreign company in U.S. history — in a ceremony attended by U.S. President Joe Biden. Politically, Taiwan has become a spirited democracy with a free press that contrasts starkly with the mainland. Biden has said the U.S. will aid Taiwan if Beijing attacks; Washington allies have also spoken up for Taipei since Beijing launched military exercises around the island after a visit by U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi in August.

Who’s in the mix of possible presidential candidates in 2024? It’s a far-flung group that includes one of Asia’s richest billionaires, two physicians, a popular talk show host, a long-time law enforcer, a former teacher at City University of New York, and a former human rights lawyer for Taiwan’s political opposition during the martial law era that ended in 1987. Here are seven likely contenders (in alphabetical order) named by Ting.

Eric Chu: Long-time KMT politician holds a PhD in accounting from New York University. Once taught at City University of New York, before returning to Taiwan to teach at National Taiwan University; later entered politics. Ran for president against Tsai Ing-wen in 2016 and didn’t come close. Chu is currently the KMT’s chairman, a good launching pad for a presidential run.

Terry Gou: Rags-to-riches, 72-year-old electronics billionaire worth $6.3 billion on the Forbes Real-Time Rich List ran for president in 2019, citing a message from sea goddess Matsu. Lost in the KMT primary. Image as a business success has recently been damaged by labor woes at his flagship Hon Hai Precision’s huge iPhone factory in China.

Hou You-yi: Top vote-getter on Nov. 26 triumphed as the KMT candidate in race for mayor of New Taipei City. Long career in law enforcement has bought success in high-profile cases. “I just always happened to be in the right place at the right time and did what I was supposed to do,” 65-year-old Hou has been quoted as saying. “That is all.” Pollster Ting, who holds a PhD in sociology from the University of Michigan, says the downside of Hou’s background could be a negative association with police that dates back to the days of Japanese colonial rule in 1895-1945.

Jaw Shao-kong: Popular talk show host at age 72 and former legislator with a graduate degree from Clemson University in mechanical engineering switched from KMT to China-friendly New Party in the 1990s; now with the KMT again. Could win party’s presidential primary with 30% to 40% of the votes if the rest of the field is divided, Ting said. He once led Taiwan’s Environmental Protection Agency.

Ko Wen-je: Holder of a PhD in clinical medicine from Taiwan’s prestigious National Taiwan University worked as a researcher in the surgery department at the University of Minnesota early in his career. Elected Taipei mayor in 2014 and 2018, has hit his term limits and couldn’t seek reelection last month. He formed and currently chairs the new Taiwan People’s Party, but it won only 1.5% of the city and county council seats up for grabs on Nov. 26. Media suggests he’s aligned with Gou.

Lai Ching-te: Lai, Taiwan’s current vice president, “has the best chance to win” the presidential election, Ting said. The son of a coal miner turned physician holds a master’s in public health from Harvard. Lai was premier before he joined the winning presidential ticket with incumbent Tsai in 2019, and is likely able to mobilize the DPP grassroots for a presidential run, Ting said. Lai announced his candidacy for DPP chairmanship on Dec. 8 after Tsai said she’d resign from that post to take responsibility for the party’s Nov. 26 election loss.

Su Tseng-chang: Party co-founder and former DPP chairman was a lawyer for opposition activists in Taiwan’s martial law era. Currently premier, 75-year-old Su offered to resign after the DPP’s defeat on Nov. 26. Safe though aging as a possible DPP presidential flag-bearer, Su hasn’t announced plans to run for president.

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