With only less than a month to go before registration opens in the race for the next chairperson of the Nationalist Party (Kuomintang, KMT), an opinion poll conducted by the Taiwan Public Opinion Studies Association (TPOSA, 台灣民意學會) found that 45 percent of those polled “supported” (支持) former vice president Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) to become the party’s next chairman. Current Chairwoman Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱) trailed at 21 percent, while former Taipei mayor Hau Lung-pin (郝龍斌) came in third with 17 percent, and 13 percent were undeclared. The poll, which was reportedly conducted on February 24-25 among 691 of the KMT’s approximately 1,600 party representatives, was unveiled at a press conference on March 17. The three other candidates: Steve Chan (詹啟賢), Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜), and Tina Pan (潘維剛) received only 1 percent, 2 percent, and 1 percent of the vote, respectively.
The poll evaluated the six candidates’ capabilities based on five criteria (polling data available at (1)(2)), asking respondents to identify the candidate who is: 1) most experienced, 2) best able to unify the party, 3) most likely to lead the party back to power, 4) most suitable to serve as party chairman, and 5) most electable. Wu received 55 percent of votes in the category, “candidate with the most experience,” 48 percent for “best able to unify the party,” 48 percent for “most likely to lead the party back to power,” 53 percent for “most suitable to serve as party chairman,” and 43 percent for “most electable.” On the same set of criteria, Hung received 11 percent of votes in the category, “candidate with the most experience,” 11 percent for “best able to unify the party,” 14 percent for “most likely to lead the party back to power,” 15 percent for “most suitable to serve as party chairman,” and 16 percent of the vote for “most electable.” Similarly, Hau received 10 percent of votes in the category, “candidate with the most experience,” nine percent for “best able to unify the party,” 10 percent for, “most likely to lead the party back to power,” 11 percent for “most suitable to serve as party chairman,” and eight percent of the vote for “most electable.”
The TPOSA’s director is Huang Kuo-min (黃國敏), who is currently an assistant professor at the Department of Public Administration at Chuang Hua University. The founding director was Liang Shih-wu (梁世武), who is currently the executive vice principal of Shih Hsin University and a permanent member of the council at Chinese Youth International. The association conducted a prophetic poll in July 2015 that showed Tsai Ing-wen leading well ahead of her then-political opponent and current KMT chairwoman by about 19 percent in terms of support. Interestingly, the same poll reportedly indicated that only 42 percent of the voters who voted for former president Ma Ying-jeou in the 2012 presidential election supported Hung. Three months later, in an extraordinary vote at an interim session, KMT members voted to rescind Hung’s nomination as the party’s presidential candidate. When confronted with the TPOSA’s poll results, the other candidates seemed undeterred. Asked by reporters to respond to the poll, former KMT vice chairman and health minister, Steve Chan, stated that he was “indifferent” (無所謂) and referred to Holland’s presidential election in which the frontrunner for president, who was leading in the polls by as much as 20 percent the month of the election, ultimately went on to lose.
Apparently not hiding his preference, former president Ma Ying-jeou appeared at a rally for Wu on March 18, declaring that the former vice president “will enable us [the KMT] to truly save the party.” This is the former president’s second public appearance at a KMT election-related event this year. Indeed, Ma participated at an event for Hau back in February. Both Hau and Wu represent the establishment wing of the Nationalist Party. Ma’s decision to only appear at the two candidates’ election events thus far seems to indicate his preference for the establishment wing of the party versus the anti-establishment candidates represented by current chairwoman Hung.
In a possible divide over policy among party members, KMT lawmaker Chen Ken-te (陳根德) was quoted in the Taipei Times as stating that the TPOSA poll results are “closely related” to the candidates’ cross-Strait policies, suggesting that the apparent preference for Wu signals a rejection of Hung’s more Beijing-friendly position. When referring to Hung, Chen said that “[o]ne of them supports the framework of ‘one China, same interpretation’… and proposed ‘seeking agreement on the one China principle, while shelving the different interpretations of one China’ when meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping last year, which I believe runs counter to mainstream public opinion.”
The predictive value of such polls on how voters will actually behave on election day remains to be seen, and there are certainly others variables at play that could weigh more heavily on voter behavior. Yet, this is the first serious public opinion poll conducted on the KMT chairmanship election, and at the very least lays out one plausible scenario for what observers can expect in the May election. At most, the poll is significant, because it would indicate the return to power of the party’s establishment wing. After which, how the party will reconnect with the new mainstream of Taiwan’s democratic politics is another challenge facing it ahead.
The main point: Although a recent poll indicates that former vice president Wu Den-yih will likely become the next KMT chairman, it is still too early to conclusively determine who will become the next chairman of the party.