Category Archives: Taiwan News

News and news-commentary covering Taiwan and Far East Asia

Man of the People: Taipei’s Quirky new Mayor

The Taipei Mayoral election is always an intense contest between Taiwan’s two main political parties, the Chinese Nationalist KMT, and the Democratic Progress Party (DPP). The seat is considered a stepping stone to the Presidency. Former Presidents Lee Teng-hui, Chen Shui-bian, and incumbent President Ma Ying-jeou, all served as Taipei Mayor before stepping up to the nation’s top post.

But last year both parties’ candidates where rejected by voters in favor of a somewhat eccentric independent candidate, Ko Wen-je (柯文哲). A DPP sympathizer, it was realized early in the campaign, that Ko was so popular among DPP supporters that the DPP decided not to run a candidate against him. The DPP instead put their support behind him to oust the KMT, rather than risk splitting the vote in favor of their mutual enemy.

Ko, injected his own somewhat quirky style into the campaign, at times creating some awkward moments. He is well known for putting his foot in his mouth. After DPP party stalwart Trong Chai died of stroke in January 2014, he criticized DPP candidate Gu Li-hsiung as being ‘too emotional’ in his facebook posts. Some remarks Ko made during the campaign were seen as sexist, and off color. He said that Chiayi’s KMT female candidate being young and pretty would be better suited to a front desk job, or perhaps Tourism Bureau spokeswoman, and said he chose a career in surgery over gynecology because he did not want to make a living between a womans legs.

In his book “The Power of White Color” he wrote that an increase in the female workforce is the sign of a declining industry, and he promoted the idea of polygamy to increase population growth.

Despite his various gaffs, however, Ko was able to win the hearts and minds of the people with his dedication to improving the environment, and lifestyles of Taipei’s residents. His rejection of partisan politics, and determination to stamp out corruption, and the waste of public money also gained wide appeal. He claimed that his run for mayor was to take back the post for the people. “When I am mayor, everyone is the mayor,” he stated during his campaign. By contrast, he portrayed his opposition counterpart, Sean Lien as part of a ruling elite where the wealthy pass on power from one generation to the next.

After a radio interview, he was photographed by the press throwing his dog-eared, black bag into the basket of a more than 10 year old bicycle. Does he really ride that bicycle to work every day? In the photograph, the bicycle’s chain is obviously very rusty. It looks like one of the thousands of abandoned bicycles that pollute Taipei’s sidewalks, and he looks awkward posing on it.

Ke Wen-je poses on a bicycle
Ke Wen-je rides an old bicycle, as if he does this every day. He forgot to oil the chain

Since winning office, Ko has continued with the gaffes and controversial statements. On his first day in office, he criticized Xinyi Police Precinct Chief Lee Teh-wei on public television, prompting the police chief to apply for early retirement. On January 1, Foundation Day of the Republic of China, he fumbled a handshake with President Ma. Ke avoided meeting the eyes of the confident, smiling President, and failed to shift the small flag he was holding in his right hand, to his left.

Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je and Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou shake hands on January 1 2015
Taipei Mayor fumbles a handshake with President Ma Ying-jeou

Ko has also been outspoken about cross-strait relations and recently called for a new ‘2015 Consensus’ to replace the 1992 Consensus on which current cross-strait relations are managed. He seems to have a lack of awareness about boundaries, and how to avoid over-stepping them. As a citizen, he enjoyed the rights of free speech that everyone has. But he is not a mere citizen now, he is Mayor of Taipei.

Perhaps what has been widely reported as a ‘fumbled handshake’ was in fact a sign that a local Taiwanese guy has grabbed the ROC flag, and ain’t gonna give it back. Then again, looking at the picture, he may very well have been telling President Ma: ‘here’s your flag, take it back.

[update 2015/1/30] Interesting interview with Ko P in Foreign Policy Magazine

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‘Sunflower’ kids to pack up and go home

Sunflower Movement supporters line up behind student leaders Lin Fei-fan and Chen Wei-ting, as they announce a decision to leave the occupied legislature -- cleaning up after themselves as they go. Photo: Ian Rowen
Trista di Genova The Wild East, politics

Taipei, April 9 – Claiming in an April 7 press statement in the legislature they had made significant progress in achieving their goals, the student leaders Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷) and Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆) announced the so-called Sunflower Movement and its supporters would end their three-week occupation of the Taiwan legislature by Thursday 6pm.

Chen, a sociology student in Hsinchu, said upon some reflection that the first thing he would do after leaving the occupied legislature is “cry.”

The other leader, Lin Fei-fan, a political science student at National Taiwan University, said this decision to end the emotionally charged 21-day occupation of the Legislative Yuan was done by ‘consensus’, although the announcement came as a surprise to all but the supporters behind them at the press conference.

They said the students would clean up the legislature after themselves, urged supporters to help each other in avoiding potential political persecution, and deflected calls for further revolution and reporters’ questions regarding creating a new political party.

The two leaders, who are well-known in Taiwan for speaking out on many critical issues in the past (such as Miaoli 2013), said they would form a new organization to hold political leaders to their promises.

The students’ decision followed Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng’s (王金平) announcement, promising April 6 to enact a law regulating pacts with China before resuming the process of deliberating the cross-strait service trade pact. Wang has promised that oversight will be applied before any other pacts are passed, including the one being protested about at the moment.

The KMT (Chinese Nationalist Party) in control of the executive and legislative majority was reportedly ‘shocked’ at the unilateral action, and rejected the speaker’s promise.

In fact, Fei, KMT caucus deputy secretary, said he felt the party was “betrayed and sold out” by Wang, who “did not communicate with the party caucus before releasing the statement and made us who stood beside him appear to blindly endorse his views.”

Lin, the KMT party caucus whip: “DPP had agreed to have a clause-by-clause discussion and vote in last year’s inter-party negotiation. To say not to carry out negotiation anymore does not mean that the former ones are no longer binding.”

Lin the caucus whip then called on the students to leave the Legislative Yuan immediately for the 10 versions of the draft bill on cross-strait agreements oversight mechanism “to be handed to the committee by the legislative floor meeting.”

Lin said the non-government version of the draft will also be included.

“You keep saying the legislation is to be done prior to the review, but the reality is that we cannot even legislate now with the floor being occupied,” he said.


At first the Sunflower Movement’s accomplishments may seem negligible. But they did manage to peacefully seize control of the Legislature, send out a clear message on the need for greater transparency in cross-strait trade issues, and bring international attention and a temporary halt to the highly controversial issue of cross-strait trade relations.

Moreover, the three-week peaceful siege may have dealt a death blow for an already unpopular President Ma, whose approval ratings have sunk to single digits.

Student leaders Chen and Lin point out that even Ma’s own party have lost confidence in the KMT’s party leader, currently serving his second and last term.

– Additional sources for this article include reporting by Ian Rowen and Dave Johnson.

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