Kuomintang rising star Wayne Chiang can rejuvenate party for young Taiwanese, say observers
The great grandson of former Taiwan president Chiang Kai-shek has ignited hopes that his young age and popularity could inspire more youth to join or support the party.
TAIPEI: Mr Wayne Chiang Wan-an, the young face of the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) party, will be inaugurated as the mayor of Taipei City on Sunday (Dec 25).
The 43-year-old, who won the hotly-contested seat last month in a huge blow to the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), could attract more support from younger Taiwanese for the opposition, said observers.
“If Chiang can do well in Taipei by making great progress and bringing more trendy and modern styles to the city, he is bound to attract more support from young Taiwanese,” said Professor Lai Yueqian from National Chengchi University.
A recent poll showed that over 70 per cent of KMT supporters were over the age of 45. The party has struggled with support among younger voters in recent years due to its pro-China image.
Mr Chiang’s victory has ignited hopes that his young age and popularity could inspire more youth to join or support the party. A good performance as Taipei’s mayor will also help the KMT gain ground for the 2024 presidential election.
“If his governance can meet the expectations of young Taiwanese, it would encourage more to join the party,” Mr Lai said.
The newly-elected Taipei mayor hails from a long line of politicians. His great-grandfather Chiang Kai-shek and grandfather Chiang Ching-Kuo were both former presidents.
Mr Chiang was a corporate lawyer in the United States before returning to Taiwan and entering politics several years ago.
KMT SWEPT LOCAL ELECTIONS
The once-struggling KMT party won 14 of the 22 cities and counties in November’s local mayoral and county elections.
While the DPP retains control of southern regions including Tainan and Kaohsiung, the KMT has swept the ruling party out of power in the northern half of Taiwan.
The opposition’s victories outperformed expectations, even though they usually fare better than the DPP in these local elections.
The ruling party has in recent years struggled with discontent from the public, who are increasingly unhappy with the government’s domestic policies, including a sluggish economy and the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Voters are also concerned with rising cross-straits tensions with China.
KMT traditionally favours closer ties with China although the party denies being pro-Beijing. It has also accused the DPP of being over confrontational with its powerful neighbour.
“I support this party because it’s a neutral party that takes care of the people. And it protects the Chinese culture. Most importantly, it helps maintain cross-strait peace. Nobody wants a war with China,” said KMT member Mike Yang.
KMT’S "FUTURE HOPE"
Mr Yang has been a member of the KMT for 30 years.
The 70-year-old military veteran had once lost faith in the opposition party after KMT lost power in 2016. However, the recent gains led by Mr Chiang, the incoming Taipei mayor, has rekindled the his hopes.
“Chiang Wan-an’s victory in Taipei gives a big boost to KMT’s morale, especially since he is young, handsome and a family man, whose outstanding performance at the legislature has won public recognition. He is the KMT’s future hope,” Mr Yang said.
Mr Yang is one of the hundreds of thousands of KMT members and supporters who hope Mr Chiang’s victory would help revitalise the party, long plagued by factional infighting and lack of unity.
Restoring Taipei under the control of the KMT, the former legislator and lawyer has billed himself as a modern politician who can lead the party into the future.
Analysts said Mr Chiang’s victory suggests that the KMT may have a shot at the presidential race in 2024.
“Chiang is a rising star in the KMT. Winning Taipei is very important to the KMT and to Chiang himself, since Taipei mayorship is a springboard to a higher position,” said Professor Lai Yueqian from National Chengchi University.
Former presidents Chen Shui-bian and Ma Ying-jeou were both Taipei City mayors before progressing to the top job.
While analysts said it is too early for Mr Chiang to announce a run for the 2024 presidency, his performance as Taipei mayor will have an impact on the future of the KMT.
RACE TO 2024
Various polls show that the ruling DPP is still ahead of the KMT in the presidential race.
It is widely believed that Vice President William Lai will run as a DPP candidate, while New Taipei City Mayor Hou Yu-ih will gun for the KMT ticket.
However, analysts said there are still challenges ahead for the opposition, especially on cross-strait issues.
“The 2024 showdown between the KMT and the DPP should focus on where Taiwan should go from here with the mainland, (and) how to find the best solution for cross-strait relations,” said Professor Chang Ya-Chung from National Taiwan University.
“If the KMT can work out a viable direction for cross-strait relations, I think the KMT would have a better chance of winning,” he said.
With the presidential election still about 13 months away, analysts said both parties will still have time to refine their policies and determine the future direction of cross-strait relations.