On Wednesday, independent Taipei mayoral candidate Dr. Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) began his US tour, visiting San Francisco Bay Area and meeting with academics, students, industry leaders and Taiwanese American supporters. During a dinner speech Ko gave, he listed Taipei’s largest problem as the high housing prices, and Taiwan’s greatest issue as the social immobility caused by inheritance of wealth and power.
Ko is a surgeon and the head of the trauma department at National Taiwan University Hospital, where he is also a professor. This being his first foray into politics, he is known for speaking his mind and not afraid to offend people, yet he also has a reputation among critics for misspeaking, especially with comments that are demeaning to women. He has also said that Chiang Ching-kuo, Taiwan’s authoritarian president during martial law, was a model to learn from.
Nevertheless, he is endorsed by the DPP and the TSU, even though he is officially running as an independent.
During the speech, Ko said that one of the most pressing issues in Taiwan is that poor people are being robbed of their “key opportunity” for social mobility. “Say what you will about President Chen Shui-bian, but he became president coming from abject poverty. Can you imagine someone doing that again for the next 50 years in Taiwan? I can’t.” He also said that affordable housing in Taipei was one of his primary issues, and is in support of building more rent-only public housing.
When asked about how he sees President Ma Ying-jeou’s China-leaning policies and how he could stop them, he said that in biology, when two species become too similar, their competition increases. Ko said he would like to see Taiwan become as different from China as possible, to survive.
While Ko is traveling, his opponent KMT’s candidate Sean Lien (連勝文) criticized Ko for intentionally avoiding the Republic of China’s National Day on October 10th, and said Ko could not hope to catch up to Lien’s global experience. Lien’s campaign posted a promotional video in July, showing Lien meeting with Western expats and talking about his experience living in New York and London. Meanwhile, a third candidate Neil Feng (馮光遠), an author known for his caustic critique of politicians, is currently serving a 20-day sentence for calling former Cultural Minister Emile Sheng bureaucratic trash.
The Lien campaign and KMT legislators have also questioned Ko’s finances, especially an account known as “MG149” set up by the NTU Hospital as a research fun. KMT legislator Lo Shu-lei (羅淑蕾) have accused Ko of abusing the fund in money laundering schemes.
According to the English language Taiwan election blog Frozen Garlic, Ko leads Lien in most polls, by as much as by double digits. However, Taipei has only had three instance in its history when the KMT supported candidate lost, namely independent Kao Yu-shu (高玉樹) who was elected in 1954 and again in 1964, and Chen Shui-bian in 1994.
Aside from Stanford, Ko visited the offices of Pfizer, Facebook, and Apple. According to Ko, he wanted to see if Taipei has the potential to develop biotech and internet technologies. After San Francisco, his delegation visited the New York tri-state area, where he met with New York City Councilmembers. He previously visited Japan from September 27th to the 29th.
Taipei’s mayoral election, as well as elections of all local level officials, is on November 29th.
(Feature photo of Ko Wen-je and members of the Northern California Supporters for Ke Wen-je , by Gina Mao)