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The 'Ko Wen-je Phenomenon' and the rift within the DPP

A fresh trickle of water is usually welcomed in regions used to only sludge and muddiness — the story behind National Taiwan University physician Ko Wen-je's (柯文哲) escalating wave of popularity after announcing his bid to run for Taipei City mayor.

Though a new face in Taiwan's political circles, pan-green Ko is already well-celebrated by younger voters for his outspoken personality about controversial events and his readiness to own up to mistakes, such as the time he had mistakenly transplanted organs from an HIV-positive donor into five patients and was demoted by his hospital as punishment.

The people's ideal traits for a political leader synced with Ko's brash yet caring persona; finally someone — distinctly different from the weathered politicians dominating Taiwan — is ready to take the brunt of things and truly relate to the people's complaints. His sameness and equality shared with the people set him apart from the other mayoral aspirants, giving way to the “Ko Wen-je Phenomenon” that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is torn about.

Other pan-green aspirants vying to represent the DPP for Taipei mayor are former Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) and lawyer Wellington Ku (顧立雄). Lu had expressed multiple times her displeasure toward Ko's mayoral bid, even dubbing the doctor an “extraterrestrial being” and saying that the DPP has enough talents and doesn't need an outsider to fight its election battles. Lu's aggression was ill-placed, but not because of Ko being the people's new favorite. As a seasoned politician, Lu should be used to opponents, welcome competition with a healthy attitude and show her fellow-aspirant courtesy as they stand in the same ranks, instead of firing criticism even before she landed the candidacy.

Many in the DPP took a different approach. Going against the party's regulations that one had to acquire at least two years of membership to become an official election candidate, some called for Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) to make an exception for the new hopeful that could possibly secure the capital city for the DPP. The Ko phenomenon is nothing to turn your nose up at, yet Ko is also showing a side of himself that is rendering his supporters speechless.

Though Ko took Lu's jeers good-naturedly, he did not seem impressed by the DPP's eagerness to recruit him officially, even stating that he considered a personal victory in the elections more important than joining the DPP to represent it.

The physician's amiable side also ended when Ko was asked about his other opponent Wellington Ku. Calling the lawyer “pretentious” after he had expressed his sorrow over late DPP Legislator Tsai Trong-rong's (蔡同榮) death on his Facebook page, Ko hinted that Ku's action differed from the norm, and went on to state that Kuomintang (KMT) favorite Sean Lien — who had suffered a bullet in the face but survived — had been given special treatment at the hospital as he was the son of KMT bigwig Lien Chan.

The attention and favor Lien Jr. had enjoyed as a survivor was successfully drawn away by Ko's remarks, but ironically, it was Ko who had boasted of treating Lien Jr. personally at the emergency room on the day of the shooting. Was he hinting that he had bowed to the Lien's political legacy? And was cordial to Lu because of hers?

Last year was one riddled with pain, unresolved issues and responsibilities left a-dangling. Defendants were listed and trials held in cases of Corporal Hung Chung-chiu's (洪仲丘) death, the razing of Dapu households and many more, but ultimately no consequences were dealt out, regardless of the promises from those who were put in their leading positions by the votes of commoners like us. Although tired of Ma's all-talk-no-action reign, both the DPP and the voters should think twice about who befits the much-coveted candidacy — regardless of the attention aspirants are getting.

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