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September 22, 2017

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Taipei seeks a hero to rise to the challenge of being mayor

A hero is a man many people look up to for help they urgently need. If they find no hero, people try to make one, more often than not. That's why hero-making is now going on in Taipei, where eligible voters will go to the polls toward the end of this year to elect a new mayor.

Taipei citizens have long been dissatisfied with their mayors. They complained about the Kuomintang's (KMT) appointed mayors for most of the latter half of the twentieth century. They wished for a hero to emerge in 1994 to make their lives better. So Chen Shui-bian, a Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmaker, was elected mayor of Taipei. Chen was replaced by Ma Ying-jeou of the KMT four years later. Ma was considered a kind of hero, just like Chen, who later ran for president successfully in 2000, ending the KMT's uninterrupted 50-year rule of Taiwan. Chen was a hero then, of course. Hao Lung-pin of the KMT succeeded Ma in 2006. He isn't a hero. As he has to retire as mayor in December, Taipeiites who can't find a hero are trying to make one with the help of the city's media.

The one chosen to be made the hero is Dr. Ko Wen-je, associate professor of traumatology at Taiwan University. He isn't a politician. He is outspoken to a fault, which made him a celebrity after he spoke up for Chen Shui-bian, in prison for corruption and graft and who has been hospitalized for serious depression — who wouldn't suffer from depression if they had to stay behind bars for a long time? — and is demanding a medical parole. Bian fans began to idolize Ko first. After being talked about in the media, he acquired an increasingly large following — so much so that he hit upon the idea of turning to politics. He sized up his possible voter support for a time before announcing his bid to run for mayor of Taipei, creating a Ko phenomena like the one Ma Ying-jeou did in the 2008 presidential campaign.

Now that the hero has been made, the DPP and the KMT are having a frightful headache. The opposition party has a love-hate relationship with Professor Ko, who it wishes to use to defeat the KMT candidate. Ko has repeatedly said he might join the party, which has a few declared contenders for mayor of Taipei, including a one-time celebrity, former Vice President Annette Lu. On the other hand, Ko is getting more confident that he doesn't need the support of the opposition party to win. The KMT believed Sean Lien, the elder son of its honorary chairman and former vice president Lien Chan, would be a shoe-in, but the latest popularity poll showed Ko is more likely to defeat the younger Lien. Neither of the two parties has held primaries to nominate its candidate yet.

Though a political amateur, Ko may get elected as an independent. As a matter of fact, the poll indicated he would get more support if he wasn't the DPP's nominee, the reason being that at least one fifth of KMT supporters would then vote for him. That's the effect of the Ko phenomena: voters need a hero to govern Taipei.

But a hero is born, not made. Many a made hero has turned out to be a failure. Wasn't Chen Shui-bian a hero the people looked up to for ending the long one-party rule of the KMT? Many people wished President Chen would create a republic of Taiwan and voted for him against Lien Chan twice. Ma Ying-jeou was the hero who the voters were convinced could stop Chen's corrupt DPP from continuing to ruin Taiwan in 2008. The people have since been utterly disappointed.

If Professor Ko were elected, he would follow in the footsteps of Chen and Ma. For Ko isn't the hero the Taipeiites wish he were. He is just a man of the day. True heroes are rare animals. They may come by once in a few hundred years. But a people in need must have a hero, even a made one.

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