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May 27, 2017

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Taipei candidate shows how ideologies can be set aside

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has made an unconventional move, choosing to support an independent candidate in the Taipei mayoral election. And this candidate, Ko Wen-je, has made an unconventional move picking a campaign manager who stands on a different end of the political spectrum from the DPP.

And all these moves have been done in support of Ko's vision that different political camps in Taiwan should reconcile with each other and put an end to destructive feuds that have been stalling the development of the country.

His reconciliatory gestures are meant to be a plea to voters to look beyond their political colors and support a candidate who can run the city without any ideological biases.

It seems the very first group of voters that Ko has to convince is the "deep green" die-hard supporters of former President Chen Shui-bian.

The newly appointed campaign manager, Yao Li-ming, is not just a former legislator from the pro-unification New Party, but he was also a leader in a massive 2006 campaign to oust Chen from the presidency for corruption.

The appointment seems to be alienating Ko from these die-hard Chen supporters, but it was a well-calculated move taking advantage of the very fact that they are "deep green" voters who would never want to see victory for the ruling Kuomintang, which is represented by Sean Lien — a son of former Vice President Lien Chan — in the Taipei race.

However reluctant they might be, these "deep green" voters would still prefer Ko to Lien. And the chance of their abstaining is slim, because their absence would simply translate into de facto support for Lien.

For them, it would only be a "forced" reconciliation if it could be described as reconciliation at all.

Reconciliation is not likely with the other extreme of the political spectrum, namely those die-hard supporters of unification who detest whatever and whoever is associated with the pro-independence DPP.

Although Yao comes from a party that is traditionally in the pro-unification fundamentalist camp, his alliance with Ko is unlikely to trigger any significant defection by the so-called "deep blue" supporters.

But the appointment of Yao is less an appeal to these "deep blue" supporters than a method to sway votes based on Ko's perceived neutrality.

Voters who do not usually identify themselves with either the DPP or KMT camp will play a decisive role in this campaign.

In fact, Ko, a doctor by trade and a newcomer to politics, is the best bet the opposition camp has ever seen in their attempts over the years to oust the KMT from the Taipei City Government.

The only time that the DPP has taken the Taipei mayoral seat was when Chen won a narrow victory on split support between two rivals from the pan-blue camp.

This time, Ko has been consistently leading Lien in various public opinion polls, but the margin has not been wide enough to mean that Ko will definitely win. Many voters have yet to make up their minds.

It remains uncertain how many swing votes Ko may win, but at least he has so far been able to deliver on his promise of a non-partisan campaign aimed at reconciliation.

He has refused to join the DPP, and yet he succeeded in securing the main opposition party's backing. He has appointed a New Party stalwart as his campaign manager to show that he is not working to promote the pro-independence cause.

Taiwan has not seen such a mix of different camps in one campaign before. You might argue — along ideological lines — that it is just a coalition aimed at making political gains.

But it shows us how politics in Taiwan can be played in a different way, and how ideologies can be set aside.

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