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The new takes on the old in Taipei mayoral election

Internet pundits must have been scratching their heads, (or rather, laughing out loud), when the Kuomintang's (KMT) Taipei mayoral candidate Sean Lien (連勝文) introduced lawmaker Tsai Cheng-Yuan (蔡正元) as his campaign manager. Tsai has been one of the most hated politicians by supporters of the student-led Sunflower Movement. He tops the list of targets of the Appendectomy Project, a campaign to recall KMT legislators.

Tsai wasted no time to add to the controversy by waging a war against the commentsphere. He yesterday accused the administrator of a widely followed forum in the Nation Taiwan University bulletin board system station PTT for being a hit man for the opposition pan-green camp. He also criticized Lien's rival, the pan-green independent candidate Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), of using “an army of netizens” to run a smear campaign against Lien.

For a candidate with trouble convincing the public he is not a rich kid alienated from the real world, Lien's choice of a controversial politician as his campaign chief seems baffling. Even before Tsai came on board, Lien had been on the defensive in front of the media. The son of Kuomintang Honor Chairman Lien Chan launched his campaign by defending his background, stressing that he can't choose his family.

Despite his emphasis on running as his own man, Lien has not been able to shed his image as a member of the 1-percent club. His name is constantly linked with the Palace Mansion — Taiwan's most famous luxury residential apartment complex and his current home — and the affluent lifestyle it represents. A much talked-about campaign advertisement board has the English words “Over My Dad's Money” placed alongside Lien's photo. Even a video of him discussing free trade issues with foreign expats draws criticism for the pricey lunchbox seen in the clip.

On the other hand, his rival Ko rose from his career as an outspoken surgeon and a “rookie politician” to become the opposition pan-green candidate in no small part thanks to his public appeal, especially among young voters. Affectionately nicknamed “Ko-P” (Ko the professor), Ko is seen as a breath of fresh air in the political scene.

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