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June 29, 2017

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Taipei voters forced to choose between bad and worse

Nearing the 30-day countdown mark, some Taipei citizens may still be secretly perplexed at the mayoral candidate choices shoved into their faces. Many have supposedly taken a stance on the upcoming elections already, but aside from the staunchly loyal, it would be honest to state that plenty are still dubious about their decision.

Taipei has generally been a pan-blue city, yet the ruling Kuomintang's (KMT) top choice this year shook its supporters' confidence. Born with a silver spoon in his mouth and edged with degrees from tiptop universities, Sean Lien (連勝文) seemed like the perfect candidate without a complicated political background; when public criticism came spewing forth, his supporters were flustered.

Following much deliberation, the main opposition camp simply gave up choosing its own candidate and opted to halfheartedly support outspoken independent physician Ko Wen-je (柯文哲). Yet without strong support behind him and battling another candidate with possibly the most solid backing any election has ever seen, it didn't look like Ko would stand a chance.

After the Sunflower Student Movement, both ruling and opposition parties are forced to acknowledge the surfacing of a new generation of voters that are less likely to be affected by their families' political preferences. Believe it or not, these kids are old enough to vote; they also take up a considerable number of the voting population and refuse to be pacified by mere promises.

The two candidates have been chosen because of their supposed connection to that generation, Lien being younger than the KMT's leading politicians, and Ko being a frequent advocate for young people's beliefs and protests. Supportive party or no, Ko has been endearing himself to those who are eager to see changes — in Taipei's political power and social status and, most importantly, to see someone without a political upbringing rise up to combat the rigid KMT.

Background information and easy comparisons end here; the current situation should also be closely examined.

In most public surveys, Lien has been falling behind Ko at a steadily widening margin, having lost over 10 percentage points to Ko in the course of two months. His rich parents, smooth-sailing life and arrogant remarks only alienate him from the common folk.

It is not news that Lien has been serving as the butt of too many campaign jokes since the announcement of his mayoral bid. His website was hacked, words twisted and campaign commercials lampooned; all his campaign team did was succeed in making him look like a puppet, confused and annoyed at his tangled strings. However, many in the KMT may be right to joke that no sabotage will be needed when Ko is your opponent; the blunt physician is perfectly capable of impairing his own chances if left to speak his mind. Ko has openly flaunted his sexism, declaring that he did not become a gynecologist because he was less than willing to spend his days "between the legs of women," also pointedly stating that Chiayi mayoral candidate Chen Yi-chen would do better as a receptionist, being so young and pretty.

Who to vote for? The candidate that makes you feel like a second-class citizen and pauper, or the candidate that makes you question your beliefs on gender equality? Either way, the voters are left feeling ridiculous.

For Taipei-dwellers, it is a grim year for elections indeed. We are envious of other cities and counties awaiting the same race; they at least get to choose between old favorites or experienced counterparts, while the capital is left with a vague and amateurish struggle until the next four-year cycle comes about.

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