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KMT’s Han Kuo-yu Is Taiwan’s New Legislative Speaker

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KMT’s Han Kuo-yu Is Taiwan’s New Legislative Speaker

The KMT’s failed 2020 presidential candidate will hold the reins of the legislature, even while the DPP keeps the presidency.

KMT’s Han Kuo-yu Is Taiwan’s New Legislative Speaker

KMT legislator Han Kuo-yu passes by supporters as he arrives at the Legislative Yuan, Taipei, Taiwan, Feb. 1, 2024.

Credit: Facebook/ Han Kuo-yu

Taiwan’s 2024 elections resulted in neither the Democratic Progress Party (DPP) nor the Kuomintang (KMT) holding the majority in the legislature, even if the DPP was able to maintain control of the presidency for an unprecedented third term. With the DPP holding 51 seats and the KMT holding 52 seats, the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), a pan-Blue third party, came to hold the crucial balance of power in the legislature, with eight seats. (The final two members of the 113-seat Legislative Yuan are independents).

Given this dynamic, political contestation quickly shifted to the question of who the next president and vice president of the Legislative Yuan would be. The president of the Legislative Yuan – essentially, Taiwan’s legislative speaker –  plays a crucial role in determining which bills are put up for discussion in the legislature. 

In the final stages of campaigning, the TPP and KMT kept the door open for cooperation in the new legislature. During the vice presidential and presidential debates, both the TPP and KMT candidates emphasized that the two parties would seek to work together, as fellow pan-Blue parties. 

This spirit of cooperation remained intact even though the two parties had failed to successfully negotiate a joint presidential ticket. Although polling made it clear that a joint presidential ticket between TPP candidate Ko Wen-je and KMT candidate Hou Yu-ih would likely be able to defeat DPP presidential candidate Lai Ching-te, the TPP and KMT were never able to arrive at a joint ticket because neither Ko nor Hou was willing to become the vice presidential candidate of the other. 

In addition, the TPP is likely firmly conscious of the danger of the party becoming a “little Blue” party that was not any substantively different than the KMT, except for its smaller size. The inability of third parties in the pan-Blue or pan-Green camp to distinguish themselves from the dominant party of the camp, whether the DPP or KMT, has been the cause of the decline of many a third party in Taiwanese history, most recently including the New Power Party, the major pan-Green third party that rose in the aftermath of the 2014 Sunflower Movement. 

As such, in the weeks after the election, the TPP also sought to keep the door open to possibly aligning with the DPP on some issues. The TPP met with both the DPP and KMT to discuss potential cooperation tin the Legislative Yuan.

As its candidates to lead the new legislature, the DPP fielded  incumbent Legislative Yuan president Yu Shyi-kun and vice president Tsai Chi-chang, as a gesture toward political continuity with the preceding legislature. 

By contrast, the KMT was fielding its 2020 presidential candidate, Han Kuo-yu, as its Legislative Yuan presidential candidate. Although Han lost the 2020 election to Tsai Ing-wen by historic margins, then was recalled from his position as mayor of Kaohsiung in a vote in which 97 percent of those who cast their ballots voted against him, he remains a significant figure in the KMT. Han’s embrace of Republic of China nationalism during his campaign has won him the continued loyalty of deep Blues in the party, in spite of his controversial image among members of the public. 

Indeed, Han was the KMT’s number one party list candidate in the 2024 election, which suggested that the KMT would seek to position him as president of the legislature. The DPP focused fire on this fact, noting that Han would play a significant role in the new legislature if the KMT gained the majority. 

Han surprised, however, by naming Johnny Chiang as his running mate in a joint bid for presidency and vice presidency of the Legislative Yuan. Chiang, who served as chair of the KMT from March 2020 to October 2021, is generally seen as a moderate who tried to change the pro-China image of the KMT. Han naming Chiang his running mate may have been an attempt to moderate his image. Similarly, the KMT’s 2024 ticket featured moderate Hou Yu-ih as presidential candidate and hardliner Jaw Shaw-kong as the vice presidential candidate, so as to maximize appeal to different elements of the KMT’s base. 

The Han-Chiang ticket nonetheless was briefly challenged by Hualien legislator Fu Kun-chi. Fu’s challenge was surprising, given that Fu has been widely criticized over his record of political corruption even in the KMT. Most infamously, when Fu served as county magistrate of Hualien in 2009, he divorced his wife Hsu Cheng-wei to name her as deputy county magistrate, so that she could continue to rule over Hualien in his stead if he were jailed on corruption charges. 

Fu’s checkered history led to him being expelled from the KMT. Nevertheless, he was brought back into the party at the initiative of current chair Eric Chu, seeing as Fu is still able to win elections successfully in Hualien, and the KMT needed to consolidate its forces. At the time, this provoked backlash from younger members of the KMT, who hoped for the party to clean up not only its pro-China image but its record of political corruption. Hsu Chiao-hsin, one of the KMT’s rising stars and a newly inaugurated legislator, had accused Fu of vote-buying in the past, citing the fact that he and Hsu did unusually well in the KMT’s Central Standing Committee elections. 

Fu later withdrew his bid for Legislative Yuan presidency and was instead named as convenor of the KMT’s legislative caucus. 

Facing pressure from both the DPP and KMT, the TPP decided to vote for former Taipei deputy mayor Huang Shan-shan, who headed Ko’s 2024 campaign, as its candidate for Legislative Yuan president. The TPP likely settled on this choice in order to preserve its independent political course from both the DPP and KMT. Consequently, the vote was split between the DPP and KMT. Since the KMT has slightly more seats than the DPP, this resulted in Han and Chiang becoming president and vice president of the Legislative Yuan on February 1. 

The KMT ticket received support from all 52 KMT legislators, plus the two independents, for a winning tally of 54 votes to the DPP’s 51. Notably, all eight TPP legislators abstained from the second round of voting, a runoff between the KMT and DPP candidates.

With Han as the new Legislative Yuan president, all eyes will be on the balance of power within the KMT, particularly as Eric Chu is seen as a moderate. The KMT party leadership has been skeptical of Han in the past. In the 2020 election cycle, the KMT split the position of party chair from that of the KMT’s presidential candidate in order to ensure that while Han might serve as the KMT’s presidential candidate, he would not come to control the party. Yet in the present election cycle, it evidently seemed expedient to bring him back into the fold, with Han having mostly kept out of the political limelight after his defeat in the 2020 election cycle. 

It is possible that through its control of the legislature, the KMT will seek to block legislation pushed by the incoming Lai administration, on matters ranging from defense budgets to domestic infrastructure spending. That’s what happened during the Chen Shui-bian administration in the 2000s, when the KMT controlled the legislature and the DPP the presidency. If history unfolds similarly, both sides will engage in partisan infighting using their control of different branches of government.