Fraught geopolitics have given urgency to that question. During the tenure of the current DPP president, Tsai Ing-wen, Beijing’s leaders have increased military drills near Taiwan and predicted its unification with China in increasingly belligerent terms – even as American officials have vowed ever more often to defend the island from Chinese aggression.
A win for Hou, Ko or, now, Gou, would not end the tensions, but it would probably reduce them by placating China. A win for Lai, a soft-spoken former doctor who, in 2017, enraged officials in Beijing by calling himself a “pragmatic worker for Taiwan independence”, might have the opposite effect.
Even before Gou’s announcement, that looked fairly likely. According to a recent poll published in my-formosa.com, an online magazine, Lai had the support of 39 per cent of voters. Ko had 18 per cent and Hou 16 per cent. As a hypothetical candidate, Gou was drawing 12 per cent.
He naturally points to his business acumen as a reason why that share might increase. A son of Chinese immigrants who came to Taiwan with the KMT in 1949, Gou has a powerful rags-to-riches story.
He founded a business making plastic knobs for television sets in the 1970s using money borrowed from his mother-in-law. Now Foxconn, which Gou chaired until four years ago and in which he retains a significant shareholding, has huge factories in China and employs more than 1 million people, who assemble iPhones and other devices.
By applying the same magic to Taiwan’s economy, Gou pledges to double the rate of economic growth, which is forecast to be around 2 per cent this year, and put Taiwan on course to have the highest GDP per capita in Asia within two decades.
Critics say his interests would make Gou vulnerable to pressure from Beijing. Far from it, he insisted. If the Communist Party threatened to confiscate Foxconn assets, “I will say: ‘Yes, please do it!’” Yet, such bravado aside, his tactics are unclear.
He will need to collect 290,000 signatures by early November in order to get his name on the presidential ballot.
Liao Da-chi of National Sun Yat-sen University in Kaohsiung City is sceptical that this is even his intention: “I don’t think that he wants to run to the end of the election”. She suspects that his main purpose is to shock the opposition candidates into forming an alliance against the DPP, which Gou castigates as incompetent and reckless about triggering a war.
“My candidacy is to promote the integration of the opposition camp,” he said after announcing his run. “We must take down the DPP.”
If the opposition were to unite, Lai could be in serious trouble. There is little to suggest this is likely, however. Ko, running second in most polls, maintains he is committed to his candidacy. And the century-old KMT would be extremely reluctant to get behind a candidate other than its own.
In a statement, the party denounced Gou’s entry into the race and threatened to discipline any KMT member who supported him.