5 things to know about new Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je

Newly-elected independent Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je gestures after winning the Taipei mayoral elections in Taipei on Nov 29, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Newly-elected independent Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je gestures after winning the Taipei mayoral elections in Taipei on Nov 29, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP

HE was a high-flying surgeon who established Taiwan's standard procedures for organ transplant. Now Dr Ko Wen-je, 55, is making headlines in the political field after winning the key Taipei mayoral race on Nov 29 even though he is a political novice.

The Taipei mayorship is a crucial step for Taiwan's presidents-in-waiting, with every leader in the past quarter century since Taiwan democratised - Mr Ma Ying-jeou, Mr Chen Shui-bian and Mr Lee Teng-hui - having served as the capital's mayor.

Here are five things to know about Dr Ko:

1. The father of three graduated from the department of medicine at National Taiwan University (NTU) in 1986 and became an emergency room doctor focusing on trauma treatment. He founded NTU's first organ transplant team and established standards for organ transplant procedures later used throughout Taiwan.

2. In 2006, he made headlines when he used groundbreaking research to save the life of the wife of outgoing Taichung mayor Jason Hu - he lost his bid in the local election - who had fallen into a coma after a car accident. In 2010, he directed the emergency care team that treated Mr Sean Lien for critical wounds after he was shot in the head. Mr Lien, son of former premier Lien Chan, lost to Dr Ko in the Taipei mayoral race.

3. Dr Ko resigned as head of the organ transplant task force at NTU in 2011 after the hospital became embroiled in a scandal when HIV-infected organs were transplanted into five patients. The incident happened after a staff member misheard the donor's test results over the phone. Dr Ko, the only person punished in the case, said he was never given a chance to defend himself. The incident was described as a turning point that propelled his participation in politics against the "unfair" authorities.

4. He has no political experience but has gained popularity for his relatively down-to-earth public image. He comes from a lineage of middle-class public servants - his father was an elementary school teacher, while his grandfather was a school supervisor and then principal. The latter was arrested by the KMT-led Republic of China government in 1947, and was tortured and beaten badly for a month. He died in 1950.

5. Dr Ko ran in the election as an independent candidate, though he has been a long-time supporter of the Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) Chen Shui-bian, a former Taiwan president. He has said he will not join any political party after being elected and intends to prohibit his top employees from engaging in political party activities while seeking the "widest public consensus" on policy-making.

Text by Li Xueying, Regional Correspondent In Hong Kong