A political outsider could be in - in Taiwan too: The China Post

Billionaire Terry Gou, chairman of Foxconn Technology Group, speaks at the Asia-Pacific Conference of German Business in Hong Kong.
Billionaire Terry Gou, chairman of Foxconn Technology Group, speaks at the Asia-Pacific Conference of German Business in Hong Kong.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

In its editorial on Nov 17, the paper says Foxconn tycoonTerry Gou could pose strong challenge to President Tsai Ing-wen.

The age of the political outsiders is coming.

That's already happened in the United States, where voters have elected the flamboyant, outspoken business tycoon Donald Trump, who had no political credentials whatsoever until the presidential campaign.

And it is not unthinkable that the same could happen in Taiwan.

Taiwan is no stranger to political outsiders, after the election of surgeon Ko Wen-je as mayor of the capital city two years ago.

Trump's victory has now provoked serious thought in some sectors of society on looking for a political outsider to challenge President Tsai Ing-wen in 2020.

Although Tsai has underperformed since taking office in May, at least one political commentator has pointed out that if the pan-blue camp looks to win back the presidency, none of its existing leaders can be relied on.

Now many pundits are tipping Terry Gou, chairman of Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., Ltd., as a potential challenger to Tsai four years from now.

Such speculation is not without grounds.

First, the Trump victory is encouraging, showing that politics is not off-limits to people outside the political establishment. The key is whether the outsider has strong leadership.

Ko has proved himself to be a rather amateurish mayor, despite his claims that he is running Taipei City as "clinically" as if he were leading a team of surgeons at National Taiwan University Hospital.

However, Gou's leadership in the business sector is well established, and the scale of his management is much bigger and more complicated than Ko's in the medical sector.

Gou runs a business empire that employs hundreds of thousands of workers, mostly in mainland China, to make Apple's iPhone and other electronic devices.

The size of Hon Hai's workforce is in fact much larger than Taiwan's entire military.

It is often said that the no-nonsense Gou runs his empire military-style - that is, he demands strict discipline and high efficiency from his managers and assembly-line workers.

His leadership style is clearly lacking in many of the existing politicians who are too eager to win elections at the expense of national interests.

While Gou may have many similarities to Trump, Hon Hai's chairman has seldom allowed himself to be embroiled in controversies.

He may be outspoken on political or social issues, but he has seldom antagonised specific groups.

He may have shown public support for Kuomintang (KMT) candidates in previous elections, but that does not mean that he cannot work with the Democratic Progressive Party-led pan-green camp.

In fact, as an outsider, he may be free of some of the KMT's political baggage, should he become the standard-bearer of the pan-blue camp.

Perhaps the political stalemate between the blue and green camps can be unlocked only by an outsider.

And one of the strongest advantages of a Gou campaign is that he knows Taiwan's economic problems well. If elected, he could be counted on to make feasible reforms to improve the country's economy.

His ties with other industry leaders would be a plus.

So far, Gou has not responded to the speculation about his presidential campaign.

This is very untypical of Hon Hai and its chairman, as they have tended to be quick to dismiss rumours.

Perhaps Gou really is mulling the possibility of running for president in 2020, and is letting the rumours test the public's response.

Some commentators have questioned the strengths of a Gou campaign, arguing that the candidates he openly supported in two previous elections were all defeated.

But you can't really blame Gou for their defeats. And you have to remember that even Tsai lost her first attempt to become president in 2012.

A campaign of Gou's own would be totally different from his simply showing support for others. He could pose a strong challenge to Tsai.

* The China Post is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 21 news media.