Mr Han Kuo-yu, the once-popular Kaohsiung mayor who was trounced in Taiwan’s presidential election earlier this year, will now be removed from his office after a move to recall him passed overwhelmingly with 939,090 votes yesterday.
Mr Han is the first Taiwanese official to lose his position this way, with hundreds of thousands of residents signalling their disapproval over his unfulfilled campaign promises, and taking months off for his presidential campaign.
“This victory is for everyone in Kaohsiung,” Mr Chen Kuan-jung, one of the founders of WeCare Kaohsiung, which along with other groups initiated the recall vote, told a roaring crowd in the southern port city.
The groups criticised Mr Han for making campaign promises that he failed to keep when he stepped into office, including drilling for oil in Taiwan’s outlying islands and boosting tourism through building new attractions such as a Ferris wheel and shopping mall project, and a Disney theme park.
They also characterised his months-long failed bid for Taiwan president as an “abandonment” of the Kaohsiung people.
Around 42 per cent of eligible voters showed up at polling stations yesterday, with some 97.4 per cent of them voting to recall Mr Han, passing the threshold for the motion to be valid.
Bowing in gratitude to his own supporters, whom he addressed at a city administration centre, Mr Han said: “Thank you to the 890,000 citizens who voted for me in 2018, giving me a chance to serve the city; thank you to the best administrative team that I’m proud of, and thank you to the 1.3 million citizens who didn’t come out to vote today because they believed that this was an unfair vote.”
Mr Han also expressed regret for the many projects left unfinished, and slammed the ruling Democratic Progressive Party for “focusing all it has on the ‘national Han-removal team’, bribing the media and ‘online armies’ to conduct smear campaigns”.
Mr Han’s party, the Kuomintang (KMT), said it respected the results of the vote. “We feel gratitude to the people of Kaohsiung, and also much guilt. Thank you for giving the KMT and Mayor Han a chance a little over a year ago.
“We are guilty for not holding on to the people’s warmth and not responding well to the people’s expectations, so the citizens of Kaohsiung have taken back their hopes for the KMT,” said party chairman Chiang Chi-chen.
Supermarket cashier Kao Ruei-hong said the result put other politicians on notice not to take voters for granted. “I’m really happy that someone who didn’t keep his campaign promises got removed, this means other politicians in Taiwan will know to keep their own promises in the future, or the people will vote for their removal,” said Mr Kao, 40.
Freelancer Huang Po-hsi, 25, shared a similar view. “I think this encourages young people to participate more in politics, and also changes the mentality we used to have. Many might think that mayors are like company bosses, but in reality, the people call the shots,” said Ms Huang.
Taxi driver Hsieh Fu-chuan, 58, said: “I support Mr Han, so I didn’t go out to vote today. But I do agree that he shouldn’t have left to run for president.”
Mr Hsieh thinks the mayor has done well in paving roads that were once filled with potholes, but admits that there was nothing to be done if the people voted to remove the mayor. “What can you do?” he asked, shaking his head.
Professor Shelley Rigger, the Brown Professor of East Asian Politics at Davidson College in the United States, said: “You never want to count someone out (of the politics scene) completely, but Mr Han feels a little bit like a shooting star, someone who came out of obscurity and lit up the sky for a while, peaked and fell out of favour.”
She is pessimistic about Mr Han’s future in politics. “It’s hard to think about what he has to offer to make a comeback in terms of substance.”
More people voted to oust Mr Han than the number of people who voted him into office in 2018.