By Brian Hioe

Annette Lu proves how many of yesterday’s revolutionaries have become today’s reactionaries in Taiwan. Individuals such as Lu or many others of her generation continue to be involved in contemporary Taiwanese politics, ultimately threatening the future of Taiwan.

Though not currently holding any political position, Lu announced on Monday that she would run as the presidential candidate of the Formosa Alliance, a recently formed third party primarily consisting of elderly pro-independence hardliners.

Although some might dismiss Lu as not having any actual impact on the 2020 presidential election, the race seems likely to be a close one, in which even a 1- or 2-percent difference in votes could lead to a KMT victory instead of a DPP one. While President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) now enjoys a clear lead in recent polls, past polling has shown Tsai neck and neck with Han Kuo-Yu (韓國瑜) in scenarios with multiple presidential candidates. A split vote could easily lead to a Han victory, like how a split pan-Blue vote led to Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) 2000 election victory.


Photo Credit: CNA

Former Vice President Annette Lu attends the second East Asia Peace Forum in Seoul, South Korea, December 5, 2018.

Lu’s supporters would credit her career during the early Taiwanese democracy movement as a storied and remarkable one. She was a pioneering feminist and was one of the eight individuals arrested during the Kaohsiung Incident in 1979. Lu was sentenced to 12 years in prison and served almost six years in jail before being released.

But Lu’s blind supporters tend to leave out details in her political career that have cast a long shadow over her previous achievements. One cannot simply evaluate Lu without examining the last two decades of her political career, in which she became almost synonymous with virulent homophobia and racism.

Annette Lu’s History of Homophobia and Racism

One of Lu most notorious scandals happened during her vice presidency in 2003, when she claimed the AIDS outbreak was God’s punishment against gays. During an exhibition celebrating achievements in AIDS prevention, she said on television that "God felt it's time to mete out punishment, or there would not be any difference between men and animals.” She also suggested the “solution” to the AIDS crisis was to seclude individuals with AIDS in isolated villages, leading to heavy criticisms that she was proposing for AIDS patients to be left to die in isolation.

Her homophobia is still evident today in her alignment with the Formosa Alliance, which has called for a halt to same-sex marriage legalization in Taiwan, claiming that social dialogue should be a priority instead.

In 2004, Lu provoked further controversy in the wake of the devastation of indigenous communities by Typhoon Mindulle. She suggested that indigenous communities should uproot themselves from the lands they have lived on for thousands of years to resettle in Latin America, claiming that this would even strengthen diplomatic ties between Latin American Taiwan.

Taiwanese indigenous did not take kindly to this proposal, which could be read as advocating a mild form of ethnic cleansing through the mass relocation of Taiwan’s indigenous population to benefit Taiwan’s Han majority. Over 3,500 indigenous, including indigenous legislators, protested and called for Lu’s resignation. Although the Presidential Office later apologized, Lu herself refused to back down from her comments.


Photo Credit: CNA

Supporters of the Formosa Alliance march on the streets on October 20, 2018.

Given such a reputation, Lu is frequently booed when she makes public appearances to support social causes in recent years, such as being jeered at appearances in the annual commemorations of the Tiananmen Square Massacre in Liberty Plaza. Her reputation in the past two decades has taken an ironic turn for someone who was once highly esteemed as a prominent democracy activist and feminist in Taiwan.

The Formosa Alliance that Lu is representing also strongly opposes President Tsai Ing-wen, often claiming that she has not done enough to advance Taiwanese independence. In a Taiwanese version of birtherism, the party is currently attempting to prove that Tsai’s doctoral degree from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) is fake, despite Tsai having already debunked the accusation earlier. Annette Lu even openly asked Tsai to show her diploma so everyone can “smell the fragrance.

Taiwan's Pattern of Political Turncoats

Lu’s sharp lurch rightward in the past two decades follows a recurring phenomenon seen in many of Taiwan’s early pro-democracy activists, in which the later careers of once-prominent activists increasingly taint their previous achievements.

Democracy activist Shih Ming-teh (施明德), who was once chairman of the DPP and had served over 25 years in prison for his political activism, is now remembered as a turncoat for organizing protests against former President Chen Shui-bian during his term. Chen, another hero of the Tangwai movement, faced charges of corruption on which he was later imprisoned after his term ended, until release on medical parole in 2015. However, it still remains unknown whether charges against Chen were a form of political persecution by the Ma administration.

Dissident writer Li Ao (李敖) proves a third example. Having first established a name for himself for his trenchant criticisms of the KMT, Li later became the presidential candidate of the New Party, KMT's splinter party, in 2000.


Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG Images

Li Ao gestures during his speech at Fudan University in Shanghai, China, September 26, 2005.

More contemporary examples of this phenomenon can be seen in politicians that emerged after the 2014 Sunflower Movement. Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) was originally elected with the support of post-Sunflower Movement youth activists, but has increasingly drifted toward pro-China views. Huang Kuo-chang (黃國昌) of the New Power Party, one of the prominent leaders of the Sunflower Movement, has baited controversy through aligning himself with the pan-Blue leaning online personality Holger Chen and by remaining vague on whether he would seek to run for president against current President Tsai Ing-wen.

Many supporters of such politicians focus on their previous accomplishments to the exclusion of any recent political shifts. One can observe this in how many supporters of Ko are unaware of his pro-China shift in the past few years, or in the avoidance of Lu’s supporters to discuss her political scandals beyond her glory days during the Taiwanese democracy movement decades ago.

Taiwan 2020 Is a Dumpster Fire of Dangerous Political Contradictions

The lack of attention in the more recent political stances of these once-favored politicians results in some unusual contradictions.

Members of the Formosa Alliance, for example, advocate for immediate Taiwanese independence and would likely call for stronger relations between the United States and Taiwan to ward off the threat of China. But Lu, now running as the party’s presidential candidate, endorses a bizarre stance that Taiwan should remain neutral and become the Switzerland of Asia, which would somehow resolve the threat of military annexation from China.

The U.S. has also indicated that it finds Lu’s advocacy of an immediate independence referendum problematic since it could lead to “the need for American intervention.

And if Tsai is a politician that has won international recognition for Taiwan through acts such as legalizing gay marriage and officially apologizing to Taiwanese indigenous, it seems to have scarcely occurred to the Formosa Alliance that putting forward a candidate with a track record of homophobia and racism would reflect badly on Taiwan’s hard-earned progress.


Photo Credit: CNA

President Tsai Ing-wen attends an event celebrating the achievements of the indigenous social welfare stations in Taoyuan, Taiwan on September 10, 2019.

The older generation of pro-democracy activists have become dangerously alienated from the younger Taiwanese activists, who often joke that these outdated activists should retire for the sake of Taiwan’s continued survival. This is an ironic and sad accusation directed toward those who sacrificed years of their lives and undertook great personal risks to realize democracy in Taiwan.

Unfortunately, such individuals may be a serious threat to the continued preservation of democracy in Taiwan. For those who have long since served their historical roles, but stuck around on the stage long past their given screen time, the dustbin of history may be where they belong.

The News Lens has been authorized to repost this article from New Bloom.

TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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