Tensions were high in Kaohsiung on Saturday, as the southern city’s usually sleepy streets were filled to bursting with protesters from two clashing political rallies. Tens of thousands of angry Kaohsiung citizens assembled at the Kaohsiung Cultural Center, expressing their outrage at the “disappearance” of their city mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) who has taken time off for his presidential election campaign.

Meanwhile, mere kilometers away in Aizihdi Park, Han loyalists who were decked out in the Taiwanese national flag flocked together for a counter-rally in support of the pro-Beijing presidential candidate. Amid the blaring of horns, booming of gongs, and the chanting of “Clear Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) off the shelf, give us back Taiwan!”, the carnival atmosphere implied no traces of disillusionment at the mayor’s absence from city affairs.


Photo Credit: CNA

Protesters in support of Han Kuo-yu marched in northern Kaohsiung on Saturday, December 31, 2019.

Although fewer in number, the Han loyalists made it clear that their support of the mayor was unshakeable. The rally set off at 1:11 p.m., a time reflecting the date of the January 11 presidential election. Symbolism also permeated the event in the form of “number 2 badges,” a reminder that Han is a lucky number two on the ballot.

Some supporters even claimed that Han’s leadership is not only right, but it is fate.

“Han is our president, it is written. You can see it in his name, ‘Yu (瑜),’ the character on the left looks like a one, and then the one underneath looks like 11, that’s the date of the upcoming presidential election!” one merchandise seller claimed.

He went on to say, “Buy this medallion so that you will always have Han Kuo-yu by your side.”

Other pro-Han supporters said they are about their children’s future because of the worrying economic reports. Belle, a young woman from Kaohsiung said, “Han Kuo-yu has done a lot more for this city than the line of Democratic Progressive Party mayors that preceded him ever did,” adding she felt moved by the turnout. The organizer of the pro-Han rally claimed 350,000 turned out for the rally.

In contrast, the anti-Han camp marched quietly. The peace was only occasionally broken by shouts of “step down, you bag of grass” (in reference to Han’s contested claim to being a man of the working peasant class). WeCare Kaohsiung, the organizer of the anti-Han protest, announced a total turnout of 500,000 by the end of the rally.

WeCare大遊行 尹立宣布50萬人參與

Photo Credit: CNA

An aerial view of the "1221 WeCare Taiwan Rally" in Kaohsiung, Taiwan on December 21, 2019. Thousands attended the anti-Han protest, calling for the presidential candidate's removal from his current mayoral position.

Berry, a Kaohsiung resident protesting alongside her boyfriend, put the strained atmosphere down to fear. “We are scared that if Han Kuo-yu gets elected next January, then Taiwan will become another Hong Kong,” she said.

Berry was not the only one to feel that Taiwan could be the next on Beijing’s hit-list. Among the Kaohsiung anti-Han protesters were several groups clad in black, Hongkongers flown in to show support for their Taiwanese counterparts. Some held up a slogan that read "Reclaim Kaohsiung," mirroring Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement.

The fear that Taiwan may be close to losing its democracy is especially poignant given the city’s recent commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Kaohsiung Incident. Many still remember the former authoritarian government’s ruthless crackdown on democracy advocators on the very same city streets. Which party and their policies most risk returning the country to such a state of oppression is bound to be a factor playing on all the Kaohsiung marchers’ minds.

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TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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