TAIPEI -- Just over a month ahead of Taiwan's presidential election, incumbent Tsai Ing-wen has widened her lead over China-friendly Kuomintang candidate Han Kuo-yu.
Some 50.8% of respondents to an Apple Daily poll published on Monday said they would vote for the China-skeptic Tsai in the Jan. 11 election. Han came a distant second with 15.2%, his lowest since winning his party's primary, while People's First Party Chairman James Soong secured just 6.5% -- the same percentage as respondents who said they have not decided who to vote for.
The gap between Tsai and Han has been continually widening from just 1.9 percentage points in early August. Since her Democratic Progressive Party suffered heavy defeats in local elections late last year, Tsai has slowly regained momentum. She has been helped by Chinese President Xi Jinping ramping up the rhetoric in a push for unification with self-ruled Taiwan -- an unpopular view on the island -- and the unrest in Hong Kong raising concerns over Chinese influence.
However, poll results over the past two weeks may have been distorted by Han publicly calling supporters to lie to pollsters. "From now on when you get the pollsters' calls please tell them you 'only support Tsai Ing-wen', we can keep the DPP happy until January 10," Han wrote in a Facebook post on Nov. 29.
The KMT candidate said there are too many "strange" polls that do not reflect what people really think about the ruling administration.
Han said it is not fair to portray him or the KMT as "pro-China" or someone who will "sell" Taiwan simply because he visited the representative office of the Beijing government in Hong Kong earlier this year. He added that January's election is the "dirtiest" in Taiwan's history, claiming that he has been attacked and smeared by his opponent in a similar way to Cambridge Analytica's involvement in elections in places such as the U.S. and the U.K.
In response to Han's move, Tsai said that his supporters needn't hide their feelings if they support the KMT candidate.
Tsai has also been helped by the U.S.-China trade war, which has benefited Taiwan by luring investment to the island.
Taiwan's economy grew faster than Asian peers such as Singapore, South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong in the third quarter. Foreign investment has been a contributor to this growth, reaching nearly $10 billion in the first 10 months of the year.
Tsai's approval rating has also been boosted by Chinese defector Wang Liqiang telling the Australian government and media that he was assigned by Beijing to meddle in the Taiwanese election in favor of the KMT.
"Xi, and underling Carrie Lam, have effectively gifted Tsai a comeback from the would be political dead," Sean King, a scholar at the University of Notre Dame Liu Institute for Asia & Asian Affairs, told the Nikkei Asian Review.
While anything could happen in the next few weeks, King said that Tsai's reelection is "now all but a foregone conclusion," and Han's rather bizarre comments would demoralize his supporters.