Tue, Nov 18, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Cutthroat tactics as election nears

By HsuYung-ming 徐永明

A few days ago, People First Party (PFP) Chairman and vice presidential candidate James Soong (宋楚瑜) kneeled down before Yunlin County Commissioner Chang Jung-wei (張榮味) during a visit to Yunlin. There has been much speculation over what the reasons for this incident may have been.

If we distance ourselves from the current debate, however, we see that it is a matter of campaign tactics, and that the goal was to win Chang's support. Soong was competing against the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which itself is not afraid of using cutthroat tactics. This shows that the presidential election campaign already is becoming intensely fierce.

Looking at the situation from the point of view of political development, the main effect of the transfer of political power in 2000 has been that the system built during the authoritarian era is about to collapse. In the past, political power was centralized, allowing the central government to control local authorities by dividing them, and to mobilize voters using vote-buying.

Today, the top-level leadership has been changed following a transfer of political power. The political consequences of this development have been that the relative independence of local factions has increased, giving them quite an advantageous bargaining position in the competition between the blue and green camps for votes in the presidential election. As local faction votes begin to shift, the pan-blue camp support base is becoming quite unclear.

This is why uprooting local support and cutthroat tactics have become such important parts of the green camp's campaign strategy. This is based on their understanding of Taiwan's local politics. The power of local factions during election time has been keenly felt by DPP politicians ever since the tang wai (黨外, "outside the party") era, and they have also gained experience in vote-buying to mobilize voters. Even when the DPP became the largest party in the legislature following the elections in 2001, it still had only about 35 percent support, where it has hovered for over 10 years.

Furthermore, one of the things presidential election observers agree on is that, on the political map, "the south is green and the north is blue:" setting Chungchangtou (中彰投) as the dividing point, Chen's support is said to be stronger in the south, while the north is said to belong to Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman and presidential candidate Lien Chan (連戰) and Soong. But prior to this election, the green camp did not enjoy an absolute lead in the south -- in the 2000 election, Chen's vote only exceeded the total of votes cast for Lien and Soong in Tainan, his home county.

The saying that the south is green has thus only appeared in connection to the upcoming election. The reason is the collapse of the authoritarian system. If voters haven't broken away from the factions and their manipulative mobilization, then factions have thrown themselves into the arms of the DPP government. Of these, the factions led by Chen Ming-wen (陳明文) in Chiayi and Chang in Yunlin are the two most important.

But for cutthroat tactics to be effective, the possession of government resources must be matched by external conditions. During the authoritarian era, the press wasn't free and the judiciary wasn't independent.

This provided an environment that protected the practice of mobilizing local voters through vote-buying. Following democratization, however, this environment no longer exists, and anyone wanting to mobilize local factions has to carry the cross of "black gold."

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