Wed, Nov 26, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Don't take Hakka vote for granted come March

By Michael Hsiao 蕭新煌

Next year's presidential election campaign is heating up, and the voting intentions of Hakka voters has received much attention lately. Both the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)-People First Party (PFP) alliance have canvassed for votes in the major Hakka heartlands of Taoyuan, Hsinchu and Miaoli counties. Once again, the Hakka people have suddenly become of great interest to politicians.

Hakka people are regarded as pan-blue-camp supporters. However, by taking for granted that Hakka people have an inclination to vote for pan-blue parties based on their support for PFP Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜), the old regime has made a serious mistake in making sweeping generalizations without thorough understanding of the situation.

How should we comprehend the Hakka voters and their political power?

Taiwan's Hakka political power has been strong in local politics for some time. Such forces were not valued by central political circles until the 1994 Taiwan provincial governor election, when the importance of Hakka votes at a national level was realized.

Hakka people, compared with other local factions, value kinship and regional relations within smaller geographic areas. They think highly of private relations and feelings, and are influenced by the collective force of their families and neighbors. As a result, their tendency to seek stability is strong and their initiative is weak.

Since their influence has now extended from the local to the central government, they are inevitably restricted by the original framework of local political power. The three counties in which Hakkas proliferate are significantly influenced by them, and the politicians' laziness is more greatly felt there than in other cities or counties.

When Soong was provincial governor, he developed his personal power base locally because he wanted to gain a higher position. This astute move of luring local factions proved effective in rural areas nationwide -- especially in Hakka villages where people valued their roots and relations highly, and were eager to repay his kindness. His past favors have significantly constrained them.

In other words, in Taoyuan, Hsinchu and Miaoli counties, the original local factions are still quite influential while the Hakka political forces emerge in central political circles.

In contrast to Soong's long-term efforts through the KMT's political and economic network, the DPP is at a disadvantage in courting the Hakka vote because it has been in power for only four years. Therefore, the pro-Soong phenomenon in the three counties is a reflection of the past dominance of the KMT, the Hakka people's relatively gentle rural character and the influence of local Hakka factions.

It's not necessarily a "pro-blue-camp sentiment." Nor is it a sentiment of thinking fondly of the old regime. Indeed, this is a conservative phenomenon in the transformation of Hakka political forces. This is in sharp contrast to the crucial role Hakka social forces have had in Taiwan's social movements (eg, agricultural, industrial and cultural movements) and democratic reforms.

As the current internal adjustment and upgrading of the conservative local Hakka political forces continues, and their active social forces grow nationwide, the Hakka voters in Taoyuan, Hsinchu and Miaoli counties will eventually change.

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