The Kaohsiung City Council by-election took place just five months before the year-end legislative elections and follow the presidential election by just four months. It is clearly a good indicator of what might happen in the legislative elections, not just because the nature of the candidates in the legislative and Kaohsiung elections are similar, but also because it serves as an index of changing political attitudes in southern Taiwan.
There are many aspects of the Kaohsiung City Council elections which deserve our attention, not least the performance of the "vote-buying" families who were criticized by the Taiwan Southern Society (南社). Of the nine candidates from this group, three won seats in an election with an exceptionally low turnout. In addition, the People First Party (PFP) failed to win any seats and their vote count was also down, while the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) made impressive gains, winning three seats. But most importantly, not only does the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) now hold the mayoral position in Kaohsiung, but the pan-green camp has a majority within the council. Compared with the 2002 election results, this by-election puts the DPP in a position to defeat the pan-blue forces in the city council. In the sixth Kaohsiung City Council election, the KMT won 12 seats and the PFP won seven to make a total of 19, while the DPP's 14 seats and the TSU's two seats added up to 16. This was a clear victory for the pan-blue camp. But after the by-elections, the DPP and TSU now have a total of 15 seats, one more than the 14 held by the KMT-PFP alliance, which changes the picture entirely.
The PFP nominated four candidates, but none were successful, and the party's vote count fell in all districts. In 2002, the PFP had eight candidates, of whom seven were elected, and they looked like nothing would hold them back, even seeming to threaten the KMT's position. Two years later, following the presidential election, its failure leaves it trailing the KMT and even the TSU. Although we are only looking at a single moment in time, the sudden rise and just as sudden fall of the PFP has clearly affected the front presented by the pan-blue camp.
For KMT Chairman Lien Chan (連戰), cooperation with the PFP was a guarantee of victory. The presidential election proved this to be a false assumption. The alliance has still not changed its tune, but contradictions remain unresolved and they are unlikely to achieve anything substantial in the legislature before the year-end elections. Although Lien and his team are still working hard for a victory in these elections, the failure of the PFP to win any seats at all in Kaohsiung will surely have a larger impact. Not only will the DPP see an opportunity here, but New Party Chairman Yok Mu-ming (郁慕明) is also gearing up to exploit the possibilities for strengthening his party's position at the expense of the PFP.
Why has the PFP fallen to its present position? Who is leading the PFP into oblivion? One thing is certain. This is only the beginning of that party's problems.
Chin Heng-wei is editor-in-chief of Contemporary Monthly magazine.
TRANSLATED BY Ian Bartholomew
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