Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Taipei County commissioner-elect Chou Hsi-wei (周錫瑋) said last Saturday night that his victory "proves that ethnicity is not a problem in Taipei County" for his party. There's a lot of truth in this declaration: No other political party cuts across ethnic boundaries so comprehensively.
In the face of declining Hoklo support nationwide, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) thought it had a hope of bringing Hakka voters into the fold with its tricky campaign in Miaoli, but this gambit failed when the enigmatic Hakka-dominated county voted a Hoklo KMT candidate into the top job despite support for the DPP from the outgoing commissioner.
Once again, however, the most politically polarized ethnic group was the Aborigines. Were the Aboriginal population not so small, the following figures would be the DPP's worst nightmare made flesh. Of the 30 elections for mayor in Aboriginal townships, the DPP won none. And of the 57 city and county council seats reserved for Aboriginal candidates, the DPP also won none. This is a dreadful record for a party that preaches ethnic harmony, but it is not until one looks at the lists of candidates for each electorate that the penny drops. Not a single DPP candidate ran for mayor in Aboriginal townships this year, and a measly four of the party's candidates ran for councilors, all of whom failed, including the DPP's sole incumbent, Tien Chun-chih (田春枝), who lost her seat in Taipei County.
The DPP's lack of representation in Aboriginal districts is long-standing, but the utter lack of sustained engagement with this electorate after years of central political control symbolizes a party that has lost confidence in its message. President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) promise of increased autonomy for indigenous people ("states within a state") sounded impressive. But if sources in the executive are to be believed, Chen's men have been less than enthusiastic about executing such policy, and Aboriginal people on the ground are, after several years, none the wiser despite the formulation of an autonomy law.
Aboriginal electoral numbers are small but they carry a prize for the pan-blue camp, whose near monopoly of representation serves as a handy reminder of the difficulties the DPP faces in adapting to the requirements of local politics. It also offers a convincing display of KMT ethnic inclusiveness for those who warn of rampant Hoklo nationalism under the DPP.
Yet it is safe to say the KMT takes Aboriginal constituencies for granted, and it has never expressed enthusiasm at returning land stolen and defaced by corporations and settlers (the ghastly cuttings at the mouth of the Taroko Gorge are the most cinematic example of this encroachment). There are any number of ways the DPP could right the KMT's historical wrongs, and there has indeed been some progress. Election time, however, reveals the chasm between the ideal and the reality.
The "hundred-pacer" snake is a totemic animal in Aboriginal Taiwan. Its venom can be fatal for humans but it largely minds its own business. A number of Aboriginal ethnic groups consider it a sacred animal; indeed, the Paiwan people of Pingtung and Taitung counties claim descent from it and adorn themselves with its image. It is a beautiful reptile and demands respect and careful handling. Woe betide those who do not.