Over the last week, local politics has been the hottest topic in Taiwan. Several opinion polls have shown that the approval ratings of Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) have dropped and that his chances don’t look too good for the upcoming elections because of recent procurement scandals surrounding the Taipei International Flora Expo and the Xinsheng Overpass reconstruction project. Some people have even urged Hau to withdraw from the election.
CommonWealth magazine recently released the results of a survey rating 25 mayors and county commissioners. The results showed that the top six spots were occupied by mayors and commissioners belonging to the pan-green camp, while the bottom 12 positions were occupied by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) incumbents. While opinion polls are not elections, they are a reflection of voter sentiment.
The opinions about local leaders reflected in these polls conform to democratic common sense, reflect public sentiment and, as such, are important.
There are individual and unique reasons why mayors and commissioners have different levels of approval. However, t that the opinion poll results were so uniform is clearly a reflection of the direction of mainstream public opinion. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) sees this as reaffirmation that the public feels that a pan-green government is a guarantee for good quality governance and that they are more capable at ruling than the KMT. In comparison, these approval ratings have become a source of embarrassment for the KMT, which is now complaining of unfair treatment, and the Taipei City Government, which has conceded it may not have been so good at marketing itself. The Taipei County Government, ranking last, says it “cannot understand the poll results.”
It is clear that the view that the KMT is better able to govern was a misconception that has now been proven wrong. From the national level down to the local level, the KMT is unwilling to face public opinion and now finds itself coming up with various excuses to defend itself.
The above-mentioned approval ratings of mayors and county commissioners should be interpreted based on democratic common sense. In other words, the main reason DPP mayors and commissioners perform better is that in most localities, the ruling DPP is in a minority while the KMT is in the majority. Regardless of whether the DPP is in charge, they are in a minority on the city and county councils in all the 25 cities and counties, which means that the KMT controls all these local councils. The administrations of pan-green mayors and county commissioners are thus subject to strict monitoring and the party — which still hasn’t reached its 25th year of existence — has never controlled the courts or the media.
As a result, it must remain cautious and never become lazy. That is why — regardless of whether it is dealing with public interests or local development issues — DPP leaders manage to meet public demands and fulfill their responsibilities. In comparison, the KMT, with their control over the local councils, is rarely subject to checks and balances from popular institutions or the media. Over time, this has distanced the party from the public, thereby creating a rift between its policies and public expectations.
Appropriate checks and balances make a democracy more effective, while a lack of them leads to political irregularities. Based on this democratic reasoning, it is not hard to understand Hau’s current behavior. Taipei City is viewed as a pan-blue stronghold, the city has been ruled by KMT mayors for the last 12 years, they have all won with a large margin, and the pan-blue camp controls the city council — this has made the Hau administration feel that its re-election is a matter of course. With such a government, it is very easy for problems like administrative bureaucracy, arrogance, incompetence and corruption to rear their ugly heads.