US academics over the weekend added their voices to the chorus of analyses following Saturday’s five special municipal elections, with highly laudatory remarks on the manner in which the campaigning proceeded.
While their argument that the two camps avoided highly ideological pitfalls and tried to appeal more to grassroots voters was for the most part accurate, the researchers were quoted by Central News Agency as saying that the parties had displayed “restrained reactions” to the shooting of Sean Lien (連勝文), son of former vice president Lien Chan (連戰), during a campaign rally for a Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) candidate for Sinbei City councilor on Friday night.
Unfortunately for the academics, they stumbled on that one, or failed to watch the right TV channels in the aftermath of the incident.
Although it is true that on election day President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and other KMT officials adopted a relatively neutral stance on the matter, on Friday night the KMT apparatus — and the pan-blue media — went into full gear insinuating that the attack was somehow related to the election and that the DPP stood for violence. They never said it directly, mind you, but when officials called for voters to “cast their ballots against violence” the following day, the implication was obvious.
The politicization of the shooting went even further when TV news reports allowed Ting Yuan-chao (丁遠超), director of the former vice president’s office, a chance to speak and hint that the incident was targeted and part of a larger campaign of violence, before a hospital spokesperson was able to provide an update on the younger Lien’s condition. Surely, given the interest in Sean Lien’s health, a status update should have preceded politics — at least if there had not been an attempt to turn the isolated, unrelated incident into a tool against the DPP.
Then again, after visiting his son in hospital, Lien Chan returned to a KMT campaign rally and heightened the rhetoric by implying that somehow the DPP was behind the assault on his son (the same Lien Chan who, back in 2004, accused the DPP of staging an attempt on president Chen Shui-bian’s [陳水扁] life).
To each his priorities, but there are very few fathers who would choose to leave their child’s hospital bed after he was shot in the head with a 9mm pistol to return to a local election event. It is also noteworthy that the following day, an otherwise magnanimous Ma did not once mention the other victim of the shooting, 29-year-old Huang Yun-sheng (黃運聖), who died of his wounds on his way to hospital. The man of politics, scion of a political family, mattered; the other, dead, didn’t.
This is not to imply that the whole incident was staged to give the KMT the edge it desperately needed in what was shaping up to be three very close races. In fact, announcing his victory by an unexpected 12 percent over his DPP opponent on Saturday night, Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) admitted that his unexpected large margin of victory had received a “a great deal of help” from the shooting incident, hardly the comments of a conspirator.
However, short of fabricating the incident for political advantage, the KMT cannot be absolved of turning it into an opportunity. It did, and the US academics should take note.
That said, the impact of the shooting and the politicization that ensued are insufficient in and of themselves to account for the charismatic Su Tseng-chang ’s (蘇貞昌) loss to a less-than-impressive, scandal-plagued Hau, by such a margin, or why, despite favorable conditions, the DPP has still not found a message that appeals to a majority of the electorate in the northern cities.