Legislative by-elections will be held on Saturday to fill a seat each in Greater Tainan and Greater Kaohsiung that were left vacant following November’s special municipality polls. The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) are using this three-day weekend to drum up support. However, Saturday’s elections are not just duels between the two parties; the Chinese Communist Party is also playing an important role, which can be inferred from the fact that Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) chose last week to tour southern Taiwan, including DPP-held areas.
The KMT had trouble finding candidates willing to stand in the two DPP strongholds. It wanted the then-heads of the National Youth Commission and Mongolian and the Tibetan Affairs Commission — Wang Yu-ting (王昱婷) and Kao Su-po (高思博) — to run, but they weren’t interested, tendered their resignations and were replaced in the small Cabinet reshuffle on Feb. 1. KMT Legislator-at-large Chen Shu-huei (陳淑慧) and Hsu Ching-huang (徐慶煌), son of former DPP legislator Hsu Chih-ming (徐志明), were then persuaded to take up the challenge.
Their DPP opponents are former Tainan City mayor Hsu Tain-tsair (許添財) and former legislator Lin Tai-hua (林岱樺).
Considering the two parties’ support base in these areas and the strength of their candidates, the DPP started the campaign well ahead in both districts. DPP heavyweights have headed south to stump, while the KMT sent Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) and Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義), both of whom have longstanding ties with the south.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who doubles as KMT chairman, yesterday finally put in an appearance as well. However, Ma’s right-hand man, Tainan-born former KMT secretary-general King Pu-tsung (金溥聰), has hardly shown his face, sowing doubts about his determination to help Ma win enough support in the south to ensure re-election next year.
Chen Yunlin’s visit — and the implied offer of business opportunities — has not been the boost the KMT was probably hoping for. People in the south are for the most part not very friendly to China, and the ARATS chief has encountered protests throughout his trip, which has hardly been the best advertisement for Ma’s China policy.
In meetings with local business leaders, Chen Yunlin admitted that Chinese companies have not shown a great deal of interest in doing business with Taiwan. However, he said Kaohsiung had a lot of potential for cooperating with China and that this would soon bear fruit — an admission that the results thus far have been far from ideal. At a meeting in Chiayi County, he talked about the tough problem of marketing produce from southern Taiwan. He said that China’s huge market could help Taiwanese fruit growers faced with gluts, but he did not promise any help when farmers in Yunlin County voiced concern over more China’s irregular purchasing of agricultural goods.
Chen Yunlin’s southern tour has only reminded voters about how the KMT’s China policies have pushed up unemployment and slowed the economy in the region. Maybe he thought such a tour would win votes for the KMT, but he has ended up helping the DPP.
Still, Chen Yunlin has learned one thing — he has seen for himself what a failure Ma’s China policies have been for southern Taiwan.