Although it is too early to tell whether a telephone threat to Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) presidential campaign office yesterday was the real deal, there are already indications that fear and intimidation could become an important ingredient in the January presidential election.
An unidentified man, who called twice, allegedly threatened to set Tsai’s office in Banciao (板橋), New Taipei City (新北市), ablaze. Tsai’s staff, who immediately called police, said it was the first time the office had received threatening calls.
While Tsai said she would not be intimidated by such threats, close advisers have admitted that fears for her personal safety are imposing limits on the type of campaigning she will be able to do in the lead-up to the Jan. 14 polls.
One example of this is the DPP’s campaign team’s purported decision to skip Kinmen and Matsu, despite the role Tsai played in the opening of the “small three links” with China under former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) administration in January 2001. While they are relatively minor incidents, it is significant that there have been reports that campaign banners for Tsai’s camp were destroyed in Kinmen as well as in Changhua County.
It is worrying that the elections are shaping up to be not only extremely close, but also, in the eyes of many, pivotal to the future of Taiwan. Consequently, while intimidation was rarely used in the lead-up to the 2008 election — of which the outcome was known to all — January presents us with a very different situation, one in which the pan-blue camp, as well as Beijing, are rattled by uncertainty.
Beijing has made little secret of its preferred outcome and is expected to do everything it can to help President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), its preferred interlocutor in cross-strait matters. Beyond “goodwill” gestures, such as dispatching purchasing delegations and alleged threats to China-based Taiwanese who support the pan-green camp, China and members of the unification camp could also tap into their deep connections within the criminal underworld to try to intimidate Tsai and her supporters.
Chang An-le (張安樂), the former leader of the Bamboo Union, who now resides in China, is already suspected of using his influence to interfere in Taiwanese politics, such as organizing “spontaneous” protests during a visit to Taiwan by the Dalai Lama in 2009. In recent years, criminal organizations are believed to have provided security at campaign events for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), as well as providing transportation for Kuo Kuan-ying (郭冠英), a disgraced Government Information Office staffer recalled from Canada, upon his return.
This is not to mention that Ma’s sister, Ma Yi-nan (馬以南), was confirmed to have met Chang during a campaign party in June 2007 held by Taiwanese businesspeople in Shenzhen, China, or the admission by Ma Ying-jeou that he met Chen Ying-chu (陳盈助), who is suspected of operating international online gambling operations, during campaigning for the 2008 and 2009 elections.
What all of this makes clear is that the KMT, along with some of its “supporters” in China, have ties to organized crime they can rely upon to infuse a sense of threat into the elections to intimidate DPP candidates. Even without guidance by Ma and his camp, some triad members could decide, on their own, to threaten Tsai or intimidate voters in close districts.
Given the stakes in the election and the higher risks of political intimidation, the National Security Bureau, local police authorities and the National Police Administration will have to remain vigilant at all times to ensure the free and fair elections to which Taiwanese are entitled.
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