Until quite recently there has not been much interest in the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) candidacy for next year’s election for mayor of Taipei, but now the scene is livening up a bit. First Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), a physician at National Taiwan University Hospital, expressed an interest in standing for the DPP and now Wellington Koo (顧立雄), a lawyer, has done the same. DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) has wished good luck to both of them.
Taipei is home ground for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), its chairman President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and smaller pan-blue allies, and has long been seen as an island of privilege that is hard for the pan-green parties to conquer.
In the 1998 mayoral election, the DPP’s Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) had the advantage of being the incumbent mayor, as well as enjoying an approval rate of nearly 80 percent, but he still lost to his KMT challenger Ma, winning just 45.91 percent of the vote. Although Ma’s successor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) is not a particularly outstanding figure, he still managed to beat his DPP rivals Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) and Su in successive elections. Hsieh got 40.89 percent of the vote in 2006 and Su did a little better in 2010 with 43.81 percent, but neither of them was able to break Chen’s earlier record.
Chen, Hsieh and Su are all DPP heavyweights, yet all of them got less than half of the votes when they stood for election for mayor of Taipei. Given this poor record, no wonder their juniors have been hesitant about standing. When Lee Ying-yuan (李應元) challenged the incumbent mayor Ma in 2002, with strong support from then-president Chen, his share of the vote fell to 35.89 percent and that has had a definite negative impact on his political fortunes since then. It is not surprising, then, that DPP legislators Tuan Yi-kang (段宜康) and Pasuya Yao (姚文智), who both grew up in Taipei, have not been keen to stand in next year’s mayoral election
The capital cities of advanced democracies all represent those countries’ most cosmopolitan, progressive and pluralistic forces, and they often elect mayors from opposition parties. This is true of cities in Europe, the US, Japan and South Korea, but Taipei stands out as an exception to the rule. In Taipei, the KMT is almost certain to win, except when it is suffering from a split.
There are two main reasons for this. The first has to do with Taipei’s special ethno-linguistic makeup. While mainlanders — those who came to Taiwan after World War II and their descendants — account for 14 percent of Taiwan’s entire population, the figure for Taipei is between 25 and 28 percent, or 700,000 to 750,000 people. This clearly does not work in the DPP’s favor.
The second reason is that Taipei’s occupational structure is also special. Military personnel, civil servants, teachers, corporate headquarters, financial businesses, people working in cross-strait affairs, media, arts and entertainment are all concentrated in the capital, and these kinds of people have always tended to favor the pan-blue parties.
Taipei’s special ethnic and occupational mix means that the DPP can only compete seriously if it nominates a candidate who is well known, can span ethnic divides, is sufficiently cosmopolitan and can offer prospects for development. Former DPP chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) is probably the only candidate the party could put up who meets all these conditions, but she is also the DPP’s favorite prospective candidate for the 2016 presidential election.