Among residents victimized by property expropriation and demolition in Dapu Borough (大埔) in Miaoli County’s Jhunan Township (竹南), two people have lost their lives so far. Chu Feng-min (朱馮敏) died after swallowing weed killer on Aug. 3, 2010, and Chang Sen-wen’s (張森文) body was found in an irrigation channel on Sept. 18 this year, exactly two months after his shophouse was demolished. After attending Chang’s memorial service, I asked myself whether his death would change anything in Dapu.
A pessimistic view would be that nothing can change unless the political environment changes. Maybe Miaoli County Commissioner Liu Cheng-hung (劉政鴻), who admits that he sometimes acts in a domineering way, will exercise a bit more restraint in future. What will not change, however, is Liu’s deleterious practice of continually borrowing funds to spend on extravagant public construction projects that he claims to be in the public interest, and then seizing land and changing the zoning category to speculate on its value and repay the loan with the profits.
As time goes on, this policy will claim more victims, tormenting them as their lives are turned upside down with their property buried under rubble.
Is the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) prepared to take a long, hard look at some embarrassing facts? Miaoli is the only region that has never seen a handover of power from one political party to another. Following the heavy defeat the DPP suffered in the 2008 legislative election, its vote recovered a little in last year’s county and city polls. Miaoli bucked the trend as the only place where the party’s vote did not increase, but fell even lower. The DPP has always had extraordinarily low representation in the Miaoli County Council, where it currently holds just five out of 37 seats.
The problem might be that DPP leaders have been neglecting Miaoli and have no long-term ambitions for the county, so they have failed to foster young party members, activists and supporters there. A succession of DPP chairpersons must take a big share of the blame. An opposition party that has shown so little ambition even in a county that has so much room for progress may lack the determination needed to get back into power at the national level.
With so many civic groups and individuals voicing support for victims in Dapu and other parts of Miaoli, a door has been opened for a change in the county’s political environment. If the DPP fails to get involved and does not grasp the opportunity to foster young talent and gain ground, people all over Taiwan will take note and DPP supporters will start to lose faith.
Perhaps there is no point in expecting the DPP to do anything. Maybe civic groups will be the ones to make gains while the DPP becomes even more sidelined and heads for oblivion. The DPP should explain to its supporters why it is so marginalized in Miaoli. It should tell everyone what political aims it has in mind for the county and what it is going to do to help the victimized residents and their hard-pressed self-help groups.
People are not impressed by local DPP members and councilors who generally do nothing to help, but then turn up at memorial services after a person dies in mysterious circumstances and make a show of bowing. If Chu and Chang’s regrettable deaths leave Miaoli’s political climate unchanged and more tragedies happen, then people need no longer expect anything from the opposition party. This would benefit the band of robbers that keeps getting elected in Miaoli without facing real challengers.