With the exception of a few cases, being the mayor of a capital city is never a shortcut to becoming president or prime minister, regardless of whether the country’s political system is presidential or parliamentary.
For example, the mayoral elections in Washington are not only unimportant, they are not competitive and are hardly taken seriously by anyone.
Taiwan mimics the US when it comes to politics.
However, there is a huge difference between the two countries in terms of the political weight mayoral elections carry in their respective capitals.
All three heads of state who have been elected since direct presidential elections were introduced in Taiwan were mayors of Taipei prior to occupying the highest political office.
However, not a single US president has been mayor of Washington.
All of the US capital’s past mayors have been ordinary people who became political household names. This occurred not because of these candidates’ outstanding political achievements, but rather due to the scandals they were involved in.
The makeup of voters in Washington is unique, as seen when a city mayor convicted on drug charges managed to make a political comeback and serve a total of four terms.
Since direct mayoral elections were first held in Washington in 1974, all seven of those elected have been African-Americans and they have all come from the Democratic Party.
In the nominations for the 2010 primaries, the Republican Party did not even register in the area and was absent from the general election.
Democratic candidate Vincent Gray garnered less than 100,000 ballots, but won with 74 percent of the total vote.
The reason for this strange phenomenon is that Washington has a population of only 630,000. It does not have any representatives in the US Congress and as a district is not politically significant.
African-Americans account for more than half of Washington’s population, while Caucasians account for one-third. African-Americans lean toward the Democrats and are in an advantageous position as representatives of that party due to their strong ethnic and political ties.
Taipei has a population of 2.6 million, which is 11 percent of Taiwan’s total population. One-third of Taipei residents are Mainlanders, a group that almost always votes for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).
All the KMT has to do to win the capital’s mayoralty is get 20 percent of the vote from other groups and it can easily gain more than half of the electorate’s ballots, thereby greatly increasing its chances of winning.
Former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was unexpectedly voted in as president after being Taipei mayor, as was President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who used the position as a springboard for victory in the presidential election.
The KMT, which is controlled by Mainlanders, views the position of Taipei mayor as an important asset in their political ascension and a post they must fight for. They allow no room for so-called “pro-localization” forces to get involved in the election process.
If Taipei voters had the same strategy as their counterparts in Washington, the Taipei mayoral elections would not be such a difficult constituency for the Democratic Progressive Party to secure as it traditionally has been.
Taipei would instead become a challenge for that gang of people who still fantasize about the capital being Nanking.
James Wang is a political commentator.
Translated by Drew Cameron
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