In less than three months and for the first time, Taipei City is to elect a new mayor with no administrative experience in running a government. Such a unique phenomenon explains why there has been less passion and sparks between opposing campaigns in the capital. It also displays an essential need for voters to request that the candidates present clearer policy platforms and visions.
Taipei is well-known for having more pan-blue Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) supporters than pan-green Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) backers. However, KMT Taipei mayoral candidate Sean Lien (連勝文) has been trailing independent candidate Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), who has the DPP’s backing.
According to the latest polls, Ko is leading Lien by double digits in electoral support. Most importantly, Ko is also outperforming Lien in terms of favorability. Not only have more people revealed their preference for Ko, but more people believe Ko will win the election. This constitutes an unprecedented challenge to the KMT. If Ko wins, he will unfold a new era of electoral politics in Taipei.
Despite it being a municipal election, the low approval rating of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and his administration’s incompetent governance have affected Lien’s campaign.
Facing Ko’s play to establish a bipartisan “major league opposition camp,” Lien should have distinguished himself from Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) by presenting a different leadership style and better blueprints to voters. Lien should have introduced a new and progressive vision for Taipei after 16 consecutive years of KMT governance. He could have sent a message to younger voters saying he can inject new thinking into the KMT’s aging political culture. However, he did not, and Ko has won more support from younger voters.
The fact that Hau’s performance has long been ranked as the worst among the nation’s mayors and governors by Global Views Monthly magazine shows that Hau’s successor should look to turn around the outgoing mayor’s poor governing and offer feasible alternatives to convince voters. That Lien did not do so gives voters the impression that he endorses the “status quo” established by Hau and Ma, who served as Taipei mayor previously. It looks as if there will be a continuation of policy rather than change if Lien is elected.
For example, Lien overemphasizes the need to make Taipei a better place for international investment. He also pledged to improve the city’s global competitiveness.
However, what most voters care about is making Taipei a more livable place. Offering an affordable public housing system is one of the essential campaign issues that Lien and Ko have been debating.
Lien proposed moving the Taipei First Municipal Funeral Parlor to the Sanzhuku Sanitary Landfill Site in Nangang District (南港) and building a public housing complex at the parlor’s current site.
The idea has met with criticism from city councilors across party lines. Some said the landfill site, which was transformed into an ecological park that opened last year, has only one access road, stressing that transportation would be a major problem if the mortuary was moved there. Even KMT councilors were against the plan. It shows a lack of assessment and coordination between Lien’s camp and the KMT as a whole.
Lien also proposed to increase YouBike stations and widen cycle lanes. However, the problem for Taipei cyclists is not the numbers of stations, but a safe and integrated bike route network.
Ko’s camp is also facing scrutiny from voters over its policies. For example, Ko intends to redefine Taipei’s bus and bike routes, but has failed to address potential inconvenience it might bring other commuters.
Due to Lien’s and Ko’s lack of governing experience, it is important for voters to ask the candidates to outline feasible policies, instead of painting rosy but impractical pictures of the future.
Leadership is a dynamic tension between where a leader thinks the city must go and where voters want it to go. Bold initiatives that leave residents behind are not acts of leadership, but of self-indulgent arrogance. A reform-minded agenda that lacks determination and action to realize it is nothing but election-time rhetoric.
Also, the two candidates should refrain from mudslinging, which could reinforce voter perceptions of the candidates’ irresponsibility.
Liu Shih-chung is president of the Taiwan Brain Trust.
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