In the wake of World War II, Taiwan started holding elections for mayors and county commissioners to implement local autonomy in the 1950s. Since that time — and following the development of the democratic movement — the nation’s political landscape has changed from a one-party monopoly to a two-party rivalry.
After the first democratic transition of power in 2000, the “blue” and “green” camp labels appeared on the political scene. Now, as competition for scarce political resources becomes increasingly intense, these labels have become ever stickier. For example, in the run-up to this year’s mayoral election in Taipei — part of the Nov. 29 nine-in-one elections — people have been talking about who will win if the contest boils down to a fight between the pan-blue and pan-green camps.
Yet what makes people think that one side is sure to triumph if voters consider nothing but the candidates’ political hue? People who make this claim reason that within Taipei’s political setup, the blue camp is intrinsically stronger than the green, so as long as people vote according to their blue or green allegiance, the electorate structure solidly favors a specific candidate winning.
A similar, but converse, phenomenon would seem to be true of southern Taiwan. Hitherto, the generally accepted scenario of the south being pro-green and the north being pro-blue has meant that in certain counties and cities, there is not much scope for challenging — much less replacing — a sitting mayor or commissioner who is seeking re-election.
These are the appearances, but do they reflect reality? As far as Taipei is concerned, this narrative is based on a logical fallacy. It implies that the attributes of candidates in Taipei hardly matter, because no matter who the blue camp puts forward, most of the city’s residents will support that person unconditionally and make sure they win.
To put it another way, does this mean that most people in Taipei are robot-like voters who do not need to think? If one is going to say such a thing, perhaps they should first ask people residing in the capital whether they agree with this portrayal.
Now consider the idea that green mayors and commissioners will enjoy smooth sailing in southern Taiwan’s electoral waters. Recent surveys gauging commissioners and mayors’ approval ratings indicate that those belonging to the green camp are mostly ahead in the polls. This could be because of their performance in office, their public image or due to voter preference. Survey data show that there are many reasons for the formation of territorial blocs, so there are no sound scientific grounds for believing that political allegiance is the only factor determining incumbents’ chances of being re-elected.
There may be some basis for classing voters as blue or green, but that does not mean that such preferences are set in stone or that people will not take candidates’ good and bad points into account when casting their ballot.
Notably, when support for the head of state is falling, voters who would normally be classed as being on the same side of the political spectrum as the nation’s leader will start drifting away from this camp and turn into undecided voters who decline to voice a preference, or they may not vote at all, or support a different party. For example, toward the end of former Democratic Progressive Party president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) second term in office, his support rate in opinion polls sank to 18 percent and many of the party’s supporters turned into swing voters.
As for President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), when he started his second term in office his support rate was as low as 9 percent. The blue camp is truly in the doldrums at the moment and quite a few candidates have let it be known that they would prefer Ma not to appear at their campaign events, since they might lose votes by being too closely associated with him.
Today’s international environment should also be taken into account when considering the domestic political landscape.
In 2012, relations across the Taiwan Strait appeared to be the decisive element for the nation’s elections, with the blue and green camps holding fast to their respective positions in this area. However, new factors have come into play this year, starting with the March-April Sunflower movement that saw protesters occupy the legislature in Taipei over the government’s handling of the cross-strait trade service pact, as well as the ongoing “Umbrella revolution” pro-democracy protests that started in Hong Kong in September.
Then came the criticisms of Ma that appeared in media outlets run by the Chinese Communist Party leadership last month. These verbal barbs that mentioned Ma by name show that Beijing’s longstanding view that the pan-blue side is Taiwan’s only legitimate political current is unraveling.
Consequently, when the “reds” are on the offensive, the only color left in Taiwan is that of party and state authority, with no option for choosing between blue and green. In such an atmosphere, how can Taiwanese voters still allow themselves to be manipulated by politicians and marked as belonging to one camp or another? And at the same time forget about what it takes to govern a city, so that politicians can grab hold of political power even if it means sowing divisions across the nation?
When the fog of political coloration clears, Taiwanese voters, be they in the north or south, need to get back to basics. They should use their ballots to select leaders who are most likely to make changes that improve cities’ civil societies and construction. Voters need to give greater consideration to the strengths and weaknesses of candidates’ policies, and listen to what they say about how they intend to improve the quality of life and appearance of the nation’s cities. People living in a progressive society have the right to expect such improvements.
Taiwanese politicians often plead with voters to “save” them from electoral defeat, but who is going to “save” Taiwanese from insecurity regarding basic necessities such as food, clothing, accommodation and travel? This makes these pleas from candidates the greatest form of disrespect toward the public possible.
Citizens’ rights are not confined to the right to vote — There is more to democracy than just voting for one candidate or another. Some groups have announced that on election day, they will set up stalls outside polling stations for people to sign petitions to amend the Civil Servants Election and Recall Act (公職人員選罷法) and add their names to the second stage of a bid to recall certain legislators. However, acting Central Election Commission Chairperson Liu Yi-chou (劉義周) said that this might violate the Civil Servants Election and Recall Act, as well as the Presidential and Vice Presidential Election and Recall Act (總統副總統選舉罷免法).
The only thing the commission in regards to this matter is act in accordance with the law. The commission is the authority responsible for planning, carrying out, directing and overseeing elections, recalls and referendums. It is duty-bound to facilitate the unencumbered exercise of civil rights in line with the two election and recall acts, as well as the Referendum Act (公民投票法). If it intentionally obstructs civil rights procedures that are not forbidden by these laws, it will be overstepping its authority and breaking the law itself. In that case, the Control Yuan must investigate the departments and officials involved to censure or impeach them if necessary.
Only when a majority of the electorate decides who to vote for based on right and wrong instead of blue and green will there be any likelihood of politicians from these two camps giving top priority to the interests of the public. Then, candidates will not dare to sit around waiting to win and thinking: “If my opponent is lousy enough, I am sure to get elected.”
When this day of awakening comes, the public will finally be the true masters of their land.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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