Wed, Dec 03, 2014 - Page 8 News List

Strategizing for national elections

By Ian Inkster 音雅恩

On separate occasions earlier this year in London, I had the opportunity to ask former premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) and former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) about the party’s future policies in the municipalities and counties, and whether the north-south electoral divide could be mitigated through an explicit regional and urban policy package that might be a core element for the DPP agenda in the 2016 presidential and legislative election battles. In both cases I received pretty limpid responses.

At the time of writing it seems that the nine-in-one elections would see a significant change in the political color of Taiwan’s localities, with great swings toward the DPP and independent candidates, and a very large 70 percent turnout. Things seem pretty “green.”

If opposition to the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government is to strengthen and become more coherent prior to the 2016 elections, then the DPP and others need to sit back from the carnival and spectacle and ponder what has happened and how to benefit in the longer run. Can this seeming surge against the KMT’s governance be converted into electoral victory at the national level?

What explains the present swing?

First, there is the normal “midterm effect” found in many democratic electorates — people voting for one party for national elections, then in midterm favoring opposition candidates in local or other elections. Many voters believe that they should try to manage a balancing act between major parties. It is not clear how strong that general effect was in this particular case.

Second, a more salient element must be the politicization of youth in recent months, not only in the Sunflower movement protests, but in various nuclear and environmental disputes throughout the year. Many of these might have been first-time voters in Saturday’s elections, choosing to voice their protest through the ballot box; others might well have supported the KMT in the 2012 election, but now have come out vigorously in support of opposition candidates.

Chang Hsin-hsin (張心心), a Taiwanese student of mine now studying political science at the University of Sussex in the UK, has argued that independent voters are emerging — people who refuse to stay hostage to the blue-green ideology that domestic issues cannot be decided without resolving first the issue of unification or independence. Chang also believes that the old electoral strategies of “attacking and teasing” have been abandoned in favor of greater discussion and analysis, a direct product of the recent student-led unrest.

Third, the result may have been very strongly influenced by the presence of some really excellent candidates whose backgrounds and party positions or independence made them at once interesting and seemingly more trustworthy (less likely corrupt) than many established party candidates.

In the light of recent political scandals, as well as the surge of interest and information regarding complicity and complexity in the use of advisory funds, the lack of attendance records and direct availability of legislative proceedings, resulting from recent exposures by academics, citizen groups and the Citizen Congress Watch, this factor may have been of greater importance than ever before in Taiwan.

Candidates who could show political cleanliness or distinctiveness were more likely to gain support in this atmosphere. Two outstanding examples of this effect seem to have been the cases of Yunlin County Commissioner Su Chih-fen (蘇治芬) and independent Taipei mayor-elect Ko Wen-je (柯文哲).

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