Calling Hualien the Back Mountains gives the notion that the county is a backcountry settlement; that is why some prefer to call it the east side of the Central Mountain Range or west of the Pacific when describing where they come from.
However, unfortunately, when it comes to politics, the situation in Hualien looks very much like what people typically expect in the backcountry. Traditionally, Hualien has been a place where politicians can get elected simply by attending weddings and funerals, and funding concerts, firework shows and other unnecessary festivals, despite the growing fiscal deficit.
This did not begin to change until the Jan. 16 legislative elections, when Hualien elected Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) over former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislator Wang Ting-son (王廷升), who was seeking re-election. The election was a victory for the residents of Hualien, who finally fought back against inadequate politicians dominating the local political scene.
Before the legislative elections, two major controversies broke. First, to help Wang win the legislative seat in Hualien, the KMT reached a quid pro quo deal with former Hualien county commissioner Fu Kun-chi (傅崑萁). In exchange for Fu’s support for Wang, the party promised to give Fu’s ex-wife, Hsu Chen-wei (徐榛蔚), a legislator at-large seat, as well as its candidacy for Hualien’s next county commissioner. That such a deal can be reached shows the pan-blue camp had little regard for the electorate of Hualien and simply manipulated local elections.
Second, the KMT distributed leaflets attacking Hsiao for her efforts to legalize same-sex marriage, calling her attempts “morally degenerate” and “a threat to family values.”
The campaign materials, issued toward the end of the campaign, consisted of many sexually obscene photographs, randomly collected from different sources, and presented in such a way that it was impossible to see their original context. None of the photographs had any direct link to the same-sex marriage bill Hsiao was promoting. It was pure mudslinging and trying to associate Hsiao with sexual scandal.
In response to the leaflets, a group of locals organized a news conference at which a pastor said that someone as good at scheming and plotting as Fu, who allegedly had a sham divorce, should be the last person to preach family values.
A teacher from a local organization that helps children in the rural areas said that Hsiao has been supporting their cause for years.
How much Hsiao truly cares for the local residents is impressive, even to the children, who once asked their teacher: “Why is she so nice to us? She knows we cannot vote.”
Unlike many other politicians, who care mainly about getting elected, Hsiao is devoted to making Hualien a better place. Her consistent support for the local organization is only one example of her hard work to make a difference in Hualien.
Furthermore, she has been graded “outstanding” by the Citizen’s Congress Watch for her performance in the legislature in the past seven legislative sessions.
Gender equality has become a globally accepted universal value. Even Ireland, where Catholicism is dominant, legalized same-sex marriage last year. Only the most conservative candidates would assume that by championing conservatism and groundlessly associating an opponent with sexual scandal they could muster public support. Nevertheless, the Jan. 16 elections saw the Back Mountains take an important stride toward eliminating bad politicians and elect a truly hardworking and outstanding legislator.
Chi Chun-chieh is a professor in the Department of Ethnic Relations and Cultures at National Dong Hwa University and a member of the Taipei Society.
Translated by Yu-an Tu
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