Thu, Jul 05, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Ko unlikely to be re-elected mayor

By Jerome Keating

All politics is local or so the saying goes, but for a nation like Taiwan, which has a large, hegemonic and covetous neighbor, even local elections cannot escape some international influence and flavor.

Thus, the upcoming November nine-in-one municipal elections promise to be a continued bellwether of the direction that Taiwanese are taking in regards to national identity and how they want their lives governed.

In this, several related questions hang in the air.

First, since the 2014 and 2016 elections have proven disastrous for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), will that situation continue?

Next, the green tide of growing support for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has been slowly advancing from south to north. Will that continue?

Finally, the KMT has struggled to find an appropriate Taiwan-centric identity. Will that challenge continue?

The answer to each of these questions is a qualified, but clear yes; it is an answer that has to be seen in context, for these elections will be a bellwether, but beyond the normal expected way. They remain complicated, but interesting.

Let us begin with the KMT’s continued problem with a Taiwan-centric identity. Time, transparency and a reluctance to face the past continue to affect this.

Time-wise, the KMT’s one-party state and martial law ended in 1987. With the introduction of the multiparty system, free elections of legislators began in 1992 and of the president in 1996.

Since the voting age in Taiwan is 20, those born from 1987 onward began elementary school knowing only a free, democratic society. And every year from 2007 onward a new batch of 20-year-old voters enters the system, consciously identifying with a free, democratic Taiwan.

Thus, over time, any Stockholm syndrome effect or belief in the KMT’s sole legitimacy to rule has increasingly diminished and been challenged. The Sunflower movement and election results in 2014 demonstrated the growing culmination of this. In the 2016 elections, the DPP gained control of both the presidency and legislature.

Despite all this, the KMT still resists facing up to the questions of national identity and transparency.

While many Taiwanese see their nation as Taiwan, a significant number of KMT supporters still cling to the dream that somehow through the KMT, Taiwan, the Republic of China, can preserve a bogus claim to rule China.

To let go of this belief would mean the KMT old guard must also give up or share their claims to party assets.

This is not to say that the KMT is not conscious of its poor public image. In the 2016 presidential elections, the party replaced primary winner Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱) with New Taipei City Mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫) mid-campaign because it realized Hung’s obvious pro-China stance was not selling well. Nonetheless, there has been little other concerted effort to root such sentiments out.

With regards to transparency, more and more government documents from the White Terror era are being made open to the public. They further point to the KMT’s sordid past and the seized state assets. KMT members — young and old — naturally wish that this would disappear, but it will not.

How does all this play into the local elections? Take these three key cities: Taipei, New Taipei City and Taichung.

Start with Taipei. It is a traditionally blue city, but it also has a strong DPP sector as well as a developing swing vote. Even in 1994, the DPP’s Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was elected mayor by getting 615,090 votes (43.6 percent) in a three-way race that split the blue vote.

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