Election season is an exciting time, as people can see democracy in action, enjoy fierce policy debates between candidates and feel alive at rousing campaign rallies. Yet regardless of how exciting things are, lines should be drawn to prevent heated language from escalating into hateful rhetoric.
On Saturday, it emerged that Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) had insinuated at a campaign event for the party’s Kaohsiung mayoral candidate Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) that the city’s former mayor, Presidential Office Secretary-General Chen Chu (陳菊), was a “fat sow.”
“That woman is very, very bad. I am not going to name names, but [I am talking about that] fatty, fatty someone who walks like a sow,” Wu was heard saying in a video filmed by a Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister paper) reporter.
The KMT’s immediate response was to downplay the matter, saying that Wu did not specifically name anyone, and that the association between his remarks and Chen was made by the media, based purely on speculation. The KMT leader only reluctantly apologized after his words triggered a backlash.
Wu’s remarks underscore an unhealthy campaign culture in which politicians or netizens think it is harmless or amusing to mock an opponent’s appearance to induce some laughs from the audience. They only feel the harshness of such ridicule when it is directed at someone from their own political camp, or the party they identify with.
It is important to bear in mind that this culture is not exclusive to the KMT. It transcends party lines. That is why, when members and supporters of the pan-green camp criticized Wu, KMT Central Committee member Sean Lien (連勝文) accused the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and its supporters of hypocrisy.
Due to his family’s political privilege and considerable assets of questionable legitimacy, Lien has long been described online as an incompetent person, who is only famous and able to live comfortably because of who his father is. His physique is often ridiculed as a result.
The negative sentiment toward Lien increased after he secured the KMT’s nomination as its Taipei mayoral candidate in 2014 — another thing netizens said was only possible because of his family background.
He became the subject of humiliating memes and was called many demeaning nicknames, including shen zhu (神豬, divine pig), which refers to pigs that are force-fed to grow to an abnormally large size before they are offered to the gods.
Although the DPP’s top brass was never caught referring to Lien by those nicknames, some pan-green camp members and supporters, especially in the online arena, used them repeatedly with the intent to shame and hurt.
This kind of language is bullying — something the nation’s politicians and party leaders should be against, not the perpetrators of.
If it is to be established that abusive and hateful language should not be tolerated in election campaigns, the rule should cover all political parties and their candidates, regardless of how unlikable they are and how preposterous their policy platforms might seem. Double standards only bring more hatred.
Elections might be a time when people tend to become more caught up in the moment and say things they do not really mean, but political bullying is where the line should be drawn to ensure a healthier campaign culture.
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