Sat, Dec 01, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Local elections reflect local views

By Jerome Keating

Taiwan’s elections, and in particular, its municipal elections, are strongly local; and so while some pundits might wish to read the nine-in-one elections last Saturday from the standpoint of cross-strait relations between Taiwan and China, the reality could not be further from the truth.

Late that night, another commentator and I went by the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) Taipei headquarters. We arrived just in time to hear KMT Chairman Wu Den-yih’s (吳敦義) final address to the party’s supporters.

Surprisingly, the mood of Wu’s speech was somber and almost apologetic. This seemed strange, because the KMT had just scored resounding victories in the mayoral elections in New Taipei City, Taichung and, in particular, deep-green Kaohsiung.

We had come from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) headquarters where President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) had just resigned as party chairperson.

One would have thought that the KMT’s mood would be more festive, if not resoundingly jubilant.

However, after a little thought, the reasons became apparent. Despite those other victories, the KMT was at that moment losing Taipei, its foremost stronghold.

Furthermore, it was losing Taipei, not because of a split in the party ranks, nor because of any tremendous effort by the DPP. Instead, it was losing Taipei to a man independent of both parties, incumbent Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲).

This fact brought out the reality of how elections are local and how many Taiwanese voters do respond to the current winds.

Certainly, some might still try to claim that Taiwan is once again embracing the pro-China KMT party in a great shift. That is not the case. Instead, as Taiwanese continue to discover their newfound democracy, a swing vote is developing.

A simple yet telling question reveals this: “If Taiwanese were making an alleged great KMT shift, why didn’t this happen in Taipei, the very heart of blue territory?”

Once that is answered, the rest easily follows.

The swing vote is most easily seen in Taipei, where Ko defeated KMT challenger Ting Shou-chung (丁守中) by a mere 3,254 votes.

In 2014, Ko had won Taipei with an impressive 853,983 votes; this time he only got 580,820. What happened?

An obvious quick answer would be that this time the DPP, which had supported Ko in 2014, fielded its own candidate, Pasuya Yao (姚文智), who took 244,641 votes from Ko’s count.

However, all things being equal, that would have still left Ko with 609,342 votes. Yet Ko was 28,522 votes short with 580,820.

There is more. In 2014, the so-so KMT candidate Sean Lien (連勝文) received 609,932 votes; but this time, Ting received only 577,566. That was 32,366 votes less than Lien.

It was a beautiful day in Taipei on Saturday; so poor voter turnout due to inclement weather could not be blamed.

Throughout election day, commentators spoke of long lines and a big turnout. They were wrong; the turnout was less. The long lines were there, but they were due to 10 referendums, which not only slowed the voting process, but the vote count as well.

Ko’s victory showed that a substantial independent swing vote is developing not only in Taipei, but throughout the nation. If the DPP had teamed up with Ko this year, he would have won handily, but even without the DPP, Ko still got an amazing 577,566 votes and was able to squeak by.

In analyzing independent swing voters, one finds that for them any previous party loyalty is often replaced by pragmatic, short-term thinking. They ask questions like: “What have you done lately?” “What progress has been made?” “Should I take my vote elsewhere?”

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