Many of my young colleagues in Taipei are wrestling with whether to return home to Kaohsiung to vote. A round-trip high-speed rail ticket between Taipei and Zuoying (左營) costs NT$2,980 (US$99), while a round-trip intercity bus ticket with Kuo-Kuang Motor Transportation is NT$1,060.
They hesitate because the Lunar New Year holiday begins only 12 days after tomorrow’s presidential and legislative elections, and it does not make “good economic sense” to go home to vote and then return less than two weeks later.
I tease them, asking what happened to all the enthusiasm they had before the 2018 nine-in-one elections, when they took the high-speed rail home to vote.
Embarrassed, some said: “I felt totally defeated having been taken in by that country bumpkin” or “I have become a joke to my classmates.”
I pat them on the shoulder, consoling them, and consider how not returning home to vote — whether on a NT$2,980 high-speed rail ticket or a NT$1,060 bus ticket — makes “good economic sense” if it is for a hard-working candidate.
The hourly minimum wage has grown 32 percent over the past three years, from NT$120 to NT$158, surpassing former president Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) eight-year presidency, when it grew 26 percent, from NT$95 to NT$120.
The basic monthly wage has increased nearly NT$4,000 per month, from NT$20,008 to NT$23,800, again outperforming Ma’s presidency, when it increased NT$2,728, from NT$17,280 to NT$20,008.
More importantly, when the basic wage increases, retirement payments and the scope of salaries also increase.
Under President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) leadership, the nation’s economy has continued to improve. Annual GDP growth for last year was the strongest of the four Asian Tigers and stock market capitalization reached more than NT$30 trillion, as the TAIEX reached a 29-year high of 12,110 on Jan. 3.
If last year’s stock market growth were equally distributed, every TAIEX investor would have gained NT$750,000.
Last year, the government’s pension and labor insurance funds — which mean quite a bit to Taiwanese — earned nearly NT$500 billion. If that profit were equally distributed, every laborer would receive NT$32,000.
Apart from the salary hike, last year’s standard income tax deduction had more of an impact than any deduction in the past few years, with more than NT$6,000 deducted on average per taxpayer.
Tsai’s leadership should be credited for achieving this outstanding performance amid the sluggish global economy, an outcome of the US-China trade dispute.
By comparison, Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜), the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) presidential candidate, confessed that his grades fell behind those of his classmates in junior-high school because he was distracted by the legs of the girl sitting in front of him.
Han has himself said that he was unemployed for 17 years after losing his legislative seat in 2001. After winning the Kaohsiung mayoral election with 892,545 votes, he frequently sleeps in, arriving late at the office, or often takes days off.
Han has been in office for more than a year, but high-level city government positions remain vacant and none of his major election pledges has materialized.
People should learn from history. In the unfortunate event that Han is elected president, the public’s perception of him as a “country bumpkin” and the KMT’s poor track record would seem to point to fewer salary increases over the next four years, and a Han administration would struggle to match the economic achievements of Tsai’s watch.
Han would most likely underperform even Ma, who he criticized as being “too soft” during the Dec. 29 presidential platform presentation.
If the economy worsens and salaries stagnate, employees would receive NT$28,000 less per year — NT$2,000 per month times 12, plus the traditional year-end bonus of two month’s wages. After four years, that would translate into NT$112,000 less per year, or NT$200,000 less if the retirement fund dividend is included.
Spending NT$3,000 on a round-trip ticket home to vote could help ensure that incomes increase by NT$200,000. That certainly makes “good economic sense.”
More importantly, if Taiwan is incorporated into a “one country, two systems” framework, future elections would become an unrealistic hope — do not forget the blood-drenched protests in Hong Kong.
Richard Huang is Asia Pacific general manager of US-based TRENDnet Inc.
Translated by Chang Ho-ming
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