The Taipei election is a real test of strategy

By Liu Kuan-teh 劉冠德  / 

Sat, Oct 28, 2006 - Page 8

The split between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the People First Party (PFP) over the Taipei mayoral election would seem to benefit the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate, Frank Hsieh (謝長廷).

History tells us there is a "dumping effect" with Taiwan's first-past-the-post electoral system if there is more than one competitor from the same camp.

However, history also shows that once there is a split within a camp, the third party is likely to become the sole beneficiary.

When he was the DPP mayoral candidate in 1994, Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) won mainly because of the split in the "pan-blue" vote between New Party candidate Jaw Shao-kong (趙少康) and KMT incumbent Huang Ta-chou (黃大洲). But the KMT's Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) beat Chen in the 1998 contest when another New Party contender, Wang Chien-shien, stood for election. In the latter case, pan-blue voters gave their votes to Ma despite a nominal split in the blue alliance.

Ethnicity and the unification-independence debate used to determine elections for Taipei. Now, however, it comes down to the candidate's character, because Taipei residents are more politically informed and independent-minded.

It is too early to predict the impact PFP candidate James Soong (宋楚瑜) will have on KMT candidate Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) via the "dumping effect."

In this regard, Hsieh should not take the pan-blue camp's split for granted.

Rather, he must apply his experience as Kaohsiung mayor and present a platform on how he would crack down on the re-emerging sex industry, address deteriorating traffic conditions, stir up the bureaucratic machine and make Taipei a better and safer place in which to live.

Hsieh's campaign strategy of accusing Hau's father Hau Pei-tsun (郝柏村) of involvement in a military procurement scandal will only leave the impression of a smear campaign in the minds of voters.

Hsieh must demonstrate to the voters why he can do a better job than Hau and even Ma in terms of forging discipline, decisiveness and effectiveness in policy implementation.

Hau's strategy also lacks vision. With strong endorsement from Ma, Hau's campaign has been relatively defensive so far.

But his biggest problem lies in the extent to which he can distinguish himself from Ma.

This is especially important given that Ma has suffered from both a public backlash over the anti-Chen movement initiated by former DPP chairman Shih Ming-teh (施明德) and from Soong's consolidation of the deep-blue vote. To shake off this association, Hau needs to adjust his style and react to public criticism candidly and aggressively.

A campaign is like riding a bike. The more momentum you have, the harder it is to knock you over. But if you're just barely moving or standing still, even the slightest push will make you tumble.

Being aggressive helps to force the agenda onto terrain most favorable to you, and that's usually an advantage for opposition candidates. Whoever can frame the debate and control the setting of the agenda will win the campaign.

After establishing the goals of the campaign and adopting a more aggressive strategy, opposition candidates must set up an agenda to capture voter interest and respect.

They must determine what went wrong with the city government over the last seven years and then punch the message home with force and determination.

This is what Taipei voters want from the year-end contest.

Liu Kuan-teh is a Taipei-based political commentator.