Next year’s mayoral elections in Taipei and New Taipei City (新北市), which will be extremely difficult for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to win unless something extraordinary happens, have been — and will be — worth people’s attention.
The issue appears a hot potato for the party now and could very well be the decisive factor of the unprecedented seven-in-one elections, which will be held in December next year.
On the surface, the mayoral positions are only two of the 22 seats — six special municipality mayors and 16 mayors and commissioners — up for grabs nationwide, but the political implications and complexity go far beyond the numbers.
Taipei, the capital and the political and economic center of the nation, has always been a vital symbolic constituency, while New Taipei City is the largest constituency, with a total of 3.08 million eligible voters. The two municipalities combined have 5.18 million voters, about 28.7 percent of the national electorate of 18 million.
While those constituencies have always been weak spots for the DPP, which enjoys a considerable edge over the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) in southern Taiwan, the party has had its share of proud moments in the region, with former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) serving as Taipei mayor between 1994 and 1998 and DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) governing the then-Taipei County between 1997 and 2004.
However, DPP hopes of retaking the key posts took a severe blow in 2010, when Su lost to the KMT’s Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) in Taipei and former DPP chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) lost to Eric Chu (朱立倫) in New Taipei City — both by considerable margins.
With its decreasing supporter base and consecutive election losses in northern Taiwan, the DPP is surely worrying about finding strong candidates for the two constituencies.
It was thought that no senior DPP politicians would want to run in either constituency because it would be political suicide, but inexperienced and young candidates are highly unlikely to win as well.
Nevertheless, recent developments caught the DPP by surprise. Former vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) declared her interest in running to succeed Hau and she was joined by three other DPP members.
However, the most intriguing development is that National Taiwan University Hospital physician Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), a pan-green camp supporter and independence advocate, though not a DPP member, has not only been mulling a bid, but has also been leading in most public opinion polls.
Unless Ko eventually decides not to run or one of the DPP aspirants catches up, the DPP will be in a tough situation — either Ko will join the DPP or run as an independent candidate.
The situation in New Taipei City seemed to be even simpler, with former premier Yu Shyi-kun (游錫堃) the odds-on favorite to win the DPP nomination despite many supporters complaining about “old faces.”
However, the party’s overall prospects remain as grim as ever, in particular if the KMT decides to nominate Sean Lien (連勝文), son of former vice president Lien Chan (連戰), in Taipei and Chu for re-election in New Taipei City.
It is perhaps fair to say that no one seriously expects the DPP to win either race, but how the party handles the nominations and campaigns could be crucial for the seven-in-one elections, in which special municipality councilors, county and city councilors, township chiefs, township councilors and borough and village wardens will be elected.
The thorny issues in the two key races will be a test of Su Tseng-chang’s political wisdom and determination.
Until election day, all the Taiwanese can do is watch, wait and hope for the best results.