Wed, Dec 03, 2014 - Page 11 News List

Bringing democracy to the next level

It’s time for politicians to move away from outmoded electoral campaign tactics, such as blaring slogans into loudspeakers, and start appealing instead to young voters with a more issues-focused approach

By David Spencer  /  Contributing reporter

Greater Kaohsiung mayor Chen Chu posts cartoon images of herself all around the city as an electoral campaign tactic.

Photo: Dana Ter, Taipei Times

“I will stop…I will stop at nothing” sang the rock group Radiohead in the opening lines of their song Electioneering, which in its few short lines presents a cynical view of the politics surrounding elections.

Having been involved in politics for years, I was fairly dismissive of this skeptical attitude towards politicians. But the run-up to the nine-in-one elections, has for the first time demonstrated some literal truth to these lyrics, with many of the electoral tactics seeming naive, condescending or downright desperate. The Taipei mayoral election in particular proved to be a dramatic, acrimonious campaign with accusations of bugging campaign offices, candidates having harvested organs for sale and a television advertising campaign being ripped off an American lottery advert, to name but a few incidents.

For those voters who support one of the two candidates, it has been fuel to the fires of their opinions. But in such a race, the target of much of your campaign should be swing-voters.

Instead, many campaigns focused on efforts to blacken the name of the opponent. But at a time when voters, especially younger ones who are more likely to be undecided, have easy access to information online and through social media, spreading lies and half-truths about your opponent is a policy doomed to failure. Negative strategies in general serve only to disillusion undecided voters, driving them away from the ballot box altogether.

The new mayor of Taipei Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), who ran as an independent candidate has shown himself to be more aware of this than most. His efforts to rise above playground politics and run a professional, issues-focused and transparent campaign has paid dividends. His campaign was not without fault, but by Taiwanese standards, it’s a step forward.

Despite being a Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) supporter, Ko’s decision to run as an independent and state that his top officials in office will not be actively party-political chimed with the sense of discontent many have with both the DPP and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). He was also transparent with his campaign finances, refusing donations once he had reached the permissible amount. Furthermore, Ko moved away from the usual campaigning and instead asked for the public’s opinion on officials to work with him in office should he win. This type of direct democracy is a challenge to the traditional political squabbling.

Desperate Times, Desperate Measures

If only other politicians could learn from some of Ko’s campaigning tactics.

In the Greater Kaohsiung ward where I live, there were 17 candidates running for the local elections. At one time or another over a period of months, supporters of every one of them have driven past my house with music and campaign slogans blaring out of loudspeakers. This tactic, besides frequently waking up my recently-born daughter, has annoyed me intensely because common sense suggests that it simply doesn’t work.

In the UK, for example, there are restrictions on when you can campaign for an election. While there is maneuvering beforehand, it is officially one month before an election that campaigning can start. But even then, such tactics will usually only be used a few days prior to voting. This is an effective tool for reminding voters to go and vote.

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