Wed, Dec 12, 2018 - Page 13 News List

A sea change in Taiwanese politics

The decades-long use of ‘dirty tricks’ in Taiwan’s elections may be on the decline as the ‘Han tide’ in Kaohsiung shows

By Noah Buchan  /  Staff reporter

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Kaohsiung mayoral candidate Han Kuo-yu, left, waits to give his victory speech on Nov. 24.

Photo: Chang Chung-yi, Taipei Times

When Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Kaohsiung mayoral candidate Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁) announced the day before last month’s nine-in-one election that he would end his rally sooner than the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) candidate Han kuo-yu (韓國瑜), pundits speculated that Chen was going to smear his opponent.

There was good reason to believe this. While working as campaign director on the 2006 Kaohsiung mayoral campaign for then-candidate and current Presidential Office Secretary-General Chen Chu (陳菊), Chen Chi-mai at a last minute press conference on the night before the election publicly accused the KMT’s candidate, Huang Chun-ying (黃俊英), of vote-buying.

Chen Chu won the election by a razor-thin margin of 0.14 percent. The rumors against Huang were later proved false.

In the days leading up to last month’s nine-in-one election, Han’s camp learned that the DPP had given Chen Chi-mai information on Han’s January 2004 conviction for negligent manslaughter in relation to a car accident. The DPP candidate, however, kept silent.

The following day Kaohsiung residents elected Han, after the DPP had controlled the city for two decades. Chen Chi-mai surprised many by giving a concession speech that was notable for its grace.

“No matter blue or green, no matter if you support Chi-mai or Kuo-yu, from today we are all people of Kaohsiung,” Chen Chi-mai said in his concession speech. “I beg those of you who are friends of Chi-mai, from tomorrow everybody should help Han Kuo-yu. Let’s do it for Kaohsiung.”

Chen Chi-mai’s good sportsmanship was echoed by Han, who later congratulated his opponent for running a clean campaign and avoiding the “dirty tricks” that have plagued Taiwanese politics for decades.

“I want to thank Chen Chi-mai for discussing Kaohsiung’s future... [of] love and tolerance,” Han said in his victory speech.

That Han and Chen Chi-mai ran campaigns largely free of negative campaigning — as did Taichung mayoral candidates Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) of the DPP and the KMT’s Lu Shiow-yen (盧秀燕) — suggests that the practice may be coming to an end.


Taiwan has a long tradition of candidates engaging in negative campaigning in the days before an election. Whether smearing an opponent (抹黑), saying they are China bootlickers (抹紅) or are involved in an extramarital affair (抹黃), the tradition dates back to the Martial Law era, when the KMT maintained power by transferring resources gained through its monopoly on the central government to local factions, either through pork barreling or black-gold politics (vote buying, official corruption, gang-related politics), which meant the party and its candidates for elected office were easy targets for DPP politicians, who often sloganeered on an anti-corruption platform.

Eric Yu (俞振華), an associate research fellow at National Chengchi University’s Election Study Center, says negative campaigning by politicians and their supporters involves crafting a narrative to manipulate the outcome of an election.

Citing a litany of examples from the past two decades — the attempted assassination attempts of incumbent presidential candidate Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) in 2004 and former KMT Central Standing Committee member Sean Lien (連勝文) in 2010, the Chung Hsing Bills Finance (興票案) and Yu Chang Biologics Co (宇昌生技股份有限公司) cases that derailed, respectively, the presidential campaigns of James Soong (宋楚瑜) in 2000 and Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) in 2012 — Yu says that it was an effective practice to employ by those running for office.

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