Dec. 1 elections: The brawn behind local factions' influence 2

Though the jury is still out on how large a role local factions will play in Saturday's elections, analysts and insiders agree that while the influence of factions is waning, they still hold significant sway, especially outside of major cities. Built on connections based on lineage, marriage and geographic proximity, they often have ties to the mafia. One observer called their presence in politics `a great irony to the nation's democratic progress'

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Tue, Nov 27, 2001 - Page 3

Local factions, whose overall influence has waned over the years, may still hold crucial sway over Saturday's elections in areas where people assign much weight to interpersonal bonds when making their voting decisions.

In constituencies where connections based on lineage, marriage and geographic closeness dominate interpersonal interactions, local factions still wield great influence over politics.

"Despite the rapid changes in society, interpersonal bonds carry much weight in rural towns and villages -- a condition conducive for local factions to thrive," said Chen Tung-sheng (陳東升), a sociologist at National Taiwan University. "From Taoyuan down to Pingtun, the boundaries of local factions are well delineated."

In Taichung, Yunlin, Chiayi and Kaohsiung Counties, the support of local factions virtually guarantees success at the legislative elections and plays a crucial role in the fate of candidates running for local office.

"In Taichung County, the votes local factions can mobilize are enough to send six or seven contenders to the legislature," said Wang Yeh-li (王業立), a political scientist at Tunghai University. "In others, they can handily add 10,000 ballots to the vote count of favored candidates."

Local factions in the central part of the county are roughly divided into two camps: the Red Faction, which revolves around farmers' associations, and the Black Faction which rallies behind town and village chiefs. The designations date back to the color of banners rival campaigns adopted four decades ago.

"It is not uncommon for the farmers' associations to channel money deposited by clients into the war chests of handpicked candidates," a Cabinet-level official said, requesting anonymity. "Despite a harsh crackdown, irregular electioneering activities remain serious in some parts of the country."

There are 304 farmers' associations and 40 fishermen's associations nationwide that aim to enhance the quality of life of the two demographic groups, whose average income lags behind the national average by 30 percent.

Some of those organizations may withhold technological assistance or investment funds from farmers who fail to vote for candidates as told, the official said.

KMT lawmaker Lin Ming-i (林明義), who is seeking re-election for a fourth term in Yunlin County, is believed to have won his seat on the backing of farmers' associations in the past three legislative polls.

Hou Hui-hsien (侯惠仙), another KMT legislator representing the same county, aims to win her second term with 40,000 votes. Aides said that former Yunlin commissioner Liao Chuan-yu (廖泉裕) and his faction could help mobilize 50 percent of the vote.

Town and village chiefs, by contrast, base their power on the fact they can decide whom to award small construction project contracts. Familiar with local residents and affairs, they make ideal vote captains. There are 309 town and village chiefs across the country charged with running local affairs.

In Kaohsiung County, local politics is very much decided by three main factions and each has endorsed its own candidate in the county's race for commissioner.

The White Faction, led by legislative speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平), has pledged support for KMT standard-bearer Wu Kuang-hsun (吳光訓).

The Wu campaign hopes to carry the election with 250,000 votes on Saturday, of which the White Faction is expected to contribute up to 200,000 ballots, according to Tan Shih-ping (譚世坪), spokesman for the Wu camp.

Huang Pah-yeh (黃八野), two-term Fengsan mayor and a stalwart member of the Red Faction, has mounted a maverick campaign after failing to win the KMT nomination. Though trailing behind Wu and DPP candidate Yang Chiu-hsing (楊秋興) in recent polls, the Huang campaign could be capable of tipping the balance in favor of a less disliked foe.

The Black Faction, built around outgoing commissioner Yu Cheng-hsien (余政憲) and his clan, has administered the southern county for the past 16 years.

But it remains to be seen if Yang, who belongs to the New Tide faction of the DPP, can bag the full support of the Yu clan.

DPP legislator Yu Jane-daw (余政道), the commissioner's younger brother, is said to owe 30 percent of the votes he garnered in 1998 to the mobilization of his family, though his colleague Lin Feng-hsi (林豐喜) said the figure is "underestimated."

"His clan contributed at least 70 percent to [the younger] Yu's vote count three years ago," Lin said.

With organization becoming increasingly important in planning campaigns, the parties have all courted local factions, which in the past all but aligned with the KMT.

"That explains why the DPP has dumped its own candidate, Ho Chia-jong (何嘉榮), in favor of an independent lawmaker Chen Ming-wen (陳明文) in the race for Chiayi County commissioner," said Wang, the political scientist.

The Lin faction, one of the two largest in Chiayi, has thrown its support behind Chen, and is expected to help mobilize some 50,000 to 60,000 votes, aides said.

The Huang faction, on the other hand, is endorsing KMT contender Wong Chung-chun (翁重均).

In the counties of Hsinchu and Taoyuan, large clans outperform political parties in rallying supporters.

In Hsinchu, where ethnic Hakka account for 85 percent of its population, clans with such last names as Chen, Lin, Liu and Fang maintain a larger membership than any single political party.

"It is true residents here value their clans more than their partisan tags," said Lin Yu-lu (林鈺如), aide to KMT lawmaker Cheng Yung-chin (鄭永金), who is putting up an aggressive campaign against DPP incumbent commissioner Lin Kwang-hua (林光華).

"Traditional and united, they tend to vote for the candidate they best identify with. As such, endorsement by major clans, though not necessarily decisive, is indispensable to carrying the election."

As both candidates are ethnic Hakka, folks have dubbed the race as a Hakka vs. Hakka duel.

Without direct control of political and economic resources, those clans are not as notorious for illicit campaigns, former justice minister Liao Cheng-hao (廖正豪) said, adding that the crackdown on vote-buying leaves ample room for improvement.

Chen, the sociologist, echoed the disappointment, saying: "Like it or not, local factions are here to stay so long as interpersonal bonds continue to dominate voters' decision-making."