Sun, Dec 21, 2003 - Page 3 News List

DPP working hard to win Hakka votes

ELECTION BATTLE The DPP has been making inroads in a community that has historically been considered a KMT stronghold -- but this could change radically

By Chang Yun-ping  /  STAFF REPORTER

Democratic Progressive Party supporters from Taoyuan, Hsinchu and Miaoli climb a tree during a campaign rally held yesterday in Hsinchu by a Hakka association supporting President Chen Shui-bian's re-election campaign.

PHOTO: CHIANG YING-YING, TAIPEI TIMES

The Hakka community, an election battleground on which the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lost a tremendous amount of ground to its pan-blue rivals in the 2000 three-way presidential election, has become one of the most crucial factors in determining the party's overall electoral outlook in next year's cutthroat, two-sided presidential election.

Taiwan's 4 million Hakka residents, who live mainly in Taoyuan County, Hsinchu County, Hsinchu City and Miaoli County, have long been regarded as loyal KMT supporters. In the 2000 election, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) received about 30 percent of the Hakka votes. These votes were mostly cast in southern Taiwan by Minnan-speaking residents. Minnan (閩南話) is also known as Hoklo (河洛語), the language of the southern region of China's Fujian Province.

Chen won that election by a narrow margin in a three-way race with the KMT's Lien Chan (連戰) and James Soong (宋楚瑜), now the chairman of the People First Party (PFP). However, Lien and Soong have joined forces in the current campaign, which means the DPP has a hard battle to fight. It also makes the Hakka vote extremely important.

With the steady consolidation of Chen's support base in southern Taiwan, his so-called "iron-votes area," the Hakka community could give the DPP some leverage among the KMT's diehard support base of Aboriginals and Chinese mainlanders.

As only 30 percent of Hakka groups had voted for Chen in 2000, while the pan-blue candidates jointly received 65 percent of the Hakka vote, breaking the deadlock presented by the pan-blue camp's dominance remained a huge task for the DPP, with the election 90 days away.

The party has estimated that it would have to boost its support rate in the Hakka community to at least 45 percent if it wants to win the election.

Since the DPP came to power three years ago, Chen, realizing that he needed to bolster support in this community, has proposed and executed a number of Hakka-friendly initiatives, many of which his KMT predecessors had never considered, including the establishment of the first Cabinet-level Council for Hakka Affairs under a Hakka chairwoman, Yeh Chu-lan (葉菊蘭), a Hakka-language TV channel and several language and literature research centers.

Recent polls have shown that the DPP has indeed managed to improve its Hakka support base during its three years of hard-working dedication to this community, but much remains to be done to break the KMT's monopoly on Hakka ballots. Yeh said a common reason why Hakka people feel estranged from the DPP is its extensive use of Hoklo, also known as Taiwanese.

Hsu Chin-jung (徐進榮), a DPP campaign manager in Miaoli County, said "Many of the elderly Hakka can only speak Hakka or Mandarin, so they won't understand what President Chen says on TV when he speaks Minnan. That creates a barrier and makes it harder for the DPP to gain the Hakka people's acceptance."

The language barrier is reinforced by the Hakka community's anxiety about losing their mother tongue and their ethnic minority status, as they have historically competed for resources with the Minnan people.

Shih Cheng-feng (施正鋒), a professor in Tamkang University's department of public administration, said the Hakka people's collective identity had been consolidated in the early Qing dynasty, when several clashes with Minnan people occurred due to competition for land and other resources.

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