Wed, Apr 07, 2004 - Page 4 News List

Truth and negative campaigning

Three days before the presidential election, Taichung Mayor Jason Hu's pan-blue campaign headquarters released a poster using Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and the destruction of New York City's World Trade Center to attack President Chen Shui-bian. Following a 'Taipei Times' investigation, staff reporters Joy Su and Martin Williams and associate editor-in-chief Laurence Eyton were invited to meet Hu last Friday. Owing to Hu's legal advice, which precluded discussing the poster, topics turned to negative campaigning and post-election tensions

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Taichung Mayor Jason Hu says he frowns on negative campaigning.

PHOTO: LAURENCE EYTON, TAIPEI TIMES

Taipei Times: The Chinese National-ist Party (KMT)-People First Party (PFP) alliance used Nazi swastikas and pictures of Adolf Hitler to attack President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁). Do you support this kind of protest or campaigning?

Jason Hu (胡志強): I don't believe in negative campaigning myself. Even when I was involved in an election where I was the candidate, I did not get involved in smearing maneuvers -- in whatever context.

I ran [for office] twice. Once for a seat in the National Assembly, the other time as mayor for Taichung City. Materials were prepared, they said -- so they said -- factual materials about shortcomings of the opponent. I said, "I don't want to be involved in it," because I didn't want the voters to be confused in choosing between the worst people, rotten apples. And even when they were voting for the president they said to me, "Here, couldn't I have a better choice?"

I think we should be involved in promoting a positive campaign. It's not what's wrong with opponents but what's good with you that wins elections. I always insist upon it.

That, in part, answers this poster thing. I think people know that.

TT: If a blue-camp supporter asked you whether Chen could be compared to Hitler, what would you say?

Hu: [The supporter] has to be responsible for what he says. I can't stop people from doing negative campaigning or propaganda.

TT: Do you think Chen Shui-bian can be compared to Adolf Hitler?

Hu: At this moment it is not wise for me to answer that kind of question, because I never said that. What more do you want? I never said that, and I don't support other people doing it, or I don't support, in general, negative campaigning. I don't think it's fair to push me to this extreme and say, "Well, do you approve or not?" Do you want me to stand up and say "You should not do that"? I don't think it's fair. People are emotional, agitated, confused. They do things that I would not do. If they come to ask me, I may have answers, but they don't. So let's be fair.

TT: What is your opinion of the campaign conducted by your campaign headquarters?

Hu: You ever been involved in any campaign headquarters? If you're campaign manager, you stay in the office, and do all the internal operations, whereas I was the director-general, like a chairman of the board, not the chief executive. You go out and face the crowds whenever they arrange it. At the same time, I am the mayor. I don't know anything about money, or other things. I don't want to be involved in that.

I was campaign manager in the national headquarters four years ago. You want to find out everything? You want to check everything? You're asking for trouble. First, it's not possible. You also don't want to be in conflict or competition with the campaign manager. His job, his right.

Unfair election?

TT: Do you think it is the responsibility of leaders to keep their supporters' emotions in check if things get tense?>

Hu: It's a very difficult task. A very difficult task. But the leaders should try. I know, because I was involved in the demonstration in front of the Taichung court house. I was asked not to go -- at 2am -- by my police commissioner. He said: "Everything's under control." But I wasn't sure, so I went, at 3:30am.

The first thing you do, I am sorry to say, is try to make them identify with you. You want them to listen to you, don't you? So you have to try; it's a difficult situation. Let's face it: they were very emotional, agitated and confused. So I said, "I know what you're trying to say, all you want is a fair election, but this is not the way to do it. Let's go sit down and be quiet." I arrived at 3:30am; by 5:30am everybody went home. Between 1,000 and 2,000 people.

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