Sun, Dec 05, 2004 - Page 4 News List

Faction, blood and party

Analysis of the current election battle in Chiayi County suggests that while the role of local factions may have been diminished in post-democratization politics, it is still far from being negligible

By Bruce Jacobs

From left to right, Hsu Lung-tung, Lee Ching-chen, Ho Chin-sung, Ho Chia-jung, Lin Kuo-ching, Chang Hua-kuan, Chen Ming-jen, Tsai Chi-fang, Chien Tai-ho and Weng Chung-chun, all Chiayi County legislative candidates from various political parties, gather together before participating in an event to declare their political platforms arranged last Wednesday by the Chiayi County Election Commission.

TAIPEI TIMES FILE PHOTO

Taiwan's democratization has brought about a shift from political factions to political parties as the key organizational component in election campaigns. But this shift from faction to party has moved at different rates in different parts of the country.

In Chiayi County, this process has been particularly slow. Chiayi has long had two key factions, the Huang and the Lin. Towards the end of the 1990s, the Huang faction prevailed and worked very closely with the then ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).

Following President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) presidential election victory in 2000, the Lin faction began to move closer to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

The Lin faction leader, Chen Ming-wen (陳明文), won the position of county commissioner in the December 2001 election having won DPP approval to run for office, though he did not gain a formal DPP nomination.

The DPP also did unexpectedly well in the simultaneous December 2001 legislative election. Both DPP nominees won as did a KMT nominee and a non-partisan supported by the Lin faction. This last person, Chang Hua-kuan (張花冠), strongly supported by the Lin faction, had pledged to join the DPP if she won. Thus, in the end, the DPP won three of the four seats from Chiayi County.

Chiayi has long contained some DPP members, dating back to the early 1990s and even before. But the DPP did not have electoral success until 2001 when the uniting of the DPP and the Lin faction brought victory. It remained unclear, however, how much of the success came from the party and how much from the faction. While on the surface it was clear that the DPP was winning election victories, the alliance had made the Chiayi County DPP a creature rather different from the ideals of the old DPP founders.

In March this year, Chiayi County voters gave Chen Shui-bian and Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) almost 63 per cent of the vote, second only to Tainan County, the home of President Chen. This was a considerable increase on past elections and showed the success of the DPP-Lin faction alliance.

Normally, the DPP would expect to win easily two of the four legislative seats in the upcoming election. But the DPP decided to try to win three seats and nominated two of the incumbents plus a young, energetic county assemblyman.

The KMT nominated only one candidate, but allowed two other party members to run. In addition both the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) and the People First Party (PFP) nominated candidates. Thus, both the pan-greens and the pan-blues have four candidates each. Three non-partisans complete the list of eleven candidates.

The wrench in the works has come from County Commissioner Chen Ming-wen's elder brother, Chen Ming-jen (陳明仁), who is also running. In normal circumstances, this would certainly cause headaches for his brother, the county executive and titular head of the DPP in Chiayi as well as the leader of the Lin faction. Both men maintain they have a close relationship. While saying he will not support his brother, Chen Ming-wen did go to the opening of his brother's campaign headquarters and shook his brother's hand.

In the DPP, but especially in the Lin faction, Chen Ming-wen is strongly supporting Chang. The local gossip magazine Next strongly suggested a sexual relationship between Chen Ming-wen and Chang, and during the recent public television speeches, Chang broke down and cried, leaving the podium with three minutes of time remaining. I was chatting with her husband Tseng Chen-nung (曾振農), a former KMT -- and Lin faction -- member of the legislature, during her speech and asked whether she had planned this crying. He responded that if it was planned, she would not have given up three minutes of television time. But an observer at the television studio said Chang was laughing both before and after her speech. Maybe she was seeking to transform the gossip into "sympathy votes," which are still important in rural Taiwan.

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