Following the elections for mayors and councilors in the five special municipalities last month, and considering the power and financial resources wielded by the mayors-elect, many people think they could pose a challenge to the central government in what has been termed the “Yeltsin effect.”
No doubt a lot of attention will be focused on Taiwan’s five “Yeltsins,” but the five mayors-elect, who will take up their posts on Saturday, have responded by emphasizing that Taiwan is a democratic country where the conditions are quite different from those that produced the “Yeltsin effect” in Russia, a phenomenon named after the immense power former Russian president Boris Yeltsin wielded in 1991.
Nevertheless, they say they hope the central government will pay more attention to the voices of these localities and allow the five municipalities a greater role in policymaking.
PHOTO: TANG TSAI-HSIN, TAIPEI TIMES
The populations of the five big municipalities make up about 60 percent of Taiwan’s total population and they also hold about 60 percent of the total budget of all the nation’s county and city governments. Compared with the other 17 counties and cities, the five municipalities are giants in terms of power and money.
As Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊) has said, the mayors of three of the five municipalities will have jurisdiction over much bigger areas and populations then they previously did.
This signifies a major change in Taiwan’s political setup. Notably, now that there are two special municipalities in the south, the central government will no longer be able to overlook the southern region, she said.
Following the merger of Kaohsiung city and county, Greater Kaohsiung will have an area of 2,900km — the biggest of the five special municipalities. Kaohsiung’s population will jump to 2.77 million. If it were a country, it would rank 138th in the world in terms of population. Chen has described Greater Kaohsiung after the merger as a “nation within a nation.”
Chen said it is time to discard the old mindset of centralized power. The central government should be more open and democratic, and play fairer with regard to the executive and financial powers of the five big cities. Above all, she said, the five cities should be allowed to take part in major policy decisions.
However, Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) believes that the creation of the five special municipalities shows that the central government is trying to improve the efficiency with which resources are used and to improve the competitiveness of the nation’s economy.
“The five special municipalities are like five soaring eagles that will lift the Taiwanese economy to new heights,” Hau said.
Hau has in the past criticized the central government, especially over the US beef debacle, but a few days ago he clarified the issue, saying that what he was really opposed to was the import of beef entrails, based on concerns for the health of Taipei residents, food safety and hygiene, and that it would be wrong to say that he was opposing the central government.
“There will be no ‘Yeltsin effect,’” Hau said. “The development of Taipei City will continue to require close cooperation with the central government, because without a strong center, there wouldn’t be any special municipalities.”
Taichung Mayor Jason Hu (胡志強), meanwhile, also said: “There is no Yeltsin,” while also complaining bitterly that “the best performer in terms of fiscal resources in the past nine years is also facing fiscal difficulties.”
Hu said the five special municipalities “don’t even have enough rice, so how could there be a new Yeltsin?”
In response to concerns among outsiders of a “Yeltsin effect,” Greater Tainan mayor-elect William Lai (賴清德) said “the central government need not worry.”
Lai said Taiwan is a democracy that has a very good understanding of democratic values, so even if political ideals differ and there are different parties in charge of city and county governments, no one will oppose anything for its own sake and the central government still has the power to direct things.
However, Lai also called on the central government to pay attention to the balance between northern and southern Taiwan and not to neglect infrastructure development in the south.
Aides to Sinbei City mayor-elect Eric Chu (朱立倫) said that given the close relationship between Chu and the central government, there would be exchanges and sharing of experience, but no opposition.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY HUNG JUI-CHIN AND HOU CHENG-HSU
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