When Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidates registered for their party’s presidential primary on March 25, each candidate was required to pay a NT$5 million (US$170,000) registration fee.
The price of entry to this year’s competition is hefty — equivalent to buying a Ferrari sports car or a 5 carat diamond.
This initial hurdle to putting one’s name on the ballot is itself an early challenge and provides a glimpse into which candidates have the best organization or the most personal wealth.
For those who have neither, their path to victory looks problematic right from the start.
Former DPP chairman Hsu Hsin-liang (許信良) turned in his registration just before the deadline, saying that it has long been his dream to be president, but being out of the public spotlight for years, the only way he could raise the money to pay the registration fee was by taking out a loan, which he secured only an hour before throwing his hat in the ring.
Hsu said he spent a month trying to gather donations from friends near his hometown of Jhongli in Taoyuan County, but no one was willing to make a donation because nobody thinks he has a chance of winning.
One day before the deadline, Hsu reached out to his brother who tapped his own business connections to obtain the NT$5 million loan. Hsu’s difficulties encapsulate the Catch-22 that faces all underdog candidates. The only way they can raise the money they need is to prove to donors that they are viable through primary campaigning, but they cannot take part in the process without first raising considerable funding
The question is, who would donate such a large sum of money to someone who has yet to prove him or herself?
According to Hsu Chia-ching (徐佳青), spokesperson of another DPP presidential hopeful, Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), Tsai paid the entire registration fee with her own money. So did the other DPP presidential hopeful, Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌), his spokesman Lee Hou-ching (李厚慶) said. Neither candidate solicited donations.
Collecting a total of NT$15 million from the three candidates, the DPP plans to use the funds to finance their presidential primary process, which includes hosting debates, organizing five telephone polls in April that will determine the party’s nominee and producing party-wide media materials.
“We are a poor party,” DPP spokesman Lin Yu-chang (林右昌) said. “There is no ‘why’ in charging so much. We have always done it this way.”
Nor are these excessive charges typical of just the DPP.
Because primaries are funded entirely in-house, each party must find the necessary resources to finance the process.
“I do think it’s too expensive, but I can’t legitimately say it’s wrong,” Hsu said. “The DPP doesn’t have a lot of resources, so it requires us to pay [for the primary].”
The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) plans to charge candidates a NT$2 million refundable deposit for filling out a registration form, as well as a NT$7 million non--refundable fee if someone steps up to challenge President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) for the nomination. Ma paid NT$7 million when he filed for his last primary in 2007.
National Sun Yat-sen University’s Institute of Political Science director Liao Da-chi (廖達琪) said that by charging such high registration fees, the parties are able “to prevent any granny from running for president.”
Unfortunately, it also narrows the field too much.
“Such high fees only allow certain qualified people to enter the political arena,” Liao said. “Politics in Taiwan is really a game for the rich. It’s very undemocratic.”
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