The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) readily admits that it faces a near double-digit deficit in support among Hakka as it heads into the presidential election in January, but it is confident that the second-largest ethnic group in Taiwan will not be a roadblock to victory.
“It will take a long time to win their hearts, but we’re narrowing the gap,” said Hsu Chia-ching (徐佳青), a campaign spokesman for DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) presidential campaign.
Hakka are the second-largest ethnic group in Taiwan behind Hoklo. The DPP estimates that Hakka and their descendents could represent as many as a quarter of Taiwan’s population of about 23 million.
A 2008 nationwide survey on the distribution of Hakka conducted by the Council of Hakka Affairs (CHA), found that Hakka in northern Taiwan mainly live in Taoyuan County, Miaoli County and Hsinchu, while in the south they mostly reside in Liudui (六堆) in Greater Kaohsiung and Pingtung County (屏東).
The nationwide Hakka population is about 4.27 million.
The DPP prides itself on its establishment of the council and Hakka Television while in office from 2000 until 2008.
The Pingtung-born Tsai also proudly tells her supporters she is Hakka. However, history shows that the DPP has often struggled to gain Hakka support during elections — especially in northern Taiwan. A recent DPP survey shows that it trails by close to 10 percent among Hakka voters in that region.
The voting behavior of Hakka living in the north differs from those in the south, DPP Department of Ethnic Affairs director Yiong Cong-ziin (楊長鎮) says.
“Most Hakka in the north favor the Chinese Nationalist Party [KMT],” he said.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who is seeking re-election, garnered 63.2 percent of votes in Taoyuan, Miaoli and Hsinchu in the 2008 presidential election. In this region, Ma defeated his DPP rival by 449,843 votes, or about 20 percent of his final winning margin of 2.21 million votes.
The DPP feels it did reasonably well with Hakka voters in the 2004 presidential election, when former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) received 42.5 percent of the vote in the region.
The lukewarm support by Hakka for the DPP could be attributed to historical relations between Hakka and Hoklo, Hsu said, as the DPP has always been considered a Hoklo-dominated party.
Hakka and Hoklo fought for land, water and other resources for hundreds of years, and the bad feeling has continued, she said.
“At the same time, Hakka bear no ill feelings toward the KMT, which ‘only’ brought the entire state apparatus and the Republic of China political system from China to Taiwan, and seem to co-exist well with Hakka, without conflicts of interests,” Hsu said.
Taiwan Thinktank’s Chang Kuo-cheng (張國城), himself of Hakka descent, agreed with the point on historical ethnic conflicts, but said the DPP “hasn’t made as much effort with Hakka communities at the grassroots level as the KMT.”
The DPP should include more Hakka academics, artists, historians and politicians on its staff to show its recognition of the role of Hakka in party affairs, Chang said.
That was not the case with the DPP’s nomination of its legislators-at-large last month, he said, adding that none of the final candidates is of Hakka descent.
“Judging from past numbers, I would say that if the DPP manages to cut the deficit to 10 percent, it would be seen as an achievement,” Chang said.