Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Taipei City Councilor Chung Hsiao-ping’s (鍾小平) Facebook page has been inundated with angry comments after he used a high-school graduation to plug his political ambitions.
Chung was one of several city councilors and education officials invited by Taipei Municipal Jianguo High School to its commencement ceremony on Wednesday last week.
He used his speech to announce that he would run for Taipei mayor in next year’s seven-in-one elections, and would scrap the controversial 12-year compulsory education program if elected.
Under the central government’s proposed 12-year compulsory education system, which is scheduled to be implemented next year, national basic education will be extended from nine years to 12. All students aged between six and 18 years of age would enjoy free tuition regardless of family income, while most junior-high school graduates would be able to enter high schools without taking an entrance exam.
Critics have said the planwould not make schools less exam-oriented, nor would it provide children with greater equal-education opportunities.
Chung’s remarks prompted many of the graduates to take to Facebook to demand an apology.
“The most important day of our lives was turned into a campaign rally. What we heard was not a round of applause, but a chorus of boos,” Wang Yan-hsiang (王彥翔) wrote.
Chang Cheng-chih (張成志) wrote: “We are not ignorant children and certainly are not your chess pieces. When you made that speech up there, your name has been automatically crossed off by a thousand of students and parents on the list of potential mayoral candidates.”
The chairman of the school’s Parent-Teacher Association, Wang Ming-hsien (汪明賢), said graduation ceremonies were better off not featuring politics.
KMT Taipei City Councilor Wang Cheng-de (王正德), who also attended the ceremony, said it was not the first time Chung has expressed his interest in running for mayor and that his remarks might have been aimed at boosting his popularity in the constituency.
Ho Ya-chuan (何雅娟), secretary-general of the city’s Department of Education, said people should provide words of encouragement and congratulation to graduates, not political speeches.
“Since issues concerning the planned 12-year compulsory education program do not fall under the mandate of Taipei’s mayor, there was really no point mentioning it,” Ho said.
Jianguo High School principal Chen Wei-hung (陳偉泓) said the incident was an isolated case.
“While it would be inappropriate for the school to turn down politicians’ requests to attend graduation ceremonies, we may seek to avoid a recurrence by only introducing them to graduates, rather than having them speak at events,” Chen said.
Responding to the criticism, Chung said his speech was motivated by his concerns that the government’s education program would damage the quality of education and it was meant to help the students.
“However, if any students were offended by my remarks, then it was inappropriate for me to say what I said. I will watch my words in the future and hereby offer my apology [to graduates and their parents],” he said.