“With my long hair and tattoos, I am going to be a member of the legislature.”
This is not a line from a Hollywood movie. It came from an actual rock star: New Power Party cofounder Freddy Lim (林昶佐), the lead singer of Taiwanese metal band Chthonic, which built up a sizable following both at home and overseas before being selected to perform as a touring act at renowned metal festival Ozzfest in 2007.
Lim’s victory on Saturday in the legislative elections was surprising.
He actually garnered 2,015 votes less than his Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) rival, Lin Yu-fang (林郁方), who was seeking re-election for a third time, in Taipei’s Zhongzheng District (中正) district. Lim only managed to defeat Lin because of the votes he received in the Wanhua District (萬華), the city’s second “oldest” district, where 16.1 percent of residents are 65 or older, according to statistics released by the Taipei City Government.
Lim’s election has not only had a profound impact on the nation’s politics, but also signaled an “awakening” in public opinion in several ways.
Shortly before election day, Lin attacked Lim’s “long hair” and “abnormal” personality.
Despite Lin’s attempts to exploit rock star stereotypes — being wild and prone to controversial behavior — Lim, a political novice, managed to defeat Lin by a substantial 10,571-vote margin.
This indicates that voters have begun to look past pointless minutiae and learned not to judge people by their appearances.
As most disillusioned former KMT supporters can attest to, this was not the case with President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who was often described as “handsome” and “genteel” before he was elected in 2008 and 2012.
Evidence of this phenomenon can be found in an incident that occurred before the election. Following a Chthonic concert and campaign event at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei early this month, Lim became a source of controversy after ghost money being blown around at the event floated out of the venue and onto windshields and passing scooter riders, who were reportedly upset.
Ghost money is a standard part of Chthonic concerts. It is used to mourn the nation’s pioneers who died resisting oppression by foreign regimes, such as in the 228 Incident, and military conscripts who were drafted by the Japanese government to fight during the Second Sino-Japanese War against KMT forces.
Despite media coverage of the band’s negligence in properly handling the ghost money, the public seemed to have paid more attention to the historical context behind its use instead of the mistake, refraining from reproaching Lim.
The public would probably not have tolerated the same negligence had it taken place before the 2004 legislative election.
Lim did not win his legislative seat because he was elected by senile rock ’n’ roll enthusiasts. While he won thanks in part to his on-stage charisma and policies, his triumph bears a broader significance: Voters both young and old have been liberated from traditional values — which Lim aptly pointed out in his post-election remarks.
As the nation’s social atmosphere was largely conservative until the early 1990s, it is both moving and reassuring that more Taiwanese are embracing new values, which helps to move the nation toward a more liberal and inclusive path.