As the nine-in-one local elections approach, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has resorted to its old last-minute electoral tactics by playing the “scare, economic and sympathy” cards.
Spending millions of NT dollars on TV and newspaper ads, together with public endorsements from several business tycoons, the KMT warned voters that if the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) wins more seats, Taiwan’s economy would turn into a disaster, society would become unstable and the DPP would regain governing power in 2016 and push for independence, and therefore cross-strait relations would regress.
In addition, President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration took advantage of the recent conclusion of free-trade agreement negotiations between China and South Korea to intimidate Taiwanese voters with the idea that the nation is falling behind its neighbors because of the DPP’s irrational boycott of cross-strait service, trade and commodity agreements. KMT Taipei mayoral candidate Sean Lien (連戰) has also played up the incipient China-South Korea deal to hopefully stir up so-called “economic voters” to vote for him.
Given that Lien has been trailing independent candidate Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), some of the KMT old guard, including Lien’s father, former vice president Lien Chan (連戰), and former premier Hau Pei-tsun (郝柏村), have stoked ethnic tensions by accusing Ko of being a descendant of Japanese imperial officials, as Ko’s father and grandfather were born during the Japanese colonial period and educated under the colonial school system.
To attract hardcore KMT supporters, Lien Chan and Hau warned that if the KMT loses Taipei, the Republic of China would collapse.
During the “Super Saturday” rally last weekend, Sean Lien and his wife, Patty Tsai (蔡依珊), shed tears and complained about being treated unfairly in the campaign.
To counteract the KMT’s last-minute incorporation of negative campaigning, the DPP continues to center its campaign on the notion of good governance, particularly in central Taiwan.
The DPP has shown that businesspeople’s latest endorsement of the KMT is evidence of their siding with big business, while overlooking the welfare of ordinary and economically disadvantaged voters.
To ensure his steady lead in Taipei, Ko orchestrated a series of successful parades last weekend by downplaying partisanship and political symbols. The turnout was overwhelming.
The extent to which the KMT and Sean Lien camp’s tactics will work remains to be seen. It is natural for both camps to narrow down their message to a single issue at the last minute.
However, for voters, perhaps the best way to make their choice is to think back again to why their ballots matter so much. It is a crucial moment for Taiwanese voters to decide if the country’s future is to be determined by threats, inducement and tears, rather than feasible policy, good governance and bipartisanship.
In the 2008 elections, 58 percent of voters gifted Ma and his KMT with an absolute majority in the executive and legislative branches. Ma won re-election in 2012 with another majority ballot. He pledged to take absolute responsibility for the KMT’s absolute governance.
Had he done a good job, KMT candidates, including Sean Lien, would not have suffered from such a disadvantage in their campaigns. If KMT candidates recognized this fact, they would not have to resort to such outdated campaign schemes to appeal to voters.
Unlike past elections where cross-strait relations, ethnic division and the unification-independence debate often dictated the campaign agenda, Taiwanese politics has entered a new stage where voters judge national leaders by performance and capability to lead, not by the resources or money they poured into campaign propaganda.
Research increasingly shows that Taiwanese voters have become politically independent and issue-driven. The “scare card” or “stability card” no longer plays a pivotal role in campaigns.
Most voters care about whether their life can be improved, whether they can find decent jobs or raise their salary, whether social justice can be implemented or whether the rich-poor gap can be diminished.
On the eve of voting day, perhaps it is time for voters to calm down and think about how their vote can transform Taiwanese politics into a better one.
Liu Shih-chung is president and chief executive of the Taipei-based Taiwan Brain Trust.
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