With just one day left before the recall vote to decide whether Taiwan Statebuilding Party Legislator Chen Po-wei (陳柏惟) is to retain his seat in Taichung’s Second District, the battle between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and Chen’s party has reached a fever pitch.
All of Taiwan is watching the vote, which is sure to be a significant benchmark of the nation’s democratic standing.
The recall against Chen is said to serve as a guide to Taiwan’s democratic society for two reasons: It reflects where the public stands on the spectrum between unification and independence, and it symbolizes the struggle between civil society and politics directed by dirty money.
It is well-known that some members of the Yen (顏) family have a shadowy background in Taichung, where they have been firmly established for many years.
A prominent member of the family, former Non-Partisan Solidarity Union legislator Yen Ching-piao (顏清標), has been accused of various crimes and corruption before and after his time in public office. In 2012, he was sentenced to jail and deprived of his civil rights.
To not interrupt the family’s political power, his son, Yen Kuan-heng (顏寬恒), contested and won the legislative by-election for his father’s seat in 2013.
Although the Democratic Progressive Party nominated Chen Shih-Kai (陳世凱) — who had been working in the local area for many years — to challenge Yen, he lost by a small margin of just more than 1,000 votes.
The Yen family controled the seat and represented the district for nearly 25 years.
This absurd and unorthodox candidate, who treats legislative seats as if they were hereditary, has still managed to win repeated elections. This is not only a reflection of the stubborn chaos of Taiwan’s local elections caused by the intertwining of factionalism and dirty money, but also an example of the “patron-servant” structure.
That is why, when the outsider Chen single-handedly took down the Yen family, it was seen by Taiwanese as an important milestone in the grassroots fight to challenge the corrupt elite.
It has come to represent how civil society still has a chance to change a political environment controlled by factions, and break the control of the corrupt elite, instead of being dominated by it and those who rubber-stamp their decisions.
Just two years later, Chen’s victory, a symbol of the progress of Taiwanese democracy, has come under attack by local forces.
Not only has the Yen family mobilized their resources at the local level, they have also joined with the KMT to attack Chen from all sides, launching a tsunami of rumors and smears — all for the purpose of “reclaiming” the seat that had been monopolized by the Yen family for so long.
No matter a voter’s position, Chen must be protected and the resurgence of the Yen family prevented.
This is not only about preventing the return of money politics and giving Taiwan a chance to rebuild its political environment, but also about telling civil society that elected offices are not hereditary, and that any citizen with passion, ideals and the power to act has the right to bring down those long-standing corrupt political parasites without fear of retribution so that Taiwan can truly build the ideal state we all want.
Su Chun-yu is a student in National Taiwan University’s Graduate Institute of National Development and a member of the Kaohsiung City Youth Affairs Committee.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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