Two freshmen candidates running on the same ticket in a National Taiwan University (NTU) student election stoked controversy by using discriminatory language in their campaign proposals. Even though the two economics students quickly issued a public apology and suspended their campaigns, it is most certain they are going to pay a price for their misbehavior.
The incident has brought to the forefront college students’ indifference toward class, race and gender. It also highlights the crucial problem with Taiwan’s modern democratic elections in that, more often than not, candidates with well-rounded proposals that seek to serve the public interest are drowned out by the cacophony of others.
There were other sets of candidates running in the student council election, with some proposing to “publish the balance sheet at regular intervals,” “increase the number of industrial workshops” “organize more social events to unite students” or “get students to volunteer for a tutoring group.”
From normal student council elections to representative politics in a democratic society, these proposals are the type of policies that committed candidates running for a public position should offer the electorate.
However, what made into the public spotlight were proposals such as calls for “girls with boobs smaller than an A cup” to take two national defense credits and boys with “dicks shorter than 10cm” to take home economics class. Overblown, unscrupulous and self-serving proposals such as these have caught the attention of the public.
People are preoccupied with condemning bigoted proposals instead of engaging in productive discussions concerning public interest. Rational, civic debates are being shouted down by voices lamenting the decline of college students.
However, looking back at election campaigns from the past few years, populist politicians have tapped into people’s emotions by using trash talk, fancy promises and boastful remarks to garner publicity.
People, regardless of their political affiliation, are familiar with remarks such as “building the Love Ferris wheel,” “gynecologists only got one hole to deal with” and “doing squats in exchange for free rides on the bus.”
In view of these political shenanigans, it is highly probable that the college students were exposed to such inane behavior while they were adolescents and thought they could model their campaigns after these politicians. Influenced by former Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu’s (韓國瑜) and Taiwan People’s Party Chairman (TPP) Ko Wen-je’s (柯文哲) comments, which intentionally sought to shock, they were misguided into thinking that they could become Internet celebrities or influencers by imitating their flamboyant, incendiary style.
Behind the political inanity, the public, forgetting that there are others who take the position seriously, were usually concerned with making fun of, rebuking or defending the remarks instead of focusing on the main purpose of the election: to elect a representative or leader that meets the public’s standards and expectations.
In this way, candidates that are willing to devote themselves to public service were brushed aside and were compelled to entertain the thought of sinking as low as their rivals.
Perhaps NTU’s council election is a reminder that in next year’s presidential election, media in control of discourse should not fall into the pitfall of political trash talk.
Lin Ching-tang is a former member of the Campaign for Media Reform and a former convener of Solidarity of Communication Students. He is a specialist in the Taiwan Statebuilding Party’s policy department.
Translated by Rita Wang
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