We now move to the more competitive minor races. Let’s start with my new home, Keelung City. The fact that Keelung is merely competitive is a shock; the fact that the DPP candidate has an enormous lead in all polls is simply astounding. Keelung is one of those places where the KMT should never lose. So what happened?
To start with, Keelung is, over the past two or three decades, perhaps the worst governed place in Taiwan. Shoddy construction is the norm, and corruption is rife. The last two mayors have previously been city council speakers, and this may have something to do with the lousy quality of government. City and county councils, especially in places where partisan competition hasn’t displaced old fashioned local factional politics, tend to be the locus of all the worst aspects of black and gold politics. The current mayor has been a particularly awful chief executive, even by Keelung standards. So what does the KMT do? Obviously, nominate the current city council speaker! I’m sure he will have much higher ethical standards!
Turns out that Huang Ching-tai 黃景泰 didn’t have higher ethical standards. He has been indicted on corruption charges. His worse sin, from the KMT’s perspective, was that he wasn’t doing that well in the polls. So they pulled his nomination and tried to start over again. This is where they really messed up the race. They had four options. First, they could have restarted the primary process and ended up with one of the other local politicians who lost to Huang in the original primary. This was unappealing since none of the other local politicians were particularly popular. Heck, they lost to Huang, who then didn’t do well in the polls himself. Second, they could have gone back to President Ma’s original plan A and nominated one of Ma’s cronies. A couple of his inner circle had made some noise about wanting to run, but they had eventually given up due to a lack of enthusiasm from Keelung politicos. Ma was probably wise to resist the temptation to follow this course. Luo Chih-qiang 羅志強 still isn’t popular, probably wouldn’t have won, and the defeat of one of Ma’s closest cronies would have hurt him a lot more than the defeat of a generic candidate. Third, the KMT could have persuaded legislator Hsieh Kuo-liang 謝國樑 to run. Hsieh is the most popular politician in Keelung right now, and he probably would have won. This was probably the KMT’s only winning strategy. I’m not sure why he refused. To me, it looks like a great fit for him. Hsieh is from a local political family. (His father was speaker of the city council decades ago. Speaker. Hmmm.) He is also young, handsome, and marked for upward mobility in the KMT. After a few terms in the legislature, the next obvious step on the ladder is to get some executive experience. Moreover, there is a good chance that the DPP will win the presidency in 2016, so there might not be any opportunities to move into the cabinet over the next eight years. On the other hand, he would be perfectly placed for a plum appointment to the new KMT president’s cabinet in 2024. Also, he would have eight years running the local government, and that is desirable in and of itself. (I’m obviously missing something, because running seems the obvious choice to me.) At any rate, Hsieh steadfastly refused to run, so the KMT turned to option 4. The KMT dipped into its pool of faceless bureaucrats and nominated a generic candidate. Hsieh Li-kung 謝立功 has few local ties, and, it seems, less charisma.
The disgraced speaker, Huang Ching-tai, is running as an independent, perhaps to exact a measure of revenge on the KMT for its betrayal of him. Localism is surprisingly powerful in Keelung, and Huang still leads Hsieh in most polls.
Both of them are far behind the DPP candidate, Lin You-chang 林右昌. Lin lost the mayoral race with 42% in 2009. He ran for legislator in 2012 and got 40%. These were pretty strong showings for the DPP in Keelung, which gives you some idea how hard it should be for the KMT to lose. This year, however, the polls say that Keelung has been turned upside down. Lin is consistently in the low 40s, while the KMT candidates usually combine for around 20-25%. That looks to me as if Lin might be able to win an outright majority of votes. I think many of the blue voters will drift home eventually, but the blue camp is probably in too much disarray to win this race. Huang doesn’t look like he will drop out, and his supporters probably don’t see too much appeal in Hsieh. My guess is that the DPP wins a seat in deep blue territory: Lin 47, Huang 30, Hsieh 23.
The KMT might recoup that loss in Yunlin. Yunlin is not quite as deep green as Keelung is deep blue, but the DPP should have a clear advantage. Unlike Keelung, the DPP has only been the dominant party in Yunlin for a decade or so. There are still lots of KMT politicians in Yunlin who can draw on support built up back when the KMT regularly won elections there. One of these is Chang Jung-wei 張榮味, whose extensive resume includes several terms as county council speaker, some time as county magistrate, building up his own local faction, putting his daughter in the legislature, some time in jail, and close ties with organized crime. (In the mid-1990s, then-Minister of Justice Ma Ying-jeou burnished his image as an anti-corruption fighter by going after people just like Chang. In retrospect, Ma seems perfectly content to cooperate with Chang and his ilk; Ma was perhaps more interested in undermining President Lee’s political base.) Chang is the real power, but he is not on the ballot. Rather, he is running his sister, Chang Li-shan 張麗善, as a proxy.
The DPP is represented by old warhorse, Lee Chin-yung 李進勇. Lee is originally from Yunlin, but he started his political career in Keelung City. He was elected legislator in 1992, and won the mayor’s seat in a three-way race in the huge 1997 DPP sweep. After an unremarkable term (standards in Keelung are low: “unremarkable” makes him easily the best Keelung mayor since democratization), the KMT unified behind a single candidate and won the seat back in 2001. Lee went into the central government, eventually serving as deputy Interior Minister. In 2005, Yunlin County magistrate Chang Jung-wei (remember him?) was removed from office after a court conviction, and Lee was appointed by the central government as Acting Yunlin County magistrate. He served out the year, and eventually handed off power to a DPP politician, as the DPP started its takeover of Yunlin County. Lee has remained active in Yunlin politics, though he hasn’t exactly put together an inspiring electoral track record.
In 2012, Lee ran for the legislature against the KMT incumbent, Chang Chia-chun 張嘉郡, who just happens to be Chang Jung-wei’s daughter. Tsai Ying-wen won 56.2% of the presidential vote in the electoral district, but Chang managed to eke out a narrow victory.
The KMT is hoping that the Chang family can repeat the 2012 victory and leverage its local power to one more victory. There are not a lot of polls, and they don’t give a consistent picture of this race. Some say Lee is way ahead, and some say it is a tight race. I tend to suspect that the DPP will eventually win this race, but it won’t be easy. A few factors tilt the field toward the DPP. First, national partisan trends moving in the DPP’s direction make the contest even harder for the Chang family than in 2012. They have to run up a steeper hill. Second, the 2012 race only covered half the county. Chang’s power base is in the coastal part of the county; he is not quite as strong in the inland half. Third, the KMT is not united. Hsu Shu-po leads the other KMT faction in the county, and he is not on board. He made noises about running his own candidacy, which would have ensured doom for Chang, but was persuaded to back off. Nonetheless, the best that Chang can hope for from the Hsu faction is apathy, and that doesn’t bode well. The KMT doesn’t have much strength in Yunlin to start with, and the second strongest faction (which is based in the inland half of the county) is going to sit the race out. My guess is Lee 53, Chang 47.
Riding your scooter north from Yunlin on Provincial Highway 3 takes you across the Choshui River and into Nantou. Nantou had a brief period in the 1990s when the DPP outpolled the KMT in a few elections. This may have been due more to a generation of outstanding DPP political talent (彭百顯、林宗男、蔡煌瑯) than to any ideological transformations. In recent years, the DPP has run a series of pedestrian candidates, and Nantou has trended solidly back into the blue camp. Nantou may also be one of the winners from increasing cross-strait integration. Nantou tourist spots are overrun with mainland tourists, and someone is making lots of money off them.
The KMT has governed Nantou since 2005, and incumbent county magistrate Lee Chao-ching 李朝卿 has been, how shall we say, not quite an exemplar of moral virtue. The KMT candidate, legislator Lin Ming-chen 林明溱, has the job of trying to appeal to KMT voters while refusing to accept responsibility for any of his predecessor’s misdeeds. Since party affiliations are less important and individual personalities are more important to voters in Nantou than in most other places in Taiwan, this is not an impossible task.
It might be harder if the DPP had a more vibrant candidate. They have nominated former legislator Lee Wen-chung 李文忠. Lee won several elections in Taipei County. At the height of the popular protests against President Chen, Lee and another New Tide faction member announced they were resigning from the legislature in order to shake the DPP into self-reflection. Let’s just say that this move aroused differences of opinion within the DPP. Lee has since tried to remove himself from national politics and rebuild a more localized career back in Nantou. It hasn’t gone that well. In 2009, he ran for county magistrate and only got 39.8%.
Nantou hasn’t been polled heavily, but the general pattern is that Lin has a moderate lead over Lee. In other words, it looks as though, even in a year with a discredited KMT incumbent and a highly unpopular party leader, we are headed for a “normal” result: a comfortable KMT win. My guess: Lin 55, Lee 45.
Hop back on your motorcycle in downtown Caotun 草屯鎮, turn left on Fencao Rd. 芬草路 (past Wu Den-yi’s 吳敦義 old family home), and head across the border on Provincial Highway 14 (Zhangnan Rd 彰南路) into Fenyuan Township 芬園鄉. Welcome to Changhua County, another battleground this year. Changhua likes to think of itself as a traditional agricultural society, but those don’t really exist in Taiwan anymore. If you look at membership in farmers associations, it looks like over half the adult population are farmers. However, the 2010 census reveals that only about 7% of adults actually work in agriculture, while 26% work in industry. (25% work in services, and 42% are not employed.) Changhua is not really an agricultural county, it is better understood as an industrial center. However, that still isn’t quite right. There are actually two different Changhuas. The northeastern part of the county is much more industrial, while the southwest part is more agricultural. In thirteen northeastern townships (with about 2/3 of the county’s population), farmers account for less than 3% of the working age population while 28% work in industry. In the other thirteen southwestern townships, farmers account for over 15% of the population while about 21% work in industry. To put it another way, southwestern Changhua looks a lot like Yunlin, while northeastern Changhua is much more like Taichung County.
Politically, Changhua has not been much like either Yunlin or Taichung. While those two have shifted toward the DPP in recent years, Changhua has remained on the KMT side of the ledger. The northeastern parts, especially Changhua City, seem especially stable in their support of the KMT. I am less sure about the southwestern parts. If the DPP surges in Changhua, I expect the southwestern parts to change most dramatically. Following the Yunlin model, the DPP should be trying to combine strong Min-nan/Taiwanese identity with local organization. Thus far, local networks seem to have remained on the KMT’s side. For example, the current legislator from the 3rd district (centered in Erlin Township 二林鎮) is a third generation local faction politician. I’d be nervous if I were her.
The race this year is between two incumbent legislators. The KMT’s Lin Tsang-min 林滄敏 is from Changhua City, while the DPP’s Wei Ming-gu 魏明谷 holds the seat centered on the second biggest township, Yuanlin. Like Nantou, the reputation of the two-term KMT incumbent has been tarred by controversy and accusations of corruption. Like in Nantou, the KMT candidate will be running away from that record. The surprisingly few polls show that this race is neck-and-neck. Changhua is a bellwether for Taiwan. Ma beat Tsai here by 50.6-46.5%. This is an area that the DPP probably needs to win if it is to win nationally. The fact that it is too close to call right now is extremely interesting.
Finally, hop back on your scooter and, well I don’t know the roads in Chiayi City. Take the bus. Chiayi City is getting a lot of attention this election cycle. The blue and green camps are very closely matched here, so races here are generally a good indicator of the relative fortunes of the two big parties. It has swung slightly to the DPP’s side in recent years: Tsai outpolled Ma 51.0-46.3% and the DPP took the legislative seat away from the KMT incumbent with a narrow 48.8-48.5% win. With national trends favoring the DPP this year, one might expect Chiayi to be a DPP win. However, the KMT has targeted Chiayi City aggressively. This might be the KMT’s best chance to win a race in southern Taiwan. Even if Chiayi City isn’t particularly populous or wealthy, the KMT would really like to avoid a green sweep in the south.
The KMT candidate is Chen Yi-chen 陳以真. She has strong local connections. Her family run the Nice Conglomerate 耐斯集團 so they have plenty of money. They have also been active in Chiayi politics for at least a couple of decades. (Her uncle lost the 1992 legislative election to Trong Chai 蔡同榮.) Before entering politics, Chen worked as a TV news reporter and anchor. They say that some people have a face for radio; Chen has a face for TV. Her husband (Yang Wei-chung 楊維中) also worked in the media, and after Chen entered politics he did a stint as KMT spokesperson. Chen was tapped to move from media to politics in the 2010 legislative by-election in Chiayi County. It was a hopeless race, but she performed quite well winning 42%. She impressed a lot of people with her energy and charisma, and the KMT rewarded her with a spot in the cabinet so that she could build strength for the 2014 Chiayi City mayoral race. As far as I can tell, the mayoral race was her target (and the KMT’s target) all along. She seems to be running a fairly strong race.
The DPP nominated former legislator Tu Hsing-cheh 涂興哲. The media reports about his campaign are not flattering. Apparently he isn’t a very personable campaigner. The early polls showed Tu with a consistent lead. More recent polls indicate that Chen has caught him and maybe passed him. This one looks like it will go down to the wire, so my official guess is: too close to call.
If you are counting at home, that’s 7 easy KMT wins (Hsinchu City, Hsinchu County, Miaoli, Hualien, Taitung, Jinmen, Lienchiang), 1 probable KMT win (Nantou), 3 tossups (Changhua, Chiayi City, Penghu), 2 probable DPP wins (Keelung, Yunlin), and 3 easy DPP wins (Yilan, Pingtung, Chiayi County). Of those, Keelung is the only place where the “wrong” party is winning. The KMT currently holds all three of the tossup seats, so green victories in any of those would represent DPP gains.
Of course, 70% of Taiwan’s population lives in the six direct municipalities, so those are the races that people care most about. Next time, we will turn to those races.