On Sunday morning, we went to a campaign rally in downtown Taipei for the KMT’s Chiang Wan-an 蔣萬安. On Sunday afternoon, we drove to up to Tamsui for a campaign event for another first time candidate, the DPP’s Lu Sun-ling 呂孫綾.
New Taipei 1 is traditionally a blue district. In 2012, Ma beat Tsai by 12% in this district (compared to 10% in all of New Taipei). In last year’s mayoral race, the DPP closed the gap to less than 6%, which sounds impressive until you realize that the gap in all of New Taipei was just over 1%. In other words, the KMT maintained its previous strength better here than in the rest of the city. Still, a 6% gap is close enough that the DPP could imagine winning this race without needing a miracle. They have to have some things go right, but it isn’t impossible.
It is a bit surprising to me that this district was more stable than the rest of the city since its population is undergoing immense change. In recent years, real estate speculation in the Taipei area has been especially intense in what developers call the third ring. Two of the hottest areas, Linkou and Tamsui, are in New Taipei 1. (The other hot area is Sanxia, in New Taipei 10.) Since the legislative districts were drawn in 2006, New Taipei 1 has grown faster than nearly any other district in the country, and it is now far and away the most populous district in New Taipei. If you look at eligible voters, New Taipei 1 grew by 28% from the 2008 legislative election to the 2014 mayoral election.
|district||2008 eligible||2014 eligible||Growth|
|New Taipei 1||247852||317439||28%|
When the next round of redistricting happens next year, they will probably have to move Taishan or Linkou into another district. Maybe they could lop off both but then add in Jinshan and Wanli, so that the district would cover the entire north coast. At any rate, there are a lot of new voters in this district. Perhaps from 2012 to 2014 the old voters shifted toward the DPP at similar rates to the rest of New Taipei, but the new voters had a strong blue tinge.
The KMT incumbent is Wu Yu-sheng 吳育昇. Wu entered the legislative in 2004 as one of Ma Ying-jeou’s trusted lieutenants. At the time, Ma was still Taipei mayor, but he was preparing to challenge for leadership of the KMT. Putting Wu and a couple other cronies into the legislature was a crucial step in Ma’s rise to the presidency. In the legislature, Wu has been a loyal party soldier. During the sunflower movement, his steadfast support for Ma’s positions led him to become one of the students’ most reviled targets. They went so far as to try to try to recall him with their Operation Appendectomy. It didn’t work, but it certainly strengthened Wu’s image as a hardline KMT solder. Ironically, at the same time the students were trying to recall Wu for pushing Ma’s agenda, Wu was trying to separate himself from Ma. Early this year, Wu repeatedly called for Eric Chu to run for the presidency, doing so as visibly as possible. At one point, Wu even told reporters to stop referring to him as a Ma faction legislator. The cynic is me thinks that, now that Ma’s era as a useful patron is coming to an end, Wu has decided to jump ship and pledge loyalty to a new boss. We will see how the voters respond to this repositioning.
People like to talk of the Ko Wen-je model 柯P模式. However, they have it wrong. Most people think that the Ko P model involves a candidate with no party affiliation who can steal votes from the majority party. In fact, the Ko P model has two critical steps. First, the majority coalition has to break, usually from the inside. In Taipei in 2014, the KMT broke its own coalition by nominating Sean Lien, an awful candidate who alienated droves of KMT sympathizers. Second, the opposition has to nominate someone who can pick up those pieces. In Taipei in 2014, Ko P managed to be inoffensive enough not to drive disillusioned KMT sympathizers back to the KMT. In Taipei 3 this year, Chiang Wan-an’s team is determined not to allow step one to occur. Even if it did, Billy Pan 潘建志 is probably too divisive to accomplish step two. Here in New Taipei 1, I’m not sure if step one has occurred. Ma Ying-jeou has done his best to destroy the nationwide KMT coalition. However, based on last year’s results, the KMT might still have a larger base than the DPP in this district. Has Wu Yu-sheng further alienated even more KMT voters? I don’t have an answer as yet. As for step two, that depends on the other side, and that story is fascinating and confusing.
Simmering in the background to all the legislative races in New Taipei is a big power struggle between two DPP former premiers, Su Tseng-chang 蘇貞昌 and Yu Hsi-kun 游錫堃. Both of them think that they should be the most important DPP figure in New Taipei. Su was Taipei County magistrate from 1997 to 2004, and he is widely considered to have been an effective and popular executive. During his tenure, he cultivated deep ties with many local power holders all over the county. Even though he has been out of office for a decade, you often see reminders of Su’s continuing popularity.
In the last decade, Yu Hsi-kun has tried to establish a power base in New Taipei. After serving as premier, Yu needed a new gig and didn’t want to go back to (tiny) Ilan. He tried to get the DPP nomination for New Taipei mayor in 2010, but Tsai Ing-wen swooped in and took it away. However, he did get the nomination in 2014. Given Eric Chu’s high personal popularity, the 2014 nomination didn’t seem very valuable. However, the size of the 2014 anti-KMT wave took everyone by surprise, and Yu nearly pulled a stunning upset.
Both Yu and Su are angling for the 2018 mayoral race. I’m not sure if they want to run themselves, but they certainly want to be able to determine who does run. The legislative nominations have been a test of strength, and Su has gained the upper hand. Wu Chi-ming 吳琪銘, a Yu ally, is running in New Taipei 10. Su’s daughter is running in New Taipei 5, and two of his closest protégés are running in New Taipei 4 and New Taipei 6. New Taipei 6 is especially significant since Su’s man, Chang Hung-lu 張宏陸, defeated Yu’s son, Yu Ping-tao 游秉陶.
This brings us to New Taipei 1. There were four people who wanted to run against Wu Yu-sheng. In the DPP, scholar You Ying-lung 游盈隆, city councilor Lai Chiu-mei 賴秋媚, and newcomer Lu Sun-ling sought the nomination, while author Neil Peng 馮光遠 wanted to run under the New Power Party banner. During the DPP nomination contest, You Ying-lung apparently had the highest public support and Lu Sun-ling had the lowest. However, they did not decide the nomination by the normal polling primary method. Instead, the party announced that it would draft Lu. A stunned You reacted with bewilderment, and Lai also seemed surprised. Faced with public discord, the nominating committee decided to put off the formal decision for a while longer and continue discussions. However, they eventually settled on Lu without a polling primary, even though (unofficial) surveys showed her to be the weakest of the three.
(Aside: The DPP party rules state that the party can draft candidates in “difficult” districts without going through a polling primary. They have the option of using a primary, but it is up to the nominating committee at the national party headquarters. Difficult districts are defined as those in which the party’s nominee in the previous election got less than 42.5%, a number I consider to be way too high. In 2012, the DPP got 42.44% in New Taipei 1.)
A similar story unfolded with Peng. He asked for a debate, a public campaign, and a polling primary to decide whether he or Lu would withdraw from the race. The Lu camp steadfastly refused to engage Peng. (Their refusal to use a poll confuses me a bit, since the one poll I saw gave Lu three times as much support as Peng.) Peng unilaterally withdrew right before the registration deadline, wondering why he had not been given a fair shot.
How did Lu win this struggle? She is 27 years old and has no electoral experience. She isn’t the important person. Her father is. Lu Tzu-chang 呂子昌 entered the Taipei County assembly in 1982 and spent the next 32 years there. He was an independent for most of that time; the first time he ran under the DPP label was in 2005. He unexpectedly lost his re-election bid last year when the other DPP candidate (who most people had expected to be the weaker of the two) soaked up far too many votes. He is head of a local Tamsui credit union and the chairman of a couple of temples in Tamsui. Factionally, Lu is an ally of Su Tseng-chang. So when the elder Lu decided to try to put his daughter into the legislature, he had a wealth of political connections and financial assets to draw upon. One of the other aspirants, Lai Chiu-mei, is also a Su faction member (from Linkou and Taishan), but her connections were apparently no match for Lu’s. In addition to Su, several other national power players lined up to support Lu, most prominently Kaohsiung mayor Chen Chu. (I don’t know what the connection with her is.) Now, you might expect that Yu Hsi-kun would support You Ying-lung, the main non-Su politician in the race. C’mon, you don’t think factional politics aren’t going to be that easy to understand, do you? Apparently, Yu also supported Lu. Hey, Yu is a smart politician. There is no need to alienate a local power broker. Lu might be in Su’s camp now, but things could change in the future.
(Aside: Lu Tzu-chang was 24 years old when he was elected in 1982. I don’t think his daughter is the real power at age 27, and I seriously doubt he was the real power at age 24. Who was his father? I’ll bet Lu Sun-ling is actually a third generation politician!)
I’m not sure what happened with Peng, but he seemed to think that he had also lost a struggle with the Su faction. As a much more innocent politician, Peng didn’t roll with the punches quite as effectively as Yu. Rather, he seemed shocked and dismayed that electoral politics are not all about high minded ideals and policy debates. Welcome to actual politics, New Power Party. If you want to change the world, you’re going to have to learn some of the dark arts.
I think that’s enough background. Let’s finally get to the party where I write about the campaign rally. I wanted to see whether Lu is a little girl or an adult. In her official campaign picture, she looks like a college student. (Her campaign team also chose a strange photo of Tsai Ing-wen to photoshop in behind her. Tsai’s expression is tired and a bit perplexed, as if she is asking herself why in the world she is endorsing this obviously unqualified girl for such an important job.) I’ve seen a few callow youths run, and some have clearly not been ready for public life. Last year, Yen Kuan-heng 顏寬恆 did not seem ready to take over for his father, especially when his father practically grabbed the microphone out of his son’s hands when the media asked a question. Lee Yan-hsiu 李彥秀 seemed very young and very peppy to me when she ran for Taipei city councilor in 1998. However, I tend to be much more forgiving of city council candidates. City councils are exactly the place for young people to learn their craft. They are a type of political finishing school. The national legislature is too important to entrust one of the 113 seats to someone who isn’t even sure of their adulthood.
The rally was held at an elementary school. The main area was a basketball court, and it only held a few hundred people. However, there was a sizeable overflow area outside the basketball court, and I estimated that there were probably about 1800 people in attendance. It wasn’t a heavily mobilized crowd; perhaps half of them came with a group. Agewise, they were about average for one of these events and noticeably older than the crowd at the Chiang rally in the morning. We were in a brand new neighborhood. The (brand new) school was surrounded by a concrete jungle of newly built 15 story apartments. I wouldn’t be surprised if the elder Lu weren’t involved in the construction or financing of some of them. The campaign is not starving for money. The campaign headquarters were across the street in one of the new buildings, and they reserved a parking lot especially for rally attendees. (Thanks!) Even the hats they handed out to everyone were a much nicer grade than normal.
In case we had missed the factional back story, before the rally started, the speakers were playing Su Tseng-chang’s 2001 campaign theme song. The hosts were Wu Ping-jui 吳秉叡 and a woman whose name I can’t remember, both core members of the Su faction. The first major speaker was, you guessed it, Su Tseng-chang. I’ve seen Su speak dozens of times over the past 20 years. This was one of the stranger speeches. It was almost a grumpy old man speech. He talked about the years of struggle for democracy and how the kids today couldn’t possibly understand what his generation had gone through. As he was speaking, I got the distinct feeling that he is slipping. Su has always been one of the most charismatic stump speakers. He could reach out, grab a crowd, shake a response out of them, and then make them laugh in agreement. He still does that, but his timing is a bit more careless. Where he used to feed on the energy of the crowd, yesterday he seemed to just be going through the motions. I can’t remember many other times when someone else was the most electric speaker of the day. (Taipei city councilor and former media star Ho Po-wen 何博文 was more engaging yesterday.) It made me wonder if the purpose of his factional power struggle is to put someone else in power. (If so, Wu Ping-jui is probably first in line.) Maybe Su was just having an off day.
Lu Sun-ling stood next to Su during the speech (as is normal), and when he finished she grabbed the microphone (which is not normal). She thanked him for taking time away from his own daughter’s campaign to endorse her, and she asked the crowd to ask all their friends and family in New Taipei 5 to support Su Chiao-huei 蘇巧慧. It was blatant brown-nosing, and it almost made me puke right there on the basketball court. Su also seemed stunned by this, and responded with a complement that you give to a five year old child, “Well, you really know how to speak properly.” 妳真的很會講話。Mrs. Garlic spat out, “I’ll bet her father told her to say that.”
Some of the other speakers included Ho Po-wen, who was the 2012 nominee in this district, Ilan city mayor Chiang Tsung-yuan 江聰淵, and New Tide faction legislator Tien Chiu-chin 田秋堇. I can’t remember what Ho talked about, though I remember that he was very persuasive and energetic. Tien talked about food safety, which is one of her signature issues. I didn’t pay much attention to Chiang, as I couldn’t follow his Taiwanese at all. There was quite an Ilan presence at this event, with Chiang, Tien, and Yu. Add in Chen Chu’s support, and the Lu family must have some important Ilan connection. Chiang, by the way, is a rising star in Ilan politics. He might be angling for the county magistrate in 2018, or he might have his eye on the legislature whenever he decides to retire the current, not so notable incumbent.
Lu Sun-ling got her turn at the microphone, and she was less bad than I expected. For one thing, she looks a bit older in person than in her campaign picture. She also can speak reasonably well. She tried to sell her qualifications. She joined the DPP at age 20, she has been a member of the DPP Central Executive Committee since she was 21, and she has studied in a doctoral program in political science. Um, none of those things qualify her to be a legislator, especially the last one. Taking a few classes in a lower-rated program (Chinese Culture University) is not that significant. Political science is not a professional program. In the same way that history programs don’t teach students to become historical figures and English literature programs don’t teach students to write like Shakespeare, we don’t teach students how to be politicians or good citizens. (For the record, I’m pretty sure I would be a terrible politician.) Nonetheless, she assured us that, even though she is only 27, she has legislature-level preparation. Sorry, no dice. All I could see was an enormous sense of entitlement. I hope she doesn’t believe her own rhetoric, but it sure sounded like she does.
Former Vice President Annette Lu showed up. This was the first time I’ve seen her on the stump this year. She spoke of gender equality for a while, fondly remembering the time when she was co-president. (No one else remembers that, but she has always been pretty sure that the voters elected her co-president.) Then she tried to sell Lu Sun-ling’s qualifications to us, talking for several minutes about how important it would be to understand how legislatures around the world operate. Annette Lu, of all people, should know what a crock of shit she was spouting. I think she was going through the motions, doing a necessary political chore. At one point, she called the candidate “Lu Chia-ling.” Some people in the audience shouted out the correct name, and Annette Lu responded, “Well, I have known her father for years and years.” It was a pretty blatant dismissal. Later in the speech, she messed up the candidate’s name again, and no one bothered to correct her. Lu ended her speech with her latest quixotic proposal, that Taiwan should become a neutral country like Switzerland. She urged us all to sign her petition, as if a petition could stop China from having designs on Taiwan. I don’t know which I think is more naïve, the KMT calls to embrace China in pursuit of mutual gain or Lu’s call to declare Taiwan neutral.
Former premier Yu Hsi-kun spoke next, and his speech was full of good old-fashioned red meat. He talked about several construction projects that Mayor Chu had started but not continued, a theme he hammered at all last year. But his real attacks were reserved for President Ma. He talked about the Ma-Xi meeting and Ma’s One China statement. Then he put it rawly. “Ma Ying-jeou loves Taiwan. Of course he does. Xi Jinping loves Taiwan, too. So does Tsai Ing-wen. But their orientations are different. Ma is worried about China, and Tsai is concerned about Taiwan. Xi, Ma, and Tsai all say they love Taiwan, but while the words are the same, the meanings are different. When Xi says he loves Taiwan, he means that he wants to make it part of China. When Ma says he loves Taiwan, he means the same as Xi. When Tsai says it, she means that she wants the 23 million Taiwanese to be able to decide their own future.” It was a hardline speech, but the reaction from the crowd was merely mild. We’ve all heard this sort of rhetoric before, and Yu isn’t a thrilling speaker. His content was much sharper than Su’s, but even on a bad day, Su is a far better stump speaker than Yu.
We had thought that Tsai Ing-wen would come, but we were wrong. The headline speaker was VP candidate Chen Chien-jen 陳建仁. Mrs. Garlic and I were probably among the very few in the crowd who were happy at this substitution. I’ve seen Tsai speak lots of times, but this was my first time to see Chen on the stump. What’s my impression? Strangely, I can’t really say. He is so uncharismatic that I found myself not paying attention at all. I think he spoke a bit about food safety, but I really don’t remember. Instead, I spent the time wondering why I am so obsessed with whether he will be good enough if something bad happens. No one else seems to be worrying about it, but I can’t shake the feeling that the spare tire might be necessary. I haven’t seen any of the political skills necessary to lead in a time of crisis (which it would be). Maybe they are there, but they aren’t obvious to me. He couldn’t even keep my attention when I was very interested in evaluating him. That reflects badly on me, but it isn’t great for him either.
I left this event feeling decidedly underwhelmed. Lu Sun-ling did not give me a sense of confidence that she is ready and qualified for the legislature. She might be in a decade or two, but right now she is a proxy for her father. Nonetheless, there is a possibility that she will win. We don’t know how far the central cleavage line has shifted toward the DPP. New Taipei 1 is probably only slightly blue, and it might even be tied. I also don’t have a good sense for how popular Wu Yu-sheng is with his constituents. I’ve spent an awful lot of space talking about Lu Sun-ling, but this race is as much about the incumbent as the challenger. If voters are fed up with Wu (and mad at Ma), they might vote against him rather than for her. My guess is that a KMT victory is more likely, but this is one of the races I will be watching closely on election night.
Tsai Ing-wen didn’t show up, but her pig bus did.
Tien Chiu-chin talks about food safety. I’ll be sad to see her leave the legislature. Tien has been a strong voice for food safety, women’s issues, and other progressive values. I wish all party list legislators were so effective. On a side note, I’ve never seen someone give a stump speech wearing a surgical mask for non-political reasons before. Can you imagine an American politician doing that? It’s a different world over here.
Former VP Annette Lu endorses “Lu Chia-ling.”
The future VP thrills the crowd.
I was so excited that I wandered off and took a picture of his security team. I wonder if he had that kind of security as VP at Academia Sinica. No? Well, he’d better get used to it. Bodyguards are going to be part of his everyday life from now on.