Musings on Mayoral Nominations (Part 1)

The races for mayoral elections at the end of this year are starting to take shape.  While we don’t know for sure just who the nominees will be yet, we’re starting to get a pretty good idea.

One thing that is looking increasingly likely is that all five races will have only two serious candidates.  None of the smaller parties look to be girding themselves for a battle, and it seems less likely by the day that one of the nominations will go so badly that the loser will launch an independent bid.  Of course, there will be a couple of turkeys, such as Fang Jingjun 方景鈞 in Taipei City and Lin Jingyuan 林景元in Kaohsiung City.  (Fang has run in everything for as long as I can remember.  I wonder if he thinks he gets to count his cumulative votes.  He’s probably well over 10,000 for his career.)  Overall though, these are looking like they will be straight one-on-one slugfests.

So there are ten nominations to be had.  Let’s look south to north.

In Kaohsiung City, there is a monster battle going on between two strong candidates for the DPP’s nomination between Chen Chu 陳菊, the incumbent mayor of Kaohsiung City, and Yang Qiuxing 楊秋興, the incumbent executive of Kaohsiung County.  Both are considered to have done very well in office, but the polls say that Chen is significantly more popular.  TVBS put out a poll on Jan. 25 that had Chen leading Yang 45-21.  She led in every important category, including in Kaohsiung County.  This has not been a dirty fight, as both are running on their very strong records.   They also have pledged that the loser will serve as the winner’s campaign manager, so it looks very unlikely that the loser will launch an independent bid.  I expect them to campaign hard until the telephone polls are held in May (the DPP determines its nominations by telephone surveys), and I expect Chen Chu to win a clear victory.  I also expect Chen to win the general election.  Kaohsiung is not an unwinnable race for the KMT, as many analysts seem to assume.  The two parties are fairly even in Kaohsiung City, and the DPP has a slight edge in Kaohsiung County.  Overall, the DPP would have a slight edge in a generic election in a generic year, but only a very slight edge.  This year, however, the national trends are in the DPP’s favor, and either Chen or Yang is better than anything the KMT has to offer (with the possible exception of Wang Jinping 王金平, who is not running).  So odds are good that Chen will win the election, but don’t put it in the bank just yet.

Who will the KMT’s nominee in Kaohsiung be?  Lots of names have floated around.  Huang Zhaoshun 黃昭順 has been the most active in seeking the nomination.  Huang is a six-term legislator whose father was a member of the Control Yuan way, way back in the 1980s.  (I have a pencil holder on my desk with her picture on it, a souvenir from her 1998 campaign.  According to the Jimmy Carter theory of campaigning, now I have to support her.)  Another KMT legislator, Hou Caifeng 侯彩鳳, announced that she was ready to fight for the KMT nomination a few days ago.   My initial reaction?  Landslide!  The KMT has made inquiries to Legislative Yuan Speaker Wang Jinping 王金平 as to whether he would run.  He would have the best chance of anyone, but he’d still be fighting an uphill battle.  Besides, his current position is arguably better, and he is firmly ensconced there.  There is no risk for him.  (A lot of people think that Ma is trying to remove Wang and replace him with a more compliant Speaker.  To which I ask, is there anyone else who can forge compromises as well as Wang?  And, more compliant???)  There are a couple of legislators in Kaohsiung County, Zhong Shaohe 鍾紹和 and Lin Yishi 林益世, who I have a fairly high opinion of.  Both won their seats fairly easily in tough districts, and I think both would put up a competent, if not winning, campaign.  However, neither seems to be getting much airplay.  The latest person to float up is former Penghu County executive Lai Fengwei 賴峰偉.  Having a Penghu politician is not such a stretch since Kaohsiung traditionally views Penghu as part of its hinterland.  On the other hand, I don’t know that Lai has any more support than any of the others.

The TVBS poll used Premier (and former mayor) Wu Dunyi 吳敦義as a stalking horse in their poll, even though there’s no way he is running.  He beat Huang Zhaoshun 29-25.  Both of them lost head to head with either Chen or Yang by a lot.  The closest pairing was Yang over Wu, 47-30.  The biggest landslide was Chen over Huang 60-20.

So what do I think?  There are currently five realistic names (Huang, Hou, Zhong, Lin, Lai).  Other than Hou, I think they are fairly interchangeably.  Any of them can get 40%, but not much more.

Everyone expects Tainan to be a DPP landslide, and with good reason.  The DPP has a small but clear edge in Tainan City and a huge edge in Tainan County.  This year, when everything is trending toward the DPP, Tainan is a steep, steep climb for the KMT.  To make matters worse, they really don’t have anyone capably of making the climb.  The names that keep floating up here aren’t members of the B team, they’re much lower than that.  Two former Tainan County legislators, Li Quanjiao 李全教and Guo Tiancai 郭添財, have announced their availability.  Guo lost his re-election bid in 2004, and Li tried but failed to win a spot on the party list in 2008.  I read somewhere that Minister of Education Wu Qingji 吳清基 is outpolling both of them, but he still loses by large margins to any DPP candidate.  Today, the TV told me that the KMT leadership’s favored candidate is Xie Longjie 謝龍介, to which I asked my TV, who the hell is Xie Longjie?  Turns out he is a former member of the Tainan City Council who won the nomination for Tainan City mayor last May before the election was cancelled (due to its being upgraded to direct municipality).  This is not impressive.  From the KMT’s side, there are no reasons to expect anything other than a DPP landslide.

From the DPP’s side, there is one.  The DPP nomination is far from settled, and there is a chance that the losers won’t agree to lose.  I don’t think it is a big chance, but a divided DPP is the KMT’s only realistic scenario to win Tainan.  Promising races attract candidates like flies, and six local heavyweights announced that they would make all the heavy personal sacrifices necessary to ensure the protection of the people’s welfare.  Three have since dropped out, but three remain.  The youngest, Lai Qingde 賴清德 leads the polls.  Lai is a legislator elected from Tainan City.  He has been a solid, though perhaps not spectacular legislator.  Su Huanzhi 蘇煥智 is the Tainan County executive.  Su came up through the New Tide Faction, and made his name by refusing to compromise on several environmental issues.  It is this stubborn streak that makes me wonder if he will not accept defeat.  Hsu Tiancai 許添財 is currently mayor of Tainan City.  Hsu has a history of flouting party discipline.  He was lured back to Taiwan from the USA in 1992 to run in the legislature.  When he was not re-nominated in 1995, he ran anyway and caused the defeat of Zhang Canhong 張燦鍙,[1] one of the DPP nominees.  In 1997, Zhang ran for mayor as the DPP nominee, and Hsu ran against him.  Zhang won, but Hsu pulled a lot of votes.  After Zhang’s corruption-ridden term ended in 2001, the DPP pulled Hsu back into the fold and nominated him for mayor where he has served since.  Su and Hsu have both been good in office, but where I think of Chen and Yang in Kaohsiung as roughly A and A-, my impression of Hsu and Su is more like B+ and B.[2]

On Jan 5, TVBS published a poll on the DPP nomination.  (They didn’t bother asking about the KMT nominees.)  The result was Lai 22%, Hsu 15%, Chen Tangshan 陳唐山 11%, Su 10%, Li Junyi 李俊毅 3%, and Ye Yijin 葉宜津 1%.   They used Vice Premier Zhu Lilun as a KMT stalking horse, and all three of the remaining candidates beat him handily.  Lai and Hsu won 46-30, while Su won 42-34.  I don’t know how the polls have changed in the last month and a half, but I’m pretty sure that the KMT isn’t going to be putting up anyone nearly as good as Zhu.  May is still a long way away, and the three are close enough in the polls that any of them could win.  As long as the others agree to lose, it really doesn’t matter which one actually does win.

The Taichung race is officially over.  Jason Hu 胡志強 has agreed to run.  Taichung is a blue-leaning area that can only go green when everything goes right for the DPP.  The national trends are in place, but they can’t beat Hu.  One amusing poll found that Hu was the KMT’s best candidate not only in Taichung, but also in Tainan and Kaohsiung.  In Taichung, the only other candidate being seriously mooted is Liao Liaoyi 廖了以.  Liao was Taichung County executive from 1989-97 and has been working in various high-level party and government positions since then.  He is also a leader of the Red Faction in Taichung County.  The current county executive is Huang Zhongsheng 黃仲生, who is a member of the Black Faction, but I haven’t heard much about him running.  I think the Black Faction is probably throwing their lot in with Hu.  A TVBS poll of Jan 8 gave Hu an overwhelming 59-11 edge over Liao.

The DPP does not have a good candidate for Taichung.  The most active candidate has been Lin Jialong 林佳龍.  Lin is a Yale PhD in political science.  His advisor was Juan Linz.  He specializes in semi-presidential systems and … oops, I drifted back into my other life there.  Besides Lin effectively left academia about five years ago and is now a professional politician.  He has already gotten trounced once by Jason Hu, losing the Taichung City mayoral race in 2005 by a 58-39 margin.  The one thing I’m pretty sure about is that no one in the DPP is very enthusiastic about a rematch.  The only other name that I’ve heard is Qiu Taisan 邱太三.  Qiu also lost in 2005, losing the Taichung County executive race by an equally embarrassing 59-39 margin.  Well, someone has to represent the DPP, right?  The TVBS poll used Frank Hsieh as its DPP stalking horse.  Hsieh beat Lin 31-21, but both lost to Hu by wide margins (57-22 for Hsieh, 62-17 for Lin).  Maybe Hsieh will actually run; he’s developing into the DPP’s designated candidate in hopeless races.

For me, the more interesting question is about Jason Hu’s future as a presidential candidate.  Hu was born in 1948, and the KMT nominee in 2012 will be Ma.  In 2016, Hu will be 68 years old, so that is his last shot at the presidency.  The question is whether Taichung City is a suitable platform from which to launch a presidential bid.  In the past, I would have said that it is not.  However, the new and expanded Taichung City is a different animal.  It has roughly the same population as Taipei City.  It won’t have as big a budget as Taipei, but Hu will have a significantly larger amount of money to throw around than he has now.  Most importantly, mayors of direct municipalities have broad appointment powers, and Hu will be able to put together a team that can work toward the presidency.  The importance of putting together a team cannot be underestimated.  Both Chen and Ma brought lots of people from the Taipei City government into the national government.  Lian Chan built his network of cronies as governor and then premier.  Soong did the same as governor.  Taichung is also the prime battleground, the place where the-DPP dominated south and KMT-dominated north meet.  Whoever wins Taichung will almost certainly win the election.  The one are in which Taichung is really deficient is in media.  Taipei, as the center of everything, gets a lot more media attention than anyone else.

Taipei City, however, will probably not be producing the KMT’s nominee in 2016.  The current mayor, Hau Longbin 郝龍斌, has probably eliminated himself from contention with his lackluster performance.  Hau will certainly contest and probably win another term, but the Taipei City mayor in 2015 will almost certainly be someone who has just started a term and is not ready for a run at the presidency.  As things currently stand, it similarly seems unlikely that a KMT presidential candidate would come from either Tainan or Kaohsiung.  That leaves either the mayor of Sinbei City or someone in the central government as the only other possibilities.  Vice-President Siew is too old, and Premier Wu doesn’t look like he’s going to make it to the end of Ma’s first term, much less to 2016.  Ideally, I think Hu’s best bet is to serve most of this term as mayor of Taichung, and then move up to premier two or three years before the election.  You don’t want to become premier too early, since premiers tend to have short shelf lives.  In other words, another term in Taichung seems like an entirely reasonable path to the presidency to me.


[1] Zhang Canhong 張燦鍙, one of the godfathers of the overseas Taiwan movement in the 1970s and 1980s, would probably be horrified at my use of the (PRC) pinyin system to romanize his name.  I think he preferred George Chang.  Too bad, I’m in a pinyin mood today.

[2] Just for reference, I’d give Hau (Taipei City) about a C+, Zhou (Taipei County) a D, and Hu (Taichung City) an A-.  Not that I have anything objective to base these grades on.  Giving out grades is just a hard habit to break.

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