Musings on Mayoral Nominations (part 2)

In which I continue with baseless speculation…

Hau Longbin 郝龍斌 (KMT) is going to be renominated in Taipei City.  Taipei City should be a cakewalk for the KMT any time the party is not split.  The best the DPP has ever done in any election in Taipei city is 46%, in Chen Shuibian’s re-election bid in 1998.  There is no serious challenger to Hau, and he should waltz to another term.  Well, he should, but he might not.  He hasn’t exactly been a superstar in office.  In fact, I’d say that the net effect of his first term has been to definitively remove him from the list of possible KMT presidential nominees in 2016.  A recent poll even had Su Chen-chang beating him by three points.  Don’t put too much faith in that, though.  Right now, I’d give Hau a 99% chance to get the nomination and an 80% chance to win the general election.

In Sinbei City, the KMT is in the process of settling on Zhu Lilun 朱立倫.  Current county executive Zhou Xiwei 周錫瑋announced yesterday that he would not seek re-election.  Immediately there was an outpouring of sympathy for Zhou, with everyone conveniently forgetting that before yesterday, the only people who wanted Zhou to run for re-election were members of the DPP.

Zhu hasn’t publicly announced his willingness to accept the nomination, but he’s the only one in the running.  Like Jason Hu 胡志強 in Taichung, this is a good move for Zhu on the presidential career path.  Unlike Hu, Zhu will face a tough election this year, but if he wins, he will be on the short list for the KMT nomination in 2016 or 2020.  He’ll only be 55 in 2015, so he could wait another term or two.  However, two terms of governing Taoyuan and six years of Sinbei City would be a very nice resume for 2016.

It is by no means assured that Zhu will pass this year’s hurdle.  Taipei County is a battleground region.  It usually leans slightly blue, but the DPP won four of the previous five county executive races.  Given prevailing national trends, I think that with generic candidates, the DPP would probably win by about 5% this year.  Of course, the candidates are not generic.  Zhu has a good reputation, but he hasn’t spent years building up ties in Taipei County.  He’ll be relying entirely on other people’s electoral machinery.  Because of this, I can’t rate him as anything higher than “good.”

A China Times poll today had Zhu trailing Su Chen-chang 蘇貞昌 by a 40-29 margin.  However, he led Tsai Ying-wen 蔡英文 40-27 and Frank Hsieh 謝長廷 by “even more.”[1]

I haven’t yet mentioned the DPP candidates in Taipei City and Sinbei City.  This is because we don’t yet know who they are.  Everyone is waiting for Su Chen-chang to announce his intentions.  I don’t know what Su is going to do, but allow me to indulge in a little speculation about what I think his, and the DPP’s, considerations should be.

Su is going to be the DPP nominee for president in 2012.  Oh, there are a couple of other people such as Lin Yi-hsiung 林義雄 and perhaps Annette Lu 呂秀蓮 who have illusions of being nominated, but they aren’t really serious challengers.  The only serious challenger is Frank Hsieh, who lost the 2008 election.  Hsieh doesn’t seem to be pushing for the nomination this time, and I don’t think there is a lot of enthusiasm for a rematch.  Su is the guy that everyone is focused on.

Unlike in 2008, the presidential nominee will not simply be a sacrificial lamb.  2012 is going to be a close race, and the DPP has a fairly good chance of winning it.  I was shocked when I realized about a month ago that every time I saw Su on TV, I was thinking about him as the future president, not as the future losing presidential candidate.  It’s hard to believe President Ma has squandered the seemingly limitless stores of political capital he had two years ago, but here we are.  So Su’s choice has to be made with the primary goal of winning in 2012, not of winning in 2010.

Su has three choices for this year.  He can run in Taipei City, Sinbei City, or not at all.  (Either of the nominations is his for the asking; no DPP figure is demanding a primary.)  As I mentioned above, he is the DPP’s strongest candidate in both cities.  In fact, he is the only DPP candidate who even has a chance in Taipei City, and he is the only DPP candidate who would “probably” win Sinbei City.  (Someone else might be able to win in Sinbei City, but it won’t be easy.)

The United Daily News ran an editorial yesterday explaining that, now that the KMT has arranged for Zhu Lilun to be their candidate, Su has no choice but to run in Sinbei City.  They argued that Su could not afford to show weakness, and if he didn’t run, he would be seen as shirking from the battle.  This is nonsense.  The real assumption is that the resources of the Sinbei City government can be deployed to affect a significant number of votes in the presidential election.  I suppose holding city hall can’t hurt, but I don’t know that it would actually sway a lot of votes in a national election like this.  In my experience, clientelism is most powerful at the local level, not the national level.

I think that Su should not run in Sinbei City.  There are several reasons.  First, he could lose.  Sinbei City is not a sure thing.  Even though Su served as county executive for eight years, is viewed as having done a very good job, and has a vast network of local ties to draw on, the underlying partisan structure still leans blue.  When Su ran for re-election in 2001, he faced Wang Jianxuan 王建煊, an outsider who started his campaign rather late.  Still, Su barely won.  Victory in 2010 is not a given.  If he loses, this could cause irreparable damage to his presidential campaign.  And given the field of alternative nominees, that would nearly be akin to handing a second term to Ma.  From the DPP’s standpoint, this is a nightmare scenario.  The DPP needs to protect Su.  If having a viable presidential candidate means sacrificing Sinbei City, I think they must sacrifice Sinbei City.

Second, the voters in Sinbei City also know that Su will be running for president in 2012.  This will open several avenues of attack for Su’s opponent.  Zhu will accuse Su of blocking younger talents because he is greedy and wants every post for himself.  Zhu will ask Su how he plans to govern a very complex territory, given that he will be spending all his time, from day 1, running for president.  (Remember, the presidential election is a mere 16 months, not 24 months, after the mayoral election.)  Zhu will ask voters if they really want an executive who is thinking of voters in other areas and not looking out for their best interests.  Do Sinbei voters want the best public policy for people in Tainan, Kaohsiung, and Changhua, or do they want public policies that are in the interests of Sinbei residents?  Do Sinbei voters really want to wait until after the by-election after the presidential election for mayor who is focused on their city?  Is the city government supposed to just drift aimlessly until then?  Isn’t this, when the ugly stepchild has just been upgraded to a direct municipality, the most critical period and the need for hands-on leadership the greatest?  Or will Su simply delegate everything to a trusted lieutenant, such as Lin Xiyao 林錫耀 or Wu Bingrui 吳秉瑞?  Maybe voters should think of this as a choice between Zhu and one of those two.  Zhu will undoubtedly suggest that voters who really like Su should vote for Zhu in this election and then vote for Su in the presidential election.  After all, there is the possibility that Su would feel an obligation to Sinbei voters and decide not to run for president at all.  Wouldn’t they feel bad if they lost a chance for their champion to be president?  What’s that?  That couldn’t happen because Su wouldn’t feel such an obligation to Sinbei voters?  Oh, I see.

Third, supposing Su wins the mayoral race and the DPP presidential nomination.  The KMT will hammer him for abandoning his constituents and/or being lax in his obligations to Sinbei City.  It is not as if he has already governed Sinbei for 6 years and has everything under control.  His mayoral campaign will inevitably accuse Zhou of doing a lousy job and point to a wide array of problems that need to be fixed.  However, he won’t have enough time to be able to credibly claim that he fixed anything.  In other words, this seat will be a millstone during the presidential race, just as the presidential race will be a millstone during the mayoral race.

Fourth, during the 16 month interlude, he might be too distracted to do a good job in office.  Wait, this is not relevant.

Fifth, if Su doesn’t run, it’s not a foregone conclusion that the DPP would lose Sinbei City.  This is going to be a hard-fought race no matter who runs.  With nine months still to go, it’s impossible to say that Tsai or Hsieh couldn’t win.  After all, it still looks like this is going to be a green year.

So I think Su should pass on Sinbei.  I also think he should pass on Taipei City.  However, if he has to run, I think it should be in Taipei.  There are a couple of differences.  First, he is far less likely to win in Taipei.  This makes a loss acceptable, as long as it is reasonably close.  If he does lose, then he doesn’t have to worry about being accused of abandoning his duties during the presidential election.  Second, I don’t think voters in Taipei would be as sensitive at his leap to a higher office.  The last two mayors have gone on to the presidency.  It’s Taipei’s birthright to select the president.  If Sinbei has an inferiority complex, Taipei is simply arrogant.  If Su actually wins in Taipei, he will take on the air of invincibility, and he can just congratulate the wise voters of Taipei for catapulting him into the presidency.  Third, I think this gives Su a claim to generosity.  Instead of taking the winnable option, he would be leaving that to someone else and be taking the hardest task for himself.  (This, however, is bull.  Su wasn’t shy about horning in on the winnable option when he moved to Taipei County in 1995 and pushed Lu Xiuyi 盧修一 aside.)

Still, I think that Su’s best option is to sit out this election altogether.  By not running in any single race, he can run hard in all the races.  Su will turn into the national campaign chair.  The evening news will juxtapose Su with Ma every night, talking about where they went, what they said, and how they were received.  Su won’t have to waste time talking about Zhu Lilun or Hau Longbin; he will be able to go directly after Ma for two solid years.  He’ll also be able to spend these two years developing white papers and other policy positions for the presidential campaign rather than for Taipei or Sinbei alone.  This factor alone, being better prepared for the presidential campaign, should outweigh any losses that come from the potential loss of the resources of Sinbei or Taipei.

Well, that’s what I think.  Su undoubtedly sees it differently.

So, other than Su, who does the DPP have for Taipei City and Sinbei City?  Party chair Tsai Ying-wen will probably run in one of the races.  Tsai has done a magnificent job of leading the party’s out of the darkness of the Chen era.  There is some thought that she quite likes being party chair and will try to stay there.  However, if she wants to move up and eventually take a shot at the presidency, she needs to make a move now.  Party chair is traditionally not a spot of power.  She doesn’t lead her own faction, and she has never won an election.  She doesn’t have a long history within the party, and there are people who resent her current popularity or think that she’s a lightweight.  She needs to win an election, put together a loyal team, govern effectively for a while, hand out a few contracts, and prove that she has real staying power.  Sinbei City makes a lot of sense for her.  She could try Taipei, but she would almost certainly lose and confirm her critics’ suspicions that she is just a wishy-washy intellectual who doesn’t understand real politics.  If she can win Sinbei City and govern it effectively, she sets herself apart as the first real post-Meilidao 美麗島[2] leader of the DPP.

I don’t know who the other nominee might be.  Frank Hsieh is the obvious person, but I wonder if we might not get someone completely different.  This is complicated by the fact that the DPP got wiped out in the Taipei area in the 2008 legislative elections, so there aren’t many candidates from the usual source.  In Sinbei City, Zhao Yongqing 趙永清is perhaps the best positioned to make a run at mayor.  He lost in 2008, but his district, Zhonghe 中和, is a very tough one for a DPP candidate.  He and his family have been running in county-wide races for thirty years, so he has some ties to draw on.  He also has a very good image, with a specialty in environmental policy.  In Taipei City, I can’t think of anyone local who is not too radical (Yeh Chu-lan 葉菊蘭), too inexperienced (Duan Yikang 段宜康), too old and unacceptable to his party (Shen Fu-hsiung 沈富雄), or too tainted by association with Chen Shuibian (Luo Wen-chia 羅文嘉) to mount a serious challenge to Hau.  The only person that I can think of as a reasonable candidate other than Su Chen-chang, Tsai Ying-wen, or Frank Hsieh is Su Jiaquan 蘇嘉全, the current party secretary-general.  He doesn’t seem very interested in running for anything right now.   However, the DPP nominations won’t be decided until May, so there’s plenty of time for other candidates to announce their willingness to serve if Su Chen-chang passes.

[1] I’m not putting China Times polls in my survey section because I can’t find their official reports.  They don’t seem to have a website in which they officially release these result.  They don’t even have stories on the China Times website about these polls.  I only find reference to these polls through other media.  I heard about this poll driving home tonight, saw it referenced on the TV news, and I’m quoting the actual figures from a story on the Liberty Times website.  I also know nothing about how China Times polls are produced.  When I knew something about the world of polling in Taiwan ten years ago, I could be pretty sure about the quality of United Daily News, TVBS, and ERA polls.  I never had the same level of confidence about China Times polls.  Maybe the situation has changed, but I’d feel better if I could read a report.

[2] Most of the top DPP figures were involved in the Meilidao (Kaohsiung) Incident in 1979, including Chen Shui-bian, Frank Hsieh, Su Chen-chang, Annette Lu, and Chen Chu.

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One Response to “Musings on Mayoral Nominations (part 2)”

  1. Michael Turton Says:

    Chen, Su, and Hsieh were lawyers for the Kaohsiung 8.

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