Archive for August, 2010

Flowers, part 2

August 31, 2010

A commenter on a post about the Flora Expo on Michael Turton’s blog pointed out that the decision to host the Expo and the date were determined way back in the Ma administration, not in the Hao administration.  (Thanks M)  So I searched a bit on the Taipei City government website, and, lo and behold, there are news releases in early 2006 listing November 2010 as the date the exhibition would open.  I had not known this.  And the wheels in my head started turning…

I wondered why in the world Hao would schedule such a high-risk event to open right before the election.  In fact, he didn’t do any such thing.  Ma did it to him.  Why would Ma do such a thing?

Ma was certainly aware of the timing, but I doubt he would have worried about it so much.  After all, he wasn’t going to be running for re-election during the Expo.  Hao would be (and by early 2006, he could be reasonably sure that Hao would be the next mayor), but that was Hao’s problem.  Anyway, the KMT candidate should be able to win in Taipei City, right?

Maybe this was just good public policy.  For one thing, Taiwan doesn’t host many international events, so this could be one way to raise Taiwan’s international profile.  Well, I guess no one is against raising Taiwan’s international profile, but I am skeptical about whether this (or the World Games in Kaohsiung or the Deaf Olympics etc.) will have much impact.  Can you tell me who the last country to host the International Flora Expo (or the World Games etc) was?  What about all the tourism money that this will bring in.  Again, I’m skeptical.  Even in really high profile international events such as the Olympics or the World Cup, most of the tickets are sold to citizens of the host country, not international tourists.  Are you aware of many groups of international flower lovers who have circled these dates on their calendars and are planning to make a special trip to Taiwan to see all the flowers?  I’m not.  I could be wrong on this, but I’m guessing that the overwhelming majority of tickets will be bought by ROC nationals.  Well, what about the cultural aspect to this?  Isn’t it nice that the city government is holding a flower festival?  Who hates flowers?[1] This will be nice for the residents of Taipei City.  I don’t disagree on this, though this seems like an awful lot of money for a flower festival aimed primarily at city residents.  If that were the purpose, they could do this much more frugally.

On the other hand, there is one group that has to be thrilled with the city’s decision to host the Flora Expo.  This group is the Taiwan flower industry.  Taiwan’s flower industry is quite large, and is the world leader in orchids.   In fact, flowers are one of Taiwan’s more important export agricultural products.  For a few months, Taiwan will be the center of the world’s flower industry, and Taiwanese growers will be able to show off their wares and make valuable business contacts.  The domestic boost in flower popularity should also be a boon to the industry.  And of course they will sell lots of merchandise to the Flora Expo itself.  There’s just one thing: not much of the flower industry is based in Taipei.  To my knowledge, the center of the Taiwanese flower industry is in southern Changhua County.  Why in the world would the Ma city government want to spend enormous amounts of money to curry favor with an industry based in central Taiwan?

Asking the question that way makes the answer obvious: to the extent that the decision to hold the Flora Expo was politically motivated, the goal was the 2008 (and perhaps 2012) presidential election, not the 2010 Taipei City mayoral election.  Central Taiwan is the great battleground that decides presidential elections.  Southern Changhua, in particular, is currently the place where the map turns from green to blue.[2] More generally, Ma needed to shore up his credentials with agricultural Taiwan.  In 2006, no one doubted that Ma could speak to urban sophisticates.  It was less clear that he would be able to get through to farmers.  Currying favor with the flower industry was a very smart move.  It may continue to pay dividends in 2012.

By the way, this doesn’t get Hao off the hook for the problems the Flora Expo is currently experiencing.  If the decision to hold the Expo in November had already been taken, the decisions to (a) fund it so generously, (b) treat it as his administration’s showpiece achievement, and (c) to award contracts in particular ways are entirely Hao’s.

[1] Uh, Frozen Garlic isn’t crazy about flowers.

[2] Yes, I know that geography doesn’t matter in presidential elections.  Votes count the same whether they are cast in Jinmen or Tainan.  Still, this can be a useful way of thinking about how to build a winning coalition.


August 31, 2010

Back at the beginning of the year, when the mayoral races were just starting to develop, I thought that Hao Longbin 郝龍斌 was very likely to win another term as Taipei Mayor.  Even though his term in office has been unremarkable, the electorate of Taipei City is sufficiently Blue that, as long as the Blue vote isn’t split, the KMT candidate should always win.  Even though Su Chenchang 蘇貞昌 is a formidable opponent, the hill he would be trying to climb was just too steep.  Realistically, I could only see two scenarios that would end in Hao’s defeat: a major scandal or a disastrous International Flora Expo.  Here we are in August with the race too close to call, and Hao’s worst nightmare seems to be unfolding.

Over the last few weeks, the DPP city councilors have unleashed a barrage of attacks on Hao, and most of these have dealt with the Flora Expo.   They charge that the city government is spending exorbitant amounts on advertising.  It is neglecting normal government functions and diverting all resources to the Expo.  The Expo buildings are flawed; the roofs leak whenever it rains.  The souvenir contracts went to Chinese companies.   Most damningly, the city government is paying too much for the flowers.[1] This last problem, the DPP councilors say, is due to either corruption or incompetence.  Either way, it doesn’t reflect well on Hao.  The city government’s defense hasn’t been very helpful.  One spokesperson said that they would provide a full report on flower purchases within two months.  Great, by that time, you won’t be able to remove the stain of corruption with mere facts.

[edit: For a more detailed summary of the Flora Expo woes, see here.  Be sure to note the budget numbers presented in the comments.]

Why is the Flora Expo so important?[2] It is important because the Hao administration has made it the showcase event for Hao’s first term.  The city has spent copious amounts of money, invested lots of time and energy, and played up the importance of such an international event.  They also scheduled it to open right before the election, almost guaranteeing that voters would be thinking about the Flora Expo when they went to vote.  From my vantage point as an elections analyst, this is irresponsible high-stakes poker.   If you don’t have the Expo, you win.  If you have the Expo and everything goes well, you win.  If something goes horribly wrong, suddenly you can lose an unloseable election.  Well, maybe they had other considerations for scheduling it this way.  Maybe Hao really likes flowers.

To be honest, these were not the problems that I thought might derail Hao’s campaign.  Back when I was trying to come with a scenario in which Hao might lose, I envisioned facilities not being completed on time and the anticipated stampede of international visitors failing to materialize.  Purchasing scandals might be even worse.

The next three months will be critical for Hao’s image.  He needs to develop some sort of convincing defense, or he could (gulp!) lose this election.

[1] City councilors have also charged that there were improprieties in the purchase of flowers for the Xinsheng Elevated Expressway.  The city government responded that this case was completely unrelated to the Flora Expo.  Sorry, the linkage of flowers is too strong to ignore.  Most people will just remember “flowers” and “corruption” together.

[2] The only other potential policy failure I could think of with such devastating repercussions was the MRT line not opening as planned.  However, I have had no hints that anything is going awry with that.

What is the ROC?

August 31, 2010

I had a very thought-provoking discussion last night with my wife about the ROC.  Mrs. Garlic tends to think about the big issues like sovereignty and national identity much more than I do, and she has the gift of being able to put her own opinions aside in order to think clearly and fairly about what all sides are saying.  This post (and many other posts on this blog) owes a very large intellectual debt to her.

The ROC’s current official position is the 1992 consensus, “One China, each side with its own interpretation” (一個中國,各自表述; yi ge zhongguo, ge zi biaoshu).  The PRC, of course, holds that One China means the PRC.  That’s pretty straightforward.  Taiwan’s position, that One China means the ROC, is much more complex and murky.  What is the ROC?

There are three clearly distinct ROCs.[1] First, there is the ROC that the PRC believes in.  This ROC governed[2] China from 1911 to 1949, when it was defeated in the Chinese Civil War by the PRC.  As a result of that defeat, the ROC lost its claim to be the legitimate government of China and ceased to exist as a legitimate force.  The ROC was noted for corruption and ineffective governance.  Ideologically, it was a mishmash of liberal ideals, fascist and feudal practices, and an inability to shed the Confucian intellectual heritage.  It is best seen as a historical transitory regime between the old imperial system and the new PRC.  The current government on Taiwan is a leftover remnant fighting a rearguard action against the inevitable unification of China.  Its status is similar to Zheng Chenggong’s (Koxinga) Southern Ming or Liu Bei’s regime in the early Three Kingdoms period.  Zheng and Liu claimed to be extending and protecting the Ming and Han Dynasties, respectively, but historians do not recognize their regimes as part of those dynasties.  Rather, they are local strongmen who carved out a local area of support and tried to set up an independent kingdom.  Both failed, and their regimes were eventually annexed back into the rest of China.  Likewise, the current regime in Taiwan is just another example of a regime that tries to justify its separation from the legitimate government of China with some grand and preposterous claims to legitimacy.  In fact, you can see how ridiculous these claims are by noting that the ROC sometimes claims to be the real government of China, while at other times claiming sovereignty for just the 23 million people on Taiwan.   Sensible people can just ignore these claims, in the same way that most Americans ignored claims from the Soviet bloc that the Soviets, not the Americans, practiced “true democracy.”

In the context of the 1992 consensus, viewing the ROC as this ROC is tantamount to simply One China, without the rest of the statement.  If the ROC is a historical entity that ceased to have any meaningful existence in 1949, then the only realistic and reasonable China is the PRC.  Very few people in Taiwan take this view of the ROC.[3]

The second ROC is the ROC of Chiang Kai-shek and Chiang Ching-kuo.  This ROC is the legitimate government of all of China, although China is still divided and remains to be unified.  In this view, the ROC has a glorious history, having overthrown the Qing Dynasty in 1911, unified China with the Northern Expedition in 1927, and resisted Japanese incursions during the War against Japanese Aggression of 1937-45.  Unfortunately, the communists took advantage of that last struggle to develop their own strength, and they were able to occupy and hold most of the territory of China in the ensuing years.  However, the ROC remains the legitimate government of China.  Its ideology, based on the liberalism of Sun Yat-sen, is far more suitable to the modern world than the socialism of the Maoist government or the authoritarianism of the post-1978 PRC.  Yes, the ROC had a period of authoritarian government, but that was a necessary and unfortunate expediency.  The long-term goal has always been a liberal democracy.  The PRC, in contrast, has an explicitly authoritarian ideology.

Chinese nationalism is at the core of this ROC.  Indeed, China has the first claim of allegiance; the ROC has only the second claim.  This vision of the ROC fits quite easily into the 1992 consensus.  In effect, it is an agreement to simply continue the Chinese Civil War, but with less violent forms of competition.  Indeed, as the PRC sheds its socialism, there is less and less need to vigorously struggle against it.  What is left of the PRC is not all that different from the ROC of thirty years ago.  Believers in this ROC often find they are more likely to be allied with the PRC by the One China principal (against people who either reject One China or adhere to the third vision of the ROC) than they are divided by the Each Side With Its Own Interpretation clause.

I don’t have any concrete numbers on how many people in Taiwan adhere to this vision of the ROC, but I don’t think there are very many.  I would guess about 5-10%.  However, they have disproportionate influence because so many of these people have prominent positions in the media, military, academia, bureaucracy, and the KMT party machinery.

The third ROC is the most complex.  This is the ROC on Taiwan developed by President Lee Teng-hui in the 1990s.[4] This ROC is a state based on the 23 million people living on Taiwan.  It is fully sovereign and independent, and it therefore has full rights to determine its own future.   Moreover, this ROC is a liberal democracy, and its sovereignty does not merely belong to its 23 million citizens in some abstract sense, sovereignty is actually exercised and controlled by the citizenry through the mechanisms of liberal democracy.  However, this ROC is NOT tantamount to Taiwan independence.  It is a Chinese state, albeit with a very complicated history.

Where does this ROC come from?  To put it simply, the ROC is a synthesis between two strands of history, one originating in China and the other in Taiwan.  Neither of these strands is dominant; both are important and should be respected.

In the Taiwan-based strand, most people in Taiwan emigrated from China sometime between the mid-17th century and the end of the 19th century.  Taiwan was an unruly frontier area of China, often ignored and neglected by the center.  However, Taiwan was still part of China, and the Qing Dynasty did provide some level of governance.  Following the Sino-Japanese War, Taiwan was ceded to Japan and spent the next 50 years as a Japanese colony.  The Japanese heritage developed during the colonial era is an important part of the ROC on Taiwan’s identity.  If many people in Taiwan speak a smattering of Japanese, enjoy sashimi, or look to Japan for new cultural trends, this is not because Taiwanese have some kind of false consciousness or a twisted and confused sense of identity, but because they absorbed and internalized many elements of Japanese-ness during the colonial identity.  There is nothing wrong with this.

While Taiwan integrated some elements from Japan, it remained culturally Chinese, even through the colonial period, and most Taiwanese welcomed the new ROC government in 1945.  However, the KMT proved to be more corrupt and less competent than the Japanese had been, and tensions between the Taiwanese populace and the newly arrived KMT broke out into outright clashes in 1947.  The next few decades were marked by suppression of Taiwanese aspirations, though Taiwanese were allowed nearly complete autonomy in local politics.  They also had quite a bit of freedom in economic affairs, and the stability provided by the national government allowed Taiwan to produce its economic miracle.

Taiwan’s transformation to a liberal democracy began with CCK’s policy of Taiwanization in the early 1970s, and the KMT gradually relaxed its authoritarian grip while allowing more and more native Taiwanese into the centers of power.  This transformation was completed with the first direct presidential election in 1996.  With the old restrictions removed, native Taiwanese naturally occupied most of the positions of power.  On the other hand, mainlanders were not shut out, and many of them continued to wield considerable amounts of power.  It was a KMT-led, gradual transformation, and it produced a liberal democracy without the bloodshed and/or civil war that many countries experience.

In this narrative, many features unique to Taiwan are important to defining the ROC.  The Japanese era, the white terror, Mainlander/Native Taiwanese tension, the economic miracle, and the democratic transition are all integral parts of the ROC on Taiwan.  However, in addition to this Taiwanese heritage, the ROC on Taiwan also has an equally important Chinese heritage.

The ROC on Taiwan shares the glorious ROC history of the second vision, including Sun Yat-sen’s intellectual foundation, the triumphant struggle against the Japanese in WWII, and, more generally, the broader Chinese history and culture.  The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Tang Dynasty landscape paintings, and the Great Wall of China all belong to the ROC on Taiwan’s historical and cultural heritages.

Moreover, while the Native Taiwanese side of the postwar political struggles is part of the story, so is the Mainlander side.  The Mainlanders, many of whom were simple soldiers, came to Taiwan almost by accident.  They made the best of things, but many of them led difficult lives in impoverished military villages.  Mainlanders also suffered, perhaps even more than native Taiwanese, during the White Terror, and they had to deal with the pressure of being surrounded by an often antagonistic population who spoke strange dialects.

The ROC on Taiwan, thus, has an integrationist history.  All of these strands belong, and all are important.  The ROC is Chinese, but it is also Taiwanese.  Or maybe it is Taiwanese, but it is also Chinese.

What is the relationship of the ROC on Taiwan to China?  I think this is best encapsulated by the idea of the Special State to State relationship that Lee introduced in 1998.  This idea was, of course, met with a firestorm of criticism, and it was broadly interpreted as a step toward outright independence.  That may have been Lee’s intent.  However, I’m guessing that when Lee sold the policy to the rest of the KMT, he had to stress the “Special Relationship” rather than the “State to State Relationship.”  The Special relationship indicates that the ROC is still Chinese, if not exactly part of the PRC.  There are deep and undeniable connections between the two regimes.  They share a common history.  Whatever the future holds, it is nearly unfathomable to think that Taiwan’s future will not somehow be related to China’s.  This may be political union, war, economic cooperation, economic de-facto colonization, or something else, but China will almost inevitably be the most important influence on Taiwan.  Taiwan cannot (and does not want to, in this vision) simply go its own way.  Moreover, in this vision of the ROC, China is affected by Taiwan as well.  The ROC’s successful practice of a liberal democracy is significant for China.  One of the 1990s slogans was Managing Greater Taiwan, Building a New Chinese Culture (經營大台灣,建立新中原, jingying da Taiwan, jianli xin zhongyuan).  In this view, the society being constructed in Taiwan was an example for the rest of China, and this example was simply too powerful for China to ignore.  Likewise, the current wave of Taiwanese businesses and white-collar workers in China is helping to transform China into a place more amenable to Taiwan and Taiwanese values.

In terms of the 1992 consensus, the ROC on Taiwan is an uneasy fit, though not an impossible one.  The ROC is happy to acknowledge its Chinese heritage, but it is not shy to remind the PRC that it also has another, uniquely Taiwanese, heritage.  One China is possible, but it has to be something short of inevitable.  Liberal democracy is crucial to the ROC, and sovereignty is indisputably exercised by the 23 million people living in that regime.  They can voluntarily choose to unify with China, but they cannot be coerced to do so against their will.  If China wants them to accept unification, it has to be a more attractive partner.  Most people who believe in this ROC probably believe that Taiwan will eventually unify with China (and that this is a good thing), but they expect that both sides will have input on the terms over a long period of negotiations during which the PRC will continue to experience its own internal transformations.  They do not want the PRC to dictate the terms of unification.  They certainly do not anticipate outright annexation in the immediate future.  Indeed, one type of unification possible within this vision is simply to have two governments share a common China, with each exercising control over one part of that territory and both claiming a common destiny.

In this vision of the ROC, “each with its own interpretation” is perhaps more important than “One China.”  The ROC on Taiwan insists on its right to make its own decisions about who it is and what its future will be.   This flexibility makes the One China clause palatable.  If the PRC insists on imposing its definition of One China, which the ROC does not share, then the whole deal is off.  The 1992 consensus will become politically unviable in Taiwan.

The ROC still claims the loyalty of a very large percentage[5] of the population on Taiwan, and I believe that most of those people think of the ROC in terms close to what I am describing as the ROC on Taiwan.  Most of them would probably be aghast at the idea that they are followers of Lee Teng-hui, but focusing on the individual misses the point.  The ROC on Taiwan idea was developed by the KMT, not solely by Lee.  Whatever Lee’s personal preferences were, he had to (and did) articulate a vision that most of his party could support.  Some party members split off and formed the New Party, but most party members and supporters stayed with Lee.  I think Lee strayed too far from his party with the Special State to State Relationship, but only because everyone immediately forgot the “Special” part of that formula.

I will not make a judgment on the wisdom of the 1992 consensus, but I think it is currently a viable position for the KMT to hold.  In other words, the KMT can espouse this position and be electorally viable.  It may even be a vote winner.  However, it is a very fragile position.  It depends critically on the fungibility of the ROC.  The PRC can accept that Taiwan claims that China means the ROC because its understanding of the ROC is very nonthreatening.  Taiwan can accept One China because that acceptance comes with the caveat that Taiwan also gets to insist on the ROC and the ROC implies that the meaning of both China and Taiwan is still up for negotiation.  There is also a small but vocal group that believes in the second vision of the ROC.  These people make the 1992 consensus look stronger than it is.  They give the PRC the impression that Taiwanese can accept One China without reservations while also reassuring the ROC on Taiwan believers that the ROC is a viable and respected entity.

We are starting to hear rumblings that could eventually tear the 1992 consensus apart.  China has thus far refused to concede any space to the ROC, while within Taiwan, supporters of the second vision complain that the government still pays too much attention to the local history and politics and not enough attention to China.  President Ma and other KMT (elected) leaders seem to understand that the 1992 consensus is only electorally viable if the ROC is the ROC on Taiwan.  The complaints come primarily from people who don’t need the support of broad swaths of the electorate.  To me, these people are shortsighted, because if they force Ma and the KMT to move away from “each with its own interpretation” and toward “One China,” Ma and the KMT will cease to hold power in short order.

If the DPP retakes power, the 1992 consensus and the ROC itself may face challenges.  While there are many in the DPP who are comfortable with the ROC on Taiwan vision, this is a generally more of a final line in the sand, a position beyond which they cannot retreat after they have conceded their more preferred solutions.  There are also many who dislike the entire notion of the ROC.  At best, it is an uncomfortable shell that must be maintained until favorable conditions allow them to discard it entirely in favor of a fully independent Taiwan.

[1] There are other variations on these three, but I think these are the big, distinct ones.

[2] Note the use of the past tense.

[3] Perhaps I should say that very few people who believe Taiwan is Chinese accept this vision of the ROC.  Many Taiwan Independence supporters would be entirely comfortable with this vision.

[4] I do not know if Lee personally still believes in this ROC, or indeed if he ever did.  However, this is how I understand the vision that was fully articulated during his presidency.

[5] This is intentionally fuzzy.  If you insist on numbers, let’s say somewhere between 25% and 65%.

why is Xu Tiancai stalling?

August 22, 2010

A few weeks ago, it was widely expected that Xu Tiancai 許添財 would follow Yang Qiuxing’s 楊秋興 lead and launch an independent bid for Tainan Mayor.  He has instead postponed making an announcement again and again, to the point that it is starting to look doubtful that he actually will run.  So while I don’t know what Xu will eventually decide, I’d like to address the reasons that this is not an easy decision for him.  Why is Tainan different from Kaohsiung?  Why not run?

Let’s start with the parallels.  In both Tainan and Kaohsiung, the DPP is expected to easily win a two-way race.  Both are in the south, both have been governed by the DPP for over a decade, and both featured divisive primaries in which a two-term incumbent executive lost.  From the Taipei-centric vantage point that most observers share, they are almost identical.

Of course, they are actually quite different.  Kaohsiung is much more urbanized and industrial.  Tainan is much more rural.  The urban areas are less urbanized and make up a smaller percentage of the total population than the corresponding urban areas in Kaohsiung.  In contrast, the “rural”[i] towns in Tainan are smaller, more rural, more farming, have lower education levels, and have less population mobility.  Tainan is much more homogenously Min-nan.  Kaohsiung, by contrast, has significant populations of mainlanders (including many affiliated with the military), Hakkas, and aborigines.  Politically, the current Tainan County is overwhelmingly pro-DPP, Tainan City and Kaohsiung County are moderately pro-DPP, and Kaohsiung City is about even.  As such, the new Tainan City is much more solidly pro-DPP than the new Kaohsiung City.

The races, as revealed in the polls, are shaping up differently, too.  In Kaohsiung, the KMT candidate is stunningly weak.  The KMT should be able to muster a decent showing there; I’d say that any respectable KMT candidate should be able to defend 40% of the vote.  Huang Zhaoshun’s黃昭順 polls (below 15%) suggest that she is far, far below that number.  In Tainan, the KMT candidate is doing much better.  Guo Tiancai 郭添財got 19% in a recent poll.  Since the KMT base is smaller, with a minimally acceptable target being perhaps 35%, Guo is much closer to respectable among the KMT electorate.  From Hsu Tiancai’s point of view, this difference is critical.  Yang’s strategy in Kaohsiung is to raid the KMT’s pot of votes; the KMT pot in Tainan is (a) much smaller and (b) less vulnerable.  Moreover, while Yang is clearly in second place in Kaohsiung, the polls in Tianan show Xu to only be tied with Guo for second place.  In other words, while Yang can tell KMT voters that he is the only viable option to defeat the DPP, Xu can’t quite make that argument.  In fact, he has to worry about that argument being used against him.

Organizationally, Xu is not in as good of shape as Yang.  Xu has wavered for so long about whether he will run that potential allies have already drifted over to the DPP candidate.  Of course, his inner circle is still there, but the next layer of the campaign team might have to be rebuilt significantly.  With only three months to go, that is a daunting task.  Financially, Yang is probably also in better shape.  A recent magazine cover featured Yang’s five most important backers.  Two were very rich.  One was Terry Gou, the richest person in Taiwan.  (Increased reliance on this connection might also have something to do with Yang’s recent epiphany about the benefits of closer economic relations with China.)  Xu Tiancai probably doesn’t have these kinds of financial resources to draw on.  Tainan, after all, isn’t quite the economic powerhouse that Kaohsiung is.

We also have to think about the former president.  Xu has been very close to Chen Shuibian since the early 1990s, when Xu was one of the core members of Chen’s Justice faction within the DPP.  Chen sent out very strong and clear signals during the primary that Xu was his preferred candidate.  While that wasn’t enough to win the primary, Chen is still a major pillar of support for Xu.  This is another reason that Yang’s strategy of raiding KMT votes won’t work for Xu.  There is far too much animosity among KMT supporters toward Chen to ever think of building a coalition encompassing both.  Xu would have to run on the other side of the DPP, positioning himself as the candidate most wary of China (or as the candidate who “loves Taiwan” the most).  There might be enough voters in that part of the spectrum in Tainan for a viable campaign, but it’s not obvious that these voters, presumably the most anti-KMT crowd, would be willing to inflict such a blow on the DPP.   At any rate, Xu is looking at a very different type of campaign than Yang.

On the other hand, running this sort of campaign wouldn’t necessarily imply political suicide for him the way it does for Yang.  Xu would still be on the same side of the political cleavage.  While Yang is burning all his bridges to his former DPP supporters, Xu would still look to them like someone who is still “right” on the big issues, if somewhat misguided in how to get there.

If Xu did run, Yang’s presence might work against both of them.  Xu would be trying to label the DPP as wishy-washy moderates, while Yang would be trying to paint them as extreme ideologues.  They might both fail.

In sum, Xu might still decide to run, but his calculus is very different from Yang’s and there are very good reasons for his caution.

[i] Personally, I think it’s crazy to consider any township with a population density less than 1000 people/kmt2 or a population of less than 50,000 people to be “rural.” To me, there is very little in Taiwan that is actually rural, but that’s obviously subjective.

Yang’s transformation

August 22, 2010

Yang Qiuxing 楊秋興 is continuing his transformation.  He apologized for his former ideology (whatever that was).  He now supports ECFA, and some in the government are suggesting that he should be one of their primary spokesmen for it.  He also said that he now sees President Ma in a new light.  Since deciding to run, many of his former allies have accused him of “not loving Taiwan” (because he is splitting from the DPP and indirectly helping the KMT).  Now he understands what it feels like to have that label pinned on him.

Apparently this transformation is working better than I anticipated.  A recent TVBS poll (Aug 10) shows his overall support holding steady (though still far behind Chen).  However the most interesting thing about that poll is that they also asked which city council candidate the respondent planned to vote for.  Among people supporting Yang, 32% planned to vote for a KMT city council candidate, and only 18% planned to vote DPP (the others were uncommitted).  I don’t have data on this from before (TVBS asked but didn’t report the crosstabs), but I can’t imagine that Yang’s previous supporters looked like this.  I hope TVBS continues to ask this kind of question; it will be interesting to see how things develop.

Yang’s decision

August 10, 2010

Yang Qiuxing 楊秋興formally announced that he will run for Kaohsiung mayor yesterday.  I’ve been meaning to write about his choices for a while, so this seems to be a good time to do it.

First, I think this is going to be a disaster for Yang.  I’ll get into the reasons that I don’t think he has much chance at all of winning later in this post, but let me just start off by stating that I think he is committing political suicide.  I wonder if he is suffering from lack of a competent consigliore.  Every politician needs a wise older person to tell him or her bad news.  Younger staffers often don’t have the experience to figure these things out, and they also don’t have the independent standing to deliver bad news.  If you are young and dependent on the politician for your own future, you have to hesitate to give too much bad news.  An older person who has already made their reputation doesn’t have to be worried so much about being kicked to the curb.  Given that all politicians overrate their chances to win (since most voters they meet in the market are either enthusiastic supporters or polite enough to fake support or at least keep quiet), they need someone who can throw cold water on them.  I’m wondering if Yang is lacking that person.  And let’s be clear: if Yang is, in fact, almost certain to lose this race, he is not doing anyone a favor by running.  He could serve his constituents and his own career far better by waiting for another opportunity which, given his record, almost certainly would be forthcoming.  By running, he makes himself persona-non-grata to the DPP and an untrustworthy political speculator to the KMT.  His career ends here.

If this is such a terrible mistake, why is Yang running?  I think there are two reasons.  First, he thinks he was unfairly treated during the primary.  Second, he thinks he might be able to win by co-opting KMT voters.

Yang has complained quite a bit about Chen Ju’s 陳菊behavior during the primary.  He thinks her campaign was playing dirty tricks by spying on and putting pressure on his supporters.  He has also made remarks since the end of the campaign about how she is allowing him no breathing space at all, which I interpret as an indication that he believes that she is still employing dirty tricks.

I also detect a sense that the voters owe him.  After all, his work as county executive has almost universally been praised.  Even the (KMT) central government gives him good marks for performance in office.  How could the voters turn him out after he has done so much for them?  It seems as if he can’t quite fathom or accept that he legitimately lost the primary.  They owe him; he deserves this.

To these, I would respond that (a) politics is a rough game, and (b) in a democracy, the voters never owe elected officials anything.  Hell, Churchill got voted out of office, and all he did was hold Britain together during the Bombing of London until the relief brigades arrived (and he had something to do with persuading the Americans to show up).  If voters are tired of Yang after nine years or they think they’ve found someone even better, that’s their prerogative.

In other words, that consigliore needs to tell Yang that life isn’t fair.  Too bad.

On the other hand, if he can win, then he should run.  Whether he is paranoid or has a sense of entitlement is irrelevant.  So why does he think he can win?

The polls say that he is in second place.  Two recent media polls show roughly the same picture.  A TVBS poll has the race at 43 (Chen, DPP), 26 (Yang), 16 (Huang 黃昭順, KMT), while a UDN poll has it at 44 (Chen), 23 (Yang), 13 (Huang).    This is a stunningly strong showing for Yang, since all the people who vote on the basis of political party are supporting one of the other two candidates.  The first battle that independents have to fight is to establish that they are viable candidates.  Yang has apparently accomplished that.  Moreover, since Yang is in second place by quite a comfortable margin over Huang, there is clearly potential for strategic voting that would benefit him.  Suppose that the polls on election eve still look basically the same.  Huang’s supporters will have to face the fact that her candidacy is hopeless, and they will have to ask themselves which of the two viable candidates they prefer.  Since Chen is the DPP candidate, most of them should prefer Yang.  If you add Huang’s supporters to Yang’s supporters, you get a very close race.  In other words, Yang has a clear shot at winning.

You can see that Yang is already starting to work at this strategy.  He has been suggesting (to KMT voters) that he is the only one who can beat Chen, he has been making overtures to the KMT, and he even endorsed ECFA the other day.

Well, that’s the optimistic scenario.  What’s wrong with it?  For one thing, unless the KMT central leadership openly announces that it is withdrawing support from Huang and endorsing Yang, there is a limit to how much of Huang’s support Yang can siphon away.  Some voters simply will not abandon the KMT’s official nominee to vote strategically, no matter how hopeless the race gets.  You also can’t assume that all Huang supporters prefer Yang over Chen.  Some will see no difference between the two, and there will also be some who prefer Chen.  So you can’t simply add the two numbers together to estimate how much Yang could get.

More importantly, Yang has to worry about keeping his current supporters.  Many of these supporters are DPP supporters, and for the next four months they will be hearing waves of DPP leaders (who we will assume they like, support, and trust) tell them how it is important for Taiwan’s overall future that they support Chen Ju and the DPP.  Almost certainly, the DPP will peel off some of Yang’s current support.  Indeed, there was a story in the news about some local people who claimed to have supported Yang in the past announcing that they will no longer do so.

This process will be intensified by Yang himself.  In order to cultivate KMT support, Yang is slowly repositioning himself toward the center of the political spectrum.  This might make him more palatable to KMT supporters, but it also might alienate his current supporters.  One has to wonder how his expression of support for ECFA went over with Kaohsiung farmers, a group that Yang considers his core constituency.  (I’m not suggesting that ECFA is bad for all farmers, but the strongest opposition to ECFA generally has come from farming interests.)  Many will also look at the new interests that Yang is bringing in and wonder if they belong in the same group with those people.

By election day, Yang will be a very different political figure than he is today.  He has to convince longtime supporters to stay with the new Yang while also convincing people who have spent most of the past two decades fighting him to join him.  This is an almost impossible tightwire act.

The KMT has a long history of members not winning the nomination but then running and winning as independents in the general election.  For whatever reason, this almost never happens in the DPP.  I can only think of a couple of DPP (or ex-DPP) politicians who have even tried this in an executive race (almost certainly many more considered trying and decided that it was hopeless), and only one who actually succeeded.  In 1997, Peng Baixian 彭百顯 won the Nantou County executive race as an independent.  Some other time, I will recount the details of that strange and fascinating story.  Here, let me just note that Peng won even more accolades as a legislator than Yang has won as Kaohsiung County executive.  More importantly, while Yang’s opponent is a highly respected executive in her own right, Peng was running against Lin Zongnan 林宗男, a locally-oriented politician who was surrounded by suggestions of financial improprieties.  Most of the national DPP figures thought that they had nominated the wrong person.  (The local party was dominated by people who hated Peng, though.)  Peng won in a squeaker.  That’s it, as far as I can remember.  No other DPP politician has managed this feat.  Given that Yang Qiuxing faces a formidable foe and is trailing in the polls by a hefty margin, I’d say the odds are against him becoming the second to pull it off.

What is the KMT’s strategy in all of this?  Several DPP politicians have accused the KMT of “selling hope” to Yang in order to get him into the race, and this seems a reasonable way of interpreting recent events.  However, there is a lot more to say.

For the KMT, the starting point has to be the stunning weakness of their own candidate, Huang Zhaoshun.  It has been evident for nearly a year that the KMT did not have a strong candidate to run in this race, but this is far worse that I would have anticipated.  After all, the KMT has a solid base of support to build on.  Even in a bad year, they should probably be able to hold 40% of the vote.  However, the polls say otherwise.  Huang is running a distant third.  If you only ask voters about Chen and Huang, Chen wins by 34% (TVBS) or 33% (UDN).  This is simply bleak.

There are three reasons that I see that the KMT might want Yang in the race.  First, they know Huang isn’t going to win, but they don’t want the DPP to do too well.  With Yang in the race, Chen is much less likely to run up a landslide.  In other words, the KMT might do terribly, but at least the DPP won’t have much to crow about either.

Second, there is a possibility that the KMT leadership is mulling over the option to dump Huang and openly support Yang.  I would be shocked if they did this since it would be a thumb in the eye of all their loyal party workers and volunteers.  And remember, for the national KMT, this race is already lost.  They are worried about preserving support for the 2012 presidential race.  They need that machine to be happy.  However, we should at least mention it as a possibility.

The third reason is the most interesting.  The KMT could see Yang as a vehicle to raise Huang’s support.  The logic goes something like this.  Chen is a very popular incumbent with very low negative ratings.  Challengers only beat incumbents when voters are persuaded that the incumbent has performed poorly, especially in a partisan context favorable to the incumbent.  Huang is not doing a very good job of convincing voters that Chen is lousy.  For whatever reason, her message is just not resonating.  If nothing dramatic happens in the race, there will be a landslide.  However, if Huang’s attacks are falling on deaf ears, Yang’s might carry more weight.  You can be sure that Yang will focus all of his vitriol on Chen.  Some of it might stick.  However, the KMT might be calculating, as I have, that Yang will have a hard time putting together a coalition that supports him.  (Remember, even if the attack sticks and voters find there is something they don’t like about Chen, that doesn’t mean that they will be disposed to support the attack dog.)  As the race progresses, you might have a pool of voters moving away from Chen.  The KMT’s ideal scenario is that these voters would gravitate to Huang, not Yang.  By the time election day rolls around, Huang would have overtaken Yang in the polls, and suddenly all the strategic voting flows in the other direction, towards Huang.  In other words, in this vision, we still end up with a two-horse race, but a third horse kicks up a lot of dirt in the leader’s eyes before fading in the stretch.

At the beginning of the general campaign, I’m guessing that Chen Ju will still win this race fairly easily.  That’s not too surprising.  What might be more surprising is that I think Huang will eventually overtake Yang for second place.    I’m guessing that this is slightly different from what Yang’s closest friends and advisors are telling him.

(Remember: I guarantee these predictions are right, or double your money back!)