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? 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. 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.
 Uh, Frozen Garlic isn’t crazy about flowers.
 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.