Flowers

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.

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