On Saturday night, I went to see a rally for Liang Wenjie 梁文傑, a DPP nominee for Taipei City Council in District 4 (Zhongshan, Datong). This was the opening of his campaign headquarters, so this was his big event. It was held at the Ningxia night market, right near the old traffic circle/snack bizarre. They put up a stage in a small street going off the main street and had seating for about 200-300 people. When we got there, they had a nice crowd, with all the seats full and a lot of people hanging around the outer perimeter. I think that was the plan: for night market customers to walk by and linger a bit. Unfortunately, it started drizzling about 30 minutes after the event started. The seated area was covered, and so people either sat there or left. If you were a passerby, you saw a clear demarcation between the political event and the night market. Instead of attracting people from the night market, I saw a small event that couldn’t get anyone from the night market throngs to stop to listen. It didn’t look good, even if it was just lousy luck. (On the other hand, you have to plan on it raining in Taipei. So it’s not entirely luck.)
Liang started his event at 6:30, which was probably too early. I thought it was because he wanted to have an event going all evening to take advantage of the night market crowds. There was a lot more entertainment than usual at a DPP event. He had at least four musical performances, plus the obligatory drumming/lion dance to open the campaign. I figured that he had so many performances because he was trying to stretch the event to fill all the time. Most events start at 7:30 or so and go until nearly 10:00. An extra hour is a lot of time to fill. As it turned out, his event ended just after 9:00. So I’m not sure why he didn’t just start an hour later. It’s not as if the night market slows down that early. Again, not great planning.
Liang is a member of the New Tide faction, so he had lots of New Tide figures speaking. He also had a video message from Kaohsiung mayor Chen Chu, his boss for the last few years. Liang’s biography is not the typical DPP background. He is a “mainlander,” though in this case the Chinese term “person from other province” is perhaps more appropriate. His family is from the Dachen islands, a little island chain along the Zhejiang coast. Chiang Kai-shek withdrew from these islands in the 1950s, and Liang’s family was among the refugees. Liang grew up in a military village, and his family members were (and apparently still are) loyal KMT supporters. Liang, however, joined the DPP in 1990 while he was still a student. He has been groomed by the New Tide faction; someone told me that they even funded his graduate program at LSE (he didn’t graduate). In recent years, he has worked in the DPP central party office and in the Kaohsiung City government.
A few things from his speech stood out for me. First, I’ve heard what a bright guy he is, but he isn’t a great public speaker. He wasn’t boring, but whatever “it” is, he doesn’t seem to have much of it. Second, he was pretty effective in contrasting the Flora Expo with the Kaohsiung World Games (which he helped plan), emphasizing the differences in costs and in long term benefits. Third, while talking about his background, he pulled out the old line that Taiwanese are not prejudiced, it is the Mainlanders who are prejudiced. It is a standard line among the DPP fundamentalists, but you don’t usually expect to hear it from someone as young as Liang. Fourth, while talking about Hau’s corruption and choices in using people, Liang said something to the effect of: every government has corruption, heck, the DPP government had lots of corruption. Ok, I didn’t expect to hear that.
As you might be gathering, I didn’t think the event was very successful. Liang is a marginal candidate, and his inability to hold a nice event or to rally more than 300 or so core supporters does not impress me. However, Liang is doing one thing very well, and that one thing might be enough for him to win the race. Liang is playing the strategic voting angle very well. There are five DPP nominees, and he is the fifth. (In the primary, he beat out the 6th place candidate by a miniscule margin.) So his strategy is to tell DPP supporters that if they want to elect all five DPP candidates, he is the critical fifth one. But he is going one step further. He is also making the argument that there are enough votes to go around, citing polls and past voting results in this city council district. So the argument is thus: 1) the DPP should have a majority of votes in this district, 2) so the DPP should be able to win five seats (of eight total), and 3) Liang is the fifth candidate, so be sure to send votes his way. Everything about this argument is sound, and candidates who make this argument convincingly typically end up closer to the first winner than to the last winner.
One other interesting think about this rally was that I picked up a flyer for Yao Wenzhi 姚文智, who is not a candidate in any of this year’s elections. Rather, he is angling for the legislature. Yao has targeted the Datong-Shilin district, which the DPP should win. Yao is part of Frank Hseih’s 謝長廷 faction, and it is not surprising that Hsieh wants to take control of his old bailiwick. Four years ago, Wang Shijian 王世堅, also in Hsieh’s faction, beat out Bi-khim Hsiao 蕭美琴 for the nomination. Wang then proceeded to lose the general election to a mediocre KMT candidate, not an easy task in this district.
I don’t think Yao will have an uncontested path to the nomination. This seat is too much of a prize for that. For now, I just wanted to note that the jockeying for the legislature has already started.