Today I’m going to write a bit about some of the more interesting district races. If I have time, I might also say something about the DPP’s party list. However, since I generally don’t like to react too quickly to news events, I might leave that to a later date.
Taipei City 4
This is a district with a clear and consistent Blue majority. In a one on one race, the KMT should always win this district. However, the Blue camp may or may not end up with one candidate.
The KMT incumbent is Tsai Cheng-yuan 蔡正元, and he wants to run for re-election. However, he was convicted of embezzlement and, according to the KMT rules, he was ineligible to contest the KMT’s primary. Tsai never wavered in his determination to seek re-election. He covered the district with ads trumpeting all his achievements, and it seemed quite likely to me that if the KMT nominated someone else he might still run as an independent.
Two KMT city council members openly considered contesting the nomination. Wu Shih-cheng 吳世正 eventually dropped out, and Li Yan-hsiu 李彥秀 was the only person to formally register for the nomination. According to the KMT rules, if there is only one candidate, a telephone survey is still necessary. That candidate must win at least 40% support to get the nomination. 40% is quite a high threshold. In several districts, we have seen “I don’t know” or “none of the above” win the race, but that didn’t affect the results with two or more candidates. In a single candidate race, it was no easy task for Li to get 40% support, especially with Tsai looming in the background. So Li and Tsai both campaigned hard (even though Tsai wasn’t actually in the contest). From his point of view, he didn’t want the KMT to nominate anyone. If they didn’t have a nominee, they might eventually just have left the district open for him as an independent ally. On the other hand, if the KMT nominated Li, Tsai would be faced with expulsion from the party and a very tough three way race. In this scenario, the most likely outcome may have been a DPP win. The green camp should probably get somewhere around 40-45%, and it seems unlikely that either Tsai or Li would have been able to push the other one under 15%. In the event, Li managed to pass the threshold fairly convincingly, with nearly 50% support. It seemed we were headed into that three way race.
However, something interesting happened. The KMT did not immediately announce Li’s nomination (as they did in several other districts right after the survey was completed). Instead, they waited. And then the court ruled on the appeal to Tsai’s court case and declared him not guilty. Suddenly, there were no obstacles to Tsai receiving the KMT nomination. And immediately, the KMT started to prevaricate, sending out suggestions that they might rerun the primary. Li wanted no part of this. From her point of view, she had played by the rules and won, and now she wanted the nomination. However, the KMT eventually announce that it would hold a new survey with both Li and Tsai. Again, this was intensely contested, and Tsai eventually won by about 1%. This time, the KMT immediately announced the results and officially nominated Tsai. It seems pretty clear that the KMT really wanted Tsai to win the nomination all along.
We haven’t heard much from Li since the contest ended. There are clearly lots of bad feelings between her and Tsai, but the question is whether she will run against him in the general election. I think the odds are against it. She would have to quit the KMT and run against the party nominee in a single seat race, which is no easy task for even the strongest incumbents, much less a city council member.
But wait, there’s more. After Tsai’s nomination was announced, he was convicted in another case. This hasn’t inspired the KMT to retract his nomination, but it would give any other blue candidate more ammunition in the general election.
Even if Li decides not to run, there is another possible blue candidate lurking in the wings. The PFP has announced its intentions to run candidates in several districts as a response the KMT’s blatant efforts to marginalize it. In 2008, the KMT gave the PFP four spots on its party list and nominated a few PFP figures in the districts. This year, the KMT has given the PFP almost nothing. So the PFP is responding by threatening to run candidates, who might draw enough votes to cause the KMT candidates to lose. One of the PFP’s best politicians is from Taipei 4. City council member Huang Shan-shan 黃珊珊 is a very respected lawyer. She also has no ethics questions surrounding her, unlike the KMT nominee. It is quite easy to imagine her drawing 15-20% of the vote if she runs. Of course, it is not clear as of now that she will eventually run; the PFP-KMT bargaining game is still playing out.
So we might eventually end up with a straight one on one race, in which case the KMT should win easily. We also might end up with a three way race, in which the DPP might be able to steal this seat. Either way, it has already been more dramatic than expected.
Taoyuan 5 is not merely a solidly blue district, it is closer to impregnable. Even in a three way race with the two blue candidates evenly dividing up their votes, the DPP might not have enough votes to win. So again, the drama is all in the blue camp.
Chu Feng-chih 朱鳳芝 is the incumbent. She was first elected in 1989 and is now the second most senior person in the entire legislature. (Speaker Wang Jin-pyng is far ahead of everyone else; he was elected in 1975.) She came out of the Huang Fu-hsing party branch (the branch for military veterans), and Taoyuan 5 has plenty of retired soldiers, mainlanders, and loyal KMT supporters, so this district should fit Chu very well. However, much to everyone’s surprise, Chu did not win the party primary. Instead, the mayor of Pingzhen Township, Chen Wan-de 陳萬得, beat her in the telephone survey. The KMT duly nominated Chen, and Chu’s only hope to prolong her career seemed to be in convincing the KMT to put her on the party list.
However, Chen was subsequently convicted in a civil case over a financial dispute, and he eventually gave up his nomination. (One imagines heavy party pressure behind the scenes.) The KMT has not yet announced a new nominee or even how it will decide on its new nominee.
Chu is back in the picture. However, she has made it clear that she will accept the KMT’s nomination only if they simply give it to her. She will not participate in any contest for the nomination. The KMT seems to want to nominate her, but the fact that she participated in and lost the primary is inconvenient.
Chen also hasn’t completely given up. He might not be running, but he has chosen that old chestnut of Taiwanese electoral politics: ask voters to prove your innocence by voting for your wife. In other words, while Chen is too tainted to be presentable, his wife is perfectly clean and innocent. (Note: please reread the previous sentence with a heavy dose of sarcasm. Much better.)
No matter how this race turns out, the seat will probably end up in the blue camp’s hands. In fact, the DPP hasn’t even bothered to nominate anyone yet.
Taoyuan 3 has a similar partisan distribution to Taoyuan 5: the blue camp should always win this race, even with two blue candidates. Inexplicably, the incumbent is a DPP member. As readers doubtless remember, the DPP won this district in early 2010 in a by-election. That by-election was, in many ways, the perfect storm. The KMT nominated an outsider, Apollo Chen 陳學聖， without extensive ties in the district and who had not won the (advisory) surveys conducted prior to the election. A local politician who had wanted the nomination ran against him and took a fair share of votes. The DPP nominated a local politician who had extensive local ties but not enough partisan coloration to arouse the loyal blue voters to action. And in a by-election, the KMT had a very difficult time motivating voters to get out and vote. With the low turnout, a split KMT vote, and a weak KMT candidate, the DPP candidate somehow squeezed out a victory. My immediate reaction: enjoy the rest of this term because the DPP will never be able to hold this seat.
A year and a half later, there is an outside chance that the DPP might hold Taoyuan 3. It is not that the DPP has suddenly become more popular in the district, but that the KMT seems to be repeating all its mistakes from the by-election. Apollo Chen (and yes, I feel silly every time I write the name Apollo), unbowed by his humiliating defeat in 2010, decided to try again. His main opponent this time was no mere local politician, but Cheng Chin-ling 鄭金玲, who has served in the Provincial Assembly and legislature since 1994. Chen managed to beat Cheng in the telephone surveys, but Cheng announced immediately that she would run in the general election, where she will doubtless be a formidable opponent.
(In a somewhat surprising way, Chen might be the beneficiary of the district lines drawn by the DPP that weakened the KMT in this district. Chen is an interloper; he started his career in Taipei City and only moved to Taoyuan after losing his re-election bid to the legislature in 2004. He threw his lot in with Eric Chu, who was then county executive. However, when Chu moved on to the vice-premiership and mayor of New Taipei City, Chen stayed behind in Taoyuan. I’m guessing his core support is a mixture of loyal KMT voters and people involved in the business-construction state. Cheng, on the other hand, is a military politician. She, like Chu Feng-chih, draws her support from military veterans, their families, and mainlanders. Taoyuan 3 is centered on Zhongli City, which has a large military presence. However, Zhongli is too big to be a single district, so it had to be divided. The DPP plan cut many of these military areas off and put them in the neighboring Taoyuan 6. The KMT still has overwhelming support in the remaining areas of Zhongli, but the proportion of military veterans and mainlanders is significantly lower. If the KMT redistricting plan, which left the military areas in district 3, had been adopted, Cheng almost certainly would have been able to beat Chen for the nomination. On the other hand, the DPP would never have won the by-election in the first place, so Chen might already be the incumbent.)
I haven’t heard anything about this race in a month or two, so I assume Cheng still plans to run. She will be a stronger opponent than the local politician who split the KMT vote in the by-election, but I think it is still highly unlikely that the DPP can steal this election again. First, the turnout rate will be higher. Second, the stakes will be higher. In the by-election, only four seats were up for election, and there was no question of the KMT losing power. That will not be so clear this time. Third, the concurrent presidential election will polarize the electorate along party lines. All of this works against the DPP in Taoyuan 3. On the other hand, the fact that there is even a sliver of hope in this district is a major victory for the DPP.