If you are the type of person who thinks that democratic politics should be about a clean and pure competition between differing sets of lofty ideals, with a good dose of soaring rhetoric infused with impeccable logic, please cover your eyes. Democracy in Changhua 1 is not like that at all. This is the sort of place that we educated and urbane intellectuals tend to look at condescendingly, wondering if those people understand the basic principles of democracy at all. If you want to win an election here, you need to have extensive personal networks, attend a lot of weddings and funerals, do a lot of favors, and be more than happy to ignore the finer points of the law while doing so. It’s hard to have a long political career if you don’t have some money flying around. That’s not to say that the voters here don’t care about high politics; of course they do. However, their ideals are deeply embedded within a system of personal politics, and it isn’t always easy for outsiders to understand what’s going on. All this is a long way of saying, no matter who wins this district, don’t expect that legislator to become one of the more eloquent spokesmen for judicial reform, integration into the international system, a more extensive social welfare system, or anything else. None of these people are that type of politician.
Changhua 1 is centered on Lugang and Homei Townships, and the voters are overwhelmingly Min-nan. In 2008 the KMT won the seat, but they will have a difficult time hanging on to it this year. There are two different stories to tell, one on the green side and one on the blue side. The green side is simpler, so let’s start there.
Changhua has never been one of the DPP’s better markets. They have won control of the county government a couple of times (1989, 2001), but both times they lost it after only one term. The DPP has never done very well in assembly elections. They have never been able to play the game of traditional politics as well as the KMT’s candidates, and they always seem to be a little disappointed on LY election nights. Unlike Chiayi or Kaohsiung, the traditional candidates have mostly remained in the KMT, so the DPP hasn’t made that much headway here. It isn’t impossible to imagine a similar transformation happening in Changhua. Underneath the regular politics you sometimes get a glance of what could happen if local factions were married to a Taiwan nationalist ideology, but Changhua generally remains in its old patterns. That’s why 2012 appeared at first to be heading for a repeat of 2008, when the KMT easily swept all four seats. There is potential for the DPP here, but they just don’t have the kind of politicians who can exploit that potential. In Changhua 3 and 4, they are running the same old candidates who have repeatedly shown that they won’t be the ones to break through. Expect easy KMT victories there, even if Tsai Ing-wen wins the presidential vote in those districts.
The 2012 race in Changhua 1 seemed to be developing along this familiar script. Two things have derailed that train. First, Chen Chin-ting 陳進丁 joined the DPP. Chen entered politics relatively late in life, running for the National Assembly in 1996 after he was already 50. Chen won that race and then won three straight terms in the legislature. For this whole time, he was an independent. In the legislature, he was one of the mainstays of the Non-Party Alliance, whose other prominent members were “outstanding” people like Lo Fu-chu 羅福助, Yen Ching-piao 顏清標, Lin Ping-kun 林炳坤, and Tsai Hau 蔡豪. As a non-ideological alliance, the Non-Party Alliance followed the money and almost always cooperated with the blue camp. On occasion they were willing to play the dirty cop role, sponsoring legislation that the KMT wanted but didn’t want to be too closely associated with. So that’s the kind of person we’re talking about.
In 2008, Chen’s career hit a major roadblock with electoral reform. He had hoped that the KMT would treat him like Yen Ching-piao or Lin Ping-kun and yield the district to him. However, the KMT insisted on nominating its own candidate. Chen ran as an independent and darn near won. He got 34% of the vote, and pushed the (very weak) DPP candidate all the down to 21%. However, the KMT nominee got 45%, and Chen’s stint in the legislature was over. He apparently didn’t want to abandon his political career, but he seems not to have been sure about how to extend it. There was some speculation that he might run for Lugang mayor in 2009, but he eventually decided against that. Instead, he concentrated on getting his daughter elected to the county assembly.
The 2009 elections were an important marker on the national political scene. This was the first test of the post-Chen Shui-bian era, and the DPP announced its comeback with strong performances all over the island. These continued in the by-elections in early 2010. I’m guessing here, but it is quite easy to imagine that a consummate political speculator like Chen Chin-ting could see an opportunity unfolding. In July, he (and his daughter) joined the DPP. He immediately announced his willingness to run for legislator if his party needed him. And just like that, the DPP had a politician capable of playing in the big leagues of Changhua politics.
Chen had some competition for the DPP’s nomination, but he seems to have beaten the field fairly convincingly. I have not seen any reports of discord in the DPP camp since the nomination was finalized.
What about the KMT’s side? It starts with Lin Chin-chun 林進春. Lin was elected to the County Assembly in 1986 and then served two terms in the Provincial Assembly. In 1998, the Provincial Assembly was abolished, so he moved to the legislature where he won two more terms. In 2004, he stepped aside and let his wife Chen Hsiu-ching 陳秀卿 have some of the fun. Her election to the legislature went smoothly. If you are counting, that’s six straight victories. 2008 would be the seventh, as Chen Hsiu-ching beat Chen Chin-ting and the (lousy) DPP candidate in a three-way race. This is one of the more impressive records in Taiwanese politics. In a nutshell, the Lin family is very, very good at the election game as it is played in Changhua.
Chen Hsiu-ching was not unopposed for the KMT nomination for the 2012 election. Three other politicians also registered, including the Wang Hui-mei 王惠美, the mayor of Lugang, Ruan Hou-chueh 阮厚爵, a county assembly member and relative of former county executive Ruan Gang-meng 阮剛猛, and Yang Yu-chen 楊玉珍, the vice-county executive. One has to imagine that Chen would have been able to defeat this field, but we’ll never know. There were rumors that she was sick, and she suddenly died after the registrations were complete. Almost immediately the Lin family announced that her son Lin Yi-pang 林益邦 would represent the family in the election, but the KMT refused to start the primary over to let him participate. Instead, they conducted telephone surveys with only the three other candidates, and Wang Mei-hui won. The KMT immediately announced her as the party’s nominee. The Lin family responded by announcing that Lin Yi-pang would run as an independent.
The KMT has clearly mishandled this situation. For some reason, they decided that the registration deadline was inviolable, even in clearly extenuating circumstances. My guess is that the powers within the local party office really wanted Wang to get the nomination. When they had the opportunity to eliminate the Lin family, they took it. This is all in marked contrast to the KMT’s behavior in Taipei 4, my local district. In Taipei 4, the incumbent was ineligible for the KMT’s nomination due to a court case. However, a few days after the party primary was finished (and the winner was known), the previous ruling was overturned. The KMT immediately stopped the whole process, and eventually decided to completely rerun the primary. Eventually, the incumbent won the nomination. It sure looks like the people in the Taipei party office wanted the incumbent to get the nomination, and they were willing to bend, even break, the rules to obtain that outcome. So you might understand the Lin family’s unhappiness that the Changhua party branch insisted that rules were rules, and they were out. That’s not how it worked in other places.
So now there is a three-way race, between Wang (KMT), Chen Chin-ting (DPP), and Lin Yi-pang (IND). I have to think that this is one of those rare cases that the KMT will come in third. Lin Chin-chun is still around running the show, and he is a master of his art. Moreover, Lin Yi-pang will be able to play the sympathy card, asking voters to show their love, respect, and gratitude to his deceased mother while also complaining that the KMT and Wang treated them shabbily. However, it is unlikely that the KMT will be completely marginalized. It is very rare for a KMT nominee to be pushed under 20%. This is a problem for the blue camp. Chen Chin-ting is a very strong politician in his own right, and he will be adding a large chunk of DPP votes. Moreover, Tsai Ing-wen figures to do reasonably well in this district, and the green camp could break even with the blue camp on party list votes. In short, the DPP will probably end up with a sizeable victory in Changhua 1. I’m guessing that the result will be something like Chen 45%, Lin 35%, Wang 20%.