[Warning: This is a long and rambling post. It may not have a satisfactory conclusion.]
About a week ago, I started wondering about the legislative race in Taitung County 台東縣. To be quite honest, Taitung has always been one of those places that I more or less ignored. It doesn’t have that population, wealth, or power; it only elects one legislative seat; it has always been reliably blue; and it’s way off in the remotest corner of the island. Even the large Aboriginal population works against it for me. We election analysts tend to ignore Aborigines since the cost of understanding all those very complex societies is very high and the payoff (in terms of understanding overall Taiwanese politics) is quite low. However, Taitung looks like it might be on the brink of a major political shift. The DPP barely lost the 2009 county executive race, and then they won the 2010 by-election for the legislative seat. On the other hand, this might just reflect the personal popularity of those two candidates, Liu Chao-hao 劉櫂豪 and Lie Kuen-cheng 賴坤成, respectively. Even if that is the case, those are the two main characters in this year’s election, and I realized I knew very little about them.
The story I found was far richer than I could have hoped for. I like to think of this as a story about coalition-building. The characters are constantly trying to find a better set of allies, and the formal party lines that are so rigid in most places on the island are much more fungible here. In fact, this story would be completely unthinkable in Taipei City.
This story touches nearly every major politician in Taitung over the past 20 years, so it might be a bit confusing. There is a cast of characters at the end, in case you lose track of who is who.
Let’s start in 1991 with the first full National Assembly election. In that election the DPP had a major breakthrough, as a young lawyer named Lie Kuen-cheng 賴坤成 won one of the three seats and established himself as the DPP’s most successful politician in the county. In fact, he established himself as the DPP’s only substantial politician in the county. It was no surprise that the DPP drafted Lie to run for legislator the next year. Of course he lost to Yao Eng-chi 饒穎奇, already a four-term incumbent who would eventually become Vice-Speaker, but Lie again did fairly well. In 1995, the DPP tapped Lie to run against Yao again, and again Lie turned in a respectable showing.
In 1994, we meet two new characters, both KMT members who had been in the county assembly since 1986. Both Liu Chao-chang 劉櫂漳 and Hsu Ching-yuan 徐慶元 wanted to move up to the Provincial Assembly. Rather than choosing between the two, the KMT allowed both Hsu and Liu to run as KMT candidates. Without Lie in the race, there was no danger of losing the seat to the DPP, so the KMT just let its two members fight it out. Hsu won handily. One might expect that the this contest would sow the seeds of long-term antipathy between Hsu and Liu, but that doesn’t seem to have happened.
Liu Chao-chang managed to keep his career alive by winning a seat in the National Assembly in 1996.
Hsu had a more aggressive career plan. He decided to run for the county executive in 1997. Unfortunately, that post was already occupied. Like Liu and Chang, Chen Chien-nien 陳建年 had also started his career in the county assembly in 1986. In 1989, the KMT had elevated him to the Provincial Assembly, and in 1993 the KMT had nominated him as county executive. Chen was the first Aborigine to be elected as county executive anywhere in Taiwan. In political terms, Chen was classified as a Plains Aborigine, but unlike almost all other Plains Aborigines, Chen was not a member of the Amis 阿美 tribe. Rather, he was a member of the much smaller Puyuma 卑南 tribe. As a minority within a minority, his career path would have been impossible without KMT support. The KMT nominated Chen for re-election in 1997, and Hsu decided to withdraw from the KMT and run as an independent. Chen eventually won by a mere 1000 votes.
Chen’s victory appears to have been more an indication of his strength than Hsu’s weakness. In 1998, Hsu ran for the legislature as an independent and won quite handily. Yao Eng-chi probably saw the writing on the wall. His vote had been slipping over the previous few elections, and rather than face Hsu, Yao managed to get a spot on the party list.
A few months earlier, the DPP had another breakthrough, as Lie Kuen-cheng managed to win a five-way race for Taitung City mayor with only 36% of the vote. The Taitung City mayoral post is more important than you might expect because over half of the county’s population lives in Taitung City.
So far nothing really out of the ordinary has happened. To recap, the DPP was an impotent party unless Lie Kuen-cheng was the candidate. The greater KMT (what we would now call the blue camp) dominated all elections, and the primary battles were between different KMT figures. One of these, Hsu Ching-yuan, had established that he could win elections even without the KMT’s nomination.
In fact, the only reason to discuss all this history is to set the stage for what came next. The 2000 presidential election shocked Taitung politics, though that wouldn’t become apparent until early 2002. The various Taitung politicians lined up in rather predictable ways for the presidential election. As the only local champion, Lie ran the local DPP campaign. County executive Chen Chien-nien ran the KMT campaign. Hsu Ching-yuan had developed close ties with James Soong during his four years in the Provincial Assembly. Moreover, as an independent, Hsu was free to openly support Soong. After the election, Hsu joined the newly formed PFP. Of course, the DPP won the presidential election and took control of the executive branch. Perhaps because as a poor county Taitung was more reliant on the central government than other localities, the national DPP would make several attempts to build up the local party.
In December 2001, elections were held for both the legislature and the county executive. Elections for the county assembly and township mayors were held two months later in January 2002.
Liu Chao-chang 劉櫂漳 decided to run for the legislature. However, he lost the KMT primary to Huang Chien-ting 黃健庭, who like Liao had been elected to the National Assembly in 1996. Liao was quite unhappy with the way the party machinery treated him during the primary, and he threatened to run in the general election as an independent.
Meanwhile, the DPP was having a hard time settling on a candidate. At first, they tried to draft Liu Chao-chang’s younger brother, Liu Chao-hao 劉櫂豪. Liu Chao-hao was serving as a judge, and, unlike his older brother, the younger Liu was a DPP member. In fact, the local DPP organization came to an agreement to draft Liu Chao-hao. However, since the elder Liu was still making plans to run as an independent, Liu Chao-hao was not too enthusiastic about this plan. Eventually, DPP chair Frank Hsieh 謝長廷 came to Taitung, held a meeting with all the principals, and hammered out a compromise. Taitung City Mayor Lie Kuen-cheng would run for county executive, and Tian Yong-yan 田永彥, who was Head of the Environmental Protection Department in the county government, would represent the DPP in the legislative election. Liu Chao-hao would have the option to represent the party in the Taitung City mayoral election if he wanted to run. This bargain was unstable from the start. Lie’s chances of winning the election were not great, and he understandably wanted to run for re-election as mayor if he lost. This bargaining over nominations in 2001 is the first time we see Lie and Liu clashing. It would not be the last.
Back over on the other side, the KMT finally managed to smooth things out. Liu Chao-chang agreed not to run for the legislature. In return, the KMT agreed to nominate him for … Taitung City mayor!! Instead of being on a collision course against his brother in the legislative race, now Liu seemed to be careening toward an election against his brother in the mayoral race! (One gets the feeling that these two brothers were maybe not best friends.)
Meanwhile, there was also an election for county executive to think about. Hsu Ching-yuan had narrowly lost in 1997, and he ran again in 2001, this time under the PFP’s banner. He was opposed by Lie (DPP) and the KMT’s Wu Chun-li 吳俊立, who was building a power base as speaker of the county assembly. Interestingly, there seemed to be little cooperation between Hsu Ching-yuan and the PFP legislative candidate, Hsu Rui-gui 許瑞貴. Both were close to Soong, but the newspaper reports I saw never mentioned them campaigning together and they seemed to have entirely different teams around them.
In the election, the KMT’s Huang Chien-ting was easily elected to the legislature, and Hsu Ching-yuan won control of the county government. In addition, outgoing county executive Chen Chien-nien won a seat in the legislature on the KMT’s party list. Then the musical chairs began.
PPF county executive Hsu Ching-yuan announced that his new deputy executive would be DPP member Liu Chao-hao. In addition, Hsu appointed DPP legislative candidate Tian Yong-yan head of the Agricultural Affairs department. (Hsu did not have a job for the PFP legislative candidate.)
Then came another shock. President Chen announced that just elected KMT list legislator Chen Chien-nien would be appointed head of the Aboriginal Affairs Commission. Chen Chien-nien, whose career had been carefully cultivated by the KMT all those years, suddenly changed sides. I’m not sure exactly when he quit the KMT and joined the DPP, but he was clearly not a KMT member serving in a DPP government (unlike New Party member and head of the Environmental Protection Commission Hau Lung-pin 郝龍斌). Chen Chien-nien changed sides entirely.
So at the local level, the PFP seemed to be trying to forge a coalition with the DPP, while at the national level, the DPP was trying to entice KMT figures over to their side. There would be more of this. During President Chen’s first term, the DPP made overtures to county assembly speaker Wu Chun-li. Wu eventually decided not to switch sides, but one of his lieutenants did. Hsu Rui-gui, who had been the PFP legislative candidate in 2001, got a position at the county assembly under Wu. In 2004, the DPP suddenly announced that Hsu (who was decidedly not a DPP member at the time) would be drafted as their candidate for the legislature. County executive Hsu Ching-yuan also encouraged the local PFP to support Hsu Rui-gui. However, Hsu’s candidacy was unsuccessful; the KMT’s Huang Chien-ting was re-elected rather easily. Finally, at some point in his term (I’m not sure exactly when), Hsu Ching-yuan announced that he was withdrawing from the PFP and would continue as an independent.
In all of this, you can really see the weight of the (DPP) central government pulling Taitung politicians toward them. Party boundaries, so rigid in Taipei City, just don’t seem to exert the same constraints in this context. Instead, the local politicians were trying to forge new coalitions, and the resources of the central government were used to align those new coalitions around the DPP.
I skipped a chapter. Remember the January 2002 Taitung City mayoral race? The KMT had agreed to nominate Liu Chao-chang. Some other local KMT politicians were not thrilled with this, but none of them decided to launch an independent bid. According to the DPP’s bargain, Liu Chao-hao had the first right of refusal for the DPP’s nomination, but he had been appointed deputy county executive so he could not run. Instead, the incumbent mayor Lie Kuen-cheng ran for re-election. We are starting to see a rivalry build between Lie and Liu Chao-hao for supremacy in the Taitung branch of the DPP. Here was a straight one-on-one contest between Lie and Liu’s older brother. Lie crushed Liu 57-43%. Remember, Liu had the advantage of representing the KMT, which was still the far bigger and more popular party in Taitung. Yet Lie won more votes in the mayoral race than he had two months previously in the county executive race.
In 2005, Hsu Ching-yuan’s local PFP-DPP coalition had been in place for four years, and he faced re-election. However, at the last minute, he decided not to run for reasons that are not entirely clear to me. For whatever reason, he decided instead to support his deputy, Liu Chao-hao. Liu had been a DPP member, but he ran in 2005 as an independent. In fact, the coalition had largely sloughed off party labels altogether. It was probably a lot easier to keep people together if PFP supporters didn’t have to support a DPP figure and DPP adherents didn’t have to back a PFP person. Let’s not forget that at the national level, the blue and green camps were at each others’ throats, and the PFP and DPP were decidedly at odds. The local DPP supported Liu Chao-hao, but there was some grumbling that the party should have its own candidate carrying the party label. The local PFP was less supportive. Hsu Ching-yuan threw himself into the campaign, but several local PFP leaders simply couldn’t stomach supporting another DPP candidate. They had reluctantly supported Hsu Rui-gui under the DPP banner in the 2004 legislative election and the early 2005 Taitung City mayoral election, and they could not stomach voting for the DPP a third time.
The KMT nominee was speaker Wu Chun-li, who was already dogged by legal problems. In fact, before the election, people were already speculating that if Wu won, he would be removed from office immediately after taking the oath because of a conviction in a court case. In fact, that is exactly what happened. Wu won the election rather easily (59-38%), and then he was immediately removed from office.
This necessitated a by-election. Wu wanted to run in the by-election, but he eventually saw the better of it and ran his wife, Kuang Li-chen 鄺麗貞, instead. Liu Chao-hao was enthusiastic for the rematch, and once again, he insisted on running as an independent. However, this time the DPP insisted that they should have their own candidate. Since Liu wouldn’t represent them, they drafted Lie Kuen-cheng. Once again, this put Liu and Lie into direct conflict. There was doubt within the DPP over this strategy. Late in the campaign, national party leaders tried to convince Lie to withdraw or at least for the DPP to concentrate its support on Liu. Lie publicly rejected the appeal, but he may have relaxed his campaign. Kuang won the by-election convincingly by a 62-28-7% margin over Liu and Lie, respectively. The local PFP-DPP coalition had failed to perpetuate itself.
At the national level, Chen Chien-nien had to resign his cabinet post. In 2004, he had managed to get his daughter Chen Ying 陳瑩 elected to the legislature. She ran in the Plains Aborigines district, and this was the first time the DPP had ever won an Aboriginal seat. However, Chen Chien-nien was accused of buying votes during the campaign, and he resigned from office in early 2005. He was eventually sentenced to prison for vote-buying.
As far as I can tell, the DPP offensive to realign Taitung politics came to a halt with the April 2006 by-election. Unlike in the previous few years, there didn’t seem to be any more KMT figures flirting with the idea of defecting to the other side. Instead, some of the originally blue politicians went back to the blue side. The temptation is to conclude that the realignment efforts were a complete failure. After all, the DPP-PFP coalition failed to win any races in 2004-6. The only tangible result was Chen Ying’s breakthrough in the Aboriginal legislative election, but that was probably more a product of national realignment efforts than of local maneuverings. However, this conclusion might be too hasty. I can generally only see the politicians above the table. What I don’t see is how voters and local elites re-evaluated their loyalties. If some of these moved to the green side and stayed there, the early 2000 realignment efforts may have laid a foundation for changes in the post Chen Shui-bian era.
Of course, the story continues. Two years ago, the DPP had a couple of very strong electoral performances. After a stormy and controversial term, the KMT decided not to nominate Kuang Li-chen for another term as county executive. Instead, they persuaded Kuang to switch jobs with legislator Huang Chien-ting. So in the 2009 county executive race, Huang ran against Liu Chao-hao, who was back for another shot at the office. Much to many people’s surprise, the election was very close. Huang only won by 5%. A couple of months later, a by-election was held to fill Huang’s vacant seat in the legislature. This time Lie Kun-cheng faced Kuang Li-cheng. For the first time, the DPP won the Taitung seat, with Lie edging Kuang by 4%.
Both Liu and Lie wanted the DPP’s nomination for this year’s legislative election. Many people assumed that the incumbent, Lie, would be the nominee, but Liu narrowly beat him out in the telephone surveys and the DPP nominated Liu. Lie agreed to go north to Hualien and represent the DPP in a strange district.
So this year’s legislative election features three familiar names. Liu is the DPP candidate, former county executive (for a day) and speaker Wu Chun-li is running an independent candidacy, and the KMT has nominated current speaker Rao Ching-ling 饒慶玲, who is the daughter of old KMT warhorse Yao Eng-chi.
After going through this entire saga, I’m less inclined to see the DPP on the verge of taking over Taitung the way they have taken over Yunlin or Chiayi. As far as I can tell, the DPP is still a two person party. They perform well with either Lie Kun-cheng or Liu Chao-hao running, but no one else seems able to match that performance. Of course, this year Liu is running, so they might well win. However, unless Tsai Ing-wen’s vote and the party list vote also see significant rises, I’d be inclined to see this more as an indication of Liu’s personal popularity than as an overall party achievement.
Lie Kun-cheng’s electoral performances (single seat races only)
|1998||Taitung City mayor||賴坤成||Lie Kuen-cheng||36||Y|
|2001||County executive||賴坤成||Lie Kuen-cheng||17||N|
|2002||Taitung City mayor||賴坤成||Lie Kuen-cheng||57||Y|
|2006||County executive||賴坤成||Lie Kuen-cheng||7||N|
Liu Chao-hao’s electoral performances (single seat races only)
|2005||County executive||劉櫂豪||Liu Chao-hao||38||N|
|2006||County executive||劉櫂豪||Liu Chao-hao||28||N|
|2009||County executive||劉櫂豪||Liu Chao-hao||47||N|
Other DPP electoral performances (single seat races only)
|1994||Provincial Ass.||陳清泉||Chen Ching-chuan||18||N|
|1997||County executive||黃昭輝||Huang Chao-hui||6||N|
|2005||Taitung City mayor||許瑞貴||Hsu Rui-gui||35||N|
|2008||legislature||Party list vote||23|
Cast of characters:
1993-2001: County executive
2002-5: Aboriginal Affairs Commission (cabinet)
2004: daughter Chen Ying elected LY
1997: lost county executive
2001-5: county executive
|1990-8: Guanshan town mayor
2001: ran for LY
2004: ran for LY
2005: ran for Taitung City mayor
2005-present: works in county government
|Huang Chien-ting||黃健庭||KMT||1996: NA
2009: county executive
|Kuang Li-chen||鄺麗貞||KMT||Husband is Wu Chun-li
2006-9: county executive
2010: loses LY
|Lie Kuen-cheng||賴坤成||DPP||1991-6: NA
1992: ran for LY
1995: ran for LY
1998-2005: Taitung City mayor
2001: ran for county executive
2006: ran for county executive
2011: lost DPP primary for legislature
|Older brother of Liu Chao-hao
1994: ran for PA
2001: lost KMT primary for LY
2002: ran for Taitung City mayor
2005: expelled from KMT for supporting brother
|2001-2: almost ran for LY, mayor
2002-5: deputy county executive
2005: ran for county executive
2006: ran for county executive
2009: ran for county executive
2012: DPP nominee for LY
|Rao Ching-ling||饒慶玲||KMT||Father is Yao Eng-chi
2005-12: CA (speaker 2009-12)
2012: KMT nominee for LY
|Wife is Kuang Li-chen
1998-2005: CA speaker
2005: county executive
2006-9: wife elected county executive
2010: wife loses LY race
2012: runs for LY as IND
|Yao Eng-chi||饒穎奇||KMT||1983-2004: LY (vice speaker 1998-2004)
Daughter is Rao Ching-ling
 By normal conventions, his name would be Romanized as Lai Kun-cheng. I’m following the Legislative Yuan website’s spelling.
 Maybe longer. My records only go back to 1986.
 I think he is still the only Aborigine to have held a county or city executive post.
 Liu Chao-hao is nearly 20 years younger than his older brother. They have the same father but different mothers.
 Tian Yong-yan started out as You Ching’s 尤清 Executive Secretary in the Taipei County government. You tried to push his protégé into the legislature in 1995, but Tian could only garner around 6000 votes (running as an independent). After You’s term expired in 1997, Tian moved to Taitung to work for Chen Chien-nien. I’m not sure why the KMT stalwart Chen decided to hire the DPP member Tian.
 If you had to pick one person to represent the fluid nature of partisan politics in Taitung, Hsu Rui-gui would be your man. Hsu was elected to two terms as Kuanshan Town mayor (1990-8). He represented the KMT both times. In 2001 he was the PFP’s nominee for the legislature. Then he worked for the (KMT) county assembly speaker. In 2004 he represented the DPP in the legislative race. In early 2005, he was the DPP’s candidate for Taitung City mayor. After that, he joined the (KMT) county government as head of Urban Planning and Development. He retained this post in 2009 under the new (KMT) county executive.
 All in all, Liu Chao-chang has had a fairly miserable political career. Since leaving the county assembly, the only election he has won was to the National Assembly, which is a pretty useless office. He has been just strong and ambitious enough to think he can compete, but not strong enough to actually win. His brother hasn’t won anything either, but Liu Chao-hao did have the good fortune to be appointed deputy county executive and serve for four years in a good office.
 During the campaign, Wu committed a fairly egregious vote-buying blunder. His people bought the votes of some of Liu’s campaign workers, who promptly turned Wu’s people into the police. The first rule of vote buying is that you have to know whose votes you are buying, and you have to make sure that they are on your side. This is one of the reasons that the usefulness of vote-buying is limited.
 I’m not sure why Chen Ying, as the candidate, was not sentenced. She retained her seat and was then re-elected in 2008, this time on the DPP party list.
 Who knows how she spells her name. Maybe she will perpetuate her father’s crazy spelling. Until she gets elected, I’ll spell her name as I like