A debate between righteousness and evil

There is an interesting story developing in the Kaohsiung legislative races that could turn out to be nothing, but it also has the potential to reshape the presidential race.

Chiu Yi 邱毅, who is the KMT candidate in Kaohsiung 7, has challenged Chen Chih-chung 陳致中, who is running next door in Kaohsiung 9, to a debate over the presidential race.  Chen is, of course, the former president’s son.  It really doesn’t matter that Chen is not Chiu’s actual opponent or even a member of the DPP.  Because of who his father is, Chen is simply an irresistible target for Chiu.  Keep in mind that, depending on your point of view, Chiu is either the second[1] most shameless, scurrilous, and evil attack dog in the blue camp or the second most fearless, relentless, and sharp-witted person dedicated to rooting out the numerous wrongdoings of the green camp.  He was a thorn in the side of President Chen, to say the least.  Inevitably, Chiu is billing the debate as a contest between righteousness and evil.[2]  It isn’t clear that the debate will actually be held since the local police have refused to grant a permit, citing the possibility of violence.  Chiu predictably responded by accusing the DPP mayor of refusing to allow the event because she is too cowardly.

You can look at this from the narrow local perspective or from the broad national perspective.

From the local perspective, this is a brilliant campaign stunt designed to get some publicity.  The presidential race is sucking all the oxygen out of the legislative races, and the candidates are desperate to grab voters’ attention.  The fact that these two aren’t competing against each other is irrelevant; lots of voters would pay attention if these two went at each others’ throats.  This kind of ploy used to happen all the time in the old electoral system, especially in Kaohsiung.  Two candidates on opposite sides of the political spectrum would single each other out and rip mercilessly into each other.  Of course, they didn’t compete for votes at all.  The idea was to focus attention on themselves and create the impression that the way for supporters to punish that jerk on the other side was to vote for the hero on your side.  1986, 1989, and 1992 saw three intense campaigns between two women, the rich and powerful Wu De-mei[3] 吳德美 and the decidedly blue-collar Hsu Hsiao-dan 許曉丹.  Hsu claimed that she didn’t have the money or any significant party support[4] to fight Wu, so she scandalously attracted voters to her events by stripping naked at her rallies.  The media loved it, painting Wu as the evil villain and Hsu as the amoral temptress.  Wu won all three times, and Hsu lost by a thread (pun intended) each time.  In 1995, there was an intense campaign between the DPP’s Chu Hsing-yu 朱星羽, who was often described as “grassroots,” and the New Party’s Chu Kao-cheng 朱高正, who was nicknamed Rambo back in the 1980s since he was always the first person starting fistfights in the legislature.  I have a memory of Chu Hsing-yu showing up outside Chu Kao-cheng’s headquarters in an old surplus army tank.[5]  They both won.

There is a problem with trying to reprise this strategy.  The current electoral system has single-member districts, not the old multi-member districts.  Under the old system, a radical could win.  Today, if Chiu tries to radicalize the campaign, he will likely harm his prospects by driving away moderates.  Chiu’s district will probably have a clear DPP advantage in the presidential election, so he needs to win votes from the other side if he wants to be re-elected.  Chen’s situation is a bit different.  His district is a very strong DPP district, but he is competing for the green vote with the official DPP nominee.  He could benefit by painting himself as the victim of KMT bullying.  Voters might decide to punish Chiu by voting for Chen, inadvertently hurting the DPP nominee or throwing the race to the KMT candidate.

Chiu Yi might simply be running a spirited race, but I think it is more likely that he realizes he is fighting a lost cause in his district and his real goal concerns national politics.  This gambit probably terrifies the DPP.  The DPP does NOT want to talk about the former president at all.  Anything that brings him back into the political discussion is bad for them.  The KMT, of course, would love to be able to run against Chen Shui-bian again, but that attack is not sticking so far this year.  Tsai’s personality is nothing like Chen’s, Chen is muzzled in prison, and his son, like every other legislative candidate, has been ignored.  This is just fine with the Tsai campaign.  If Chiu Yi can manage to put the spotlight on Chen Shui-bian, he will have done a great service to the Ma campaign.

There is also a real danger that any debate would erupt into violence.  The audience would consist of Chiu’s radical supporters and Chen’s radical supporters.  Putting those two groups together in a politically charged atmosphere is a recipe for disaster.  The DPP is terrified that any violence will be blamed on them, as it always seems to be.[6]  In fact, a cynic might wonder if that is precisely the intent.

I rather hope that this debate between black and white never comes to fruition.  I think we’re better off when our options are light grey and dark grey.  However, if the debate is held, it has the potential to shock the entire election.


[1] Lin Reui-tu 林瑞圖.

[2] Chiu would almost certainly rip Chen to shreds.  Chen is a campaign novice, while Chiu hones his razor-sharp tongue nearly every night in the rough and tumble world of TV talk shows.

[3] Wu was married to Chu An-hsiung 朱安雄.  The Chu family was one of the four great local families in Kaohsiung politics in the late authoritarian era.  Chu was convicted of corruption about a decade ago.

[4] She was a member of the long-forgotten Labor Party.

[5] That can’t be right, can it?  Can you obtain a surplus army tank in Taiwan?

[6] The facts that neither Chen nor Chiu is a DPP member and that the KMT’s Chiu is the one trying to create this potentially dangerous event won’t matter.  If there is violence, DPP mayor Chen Chu will be blamed and Tsai’s campaign will suffer.  I don’t know how this works, but it always works that way.

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12 Responses to “A debate between righteousness and evil”

  1. Echo Says:

    Totally agree with you.

    Btw, 邱毅’s last name should have been Chiou, not Chou.

  2. Lihan Chen Says:

    Yes, I agree with your observation. This is getting rather disgustingly interesting and I would hope there would be no debate. If they hate each other so much, I would suggest that they can debate one on one, without audience, inside a room. 狗咬狗,滿嘴毛。Indeed.

    It would be just equally interesting to see how these two fare after the election, no matter which side wins.

  3. Raj Says:

    Meh, I doubt much will happen or that it will affect the election. The media always get more excited than the general public about these sorts of things.

  4. Echo Says:

    I think “Chiu” is better than “Chiou” 🙂 🙂

  5. Okami Says:

    A better question: Where do I get a surplus army tank?

    I always love how people always say “their country’s” politics is so divisive.

    • frozengarlic Says:

      I hope no one tells you where to get a tank. I’m afraid. Very afraid.

      Seriously though, Taiwan’s politics are perhaps not that polarized when you put things in perspective. I was listening to a report about elections in Congo. On the day the results were to be announced, people were closing up there shops and staying indoors. Richer people were even going across the river to a neighboring country. Here in Taiwan, we all have friends on the other side of the political divide, and we mostly manage to get along just fine.

      • Echo Says:

        Garlic,

        It’s all “relativity,” man. No matter how polarized a society is, we can always find some examples around the world that is even more polarized. Put things in this perspective, a conclusion of “not that polarized” bears not much meaning..

        For example, if Congo is bad, she is probably “not that polarized” compared to places like Iraq or Afghanistan. Last year (or earlier), a report talked about the election in a city (or province?) of Iraq. The conclusion is: it is much more “peaceful” than prior elections — only 20+ candidates got assassinated this year.

        And, friends or even family on the other side don’t guarantee nothing. Look at Rwanda, where neighbors, best friends since kids … killed each other in a frenzy of political fight. The situation is: people go polarized ‘cos they are in a state of extreme. They might not be in that state of mind in normal time, but they could be “switched on” and react to calls of extremists in violent ways at the time of conflict. They might regret after then, when they sink back to the state of daily normal life of reality. Senses of irony and sadness always drunk me when I watch people in Rwanda have to live next door with people who kill their families. But then, why didn’t they remain calm and reasonable, at the time of “polarization” ?

  6. frozengarlic Says:

    I checked my records on the contests between Wu De-mei and Hsu Hsiao-dan, and I got a few things wrong. Wu did win three races, from 1986 to 1992, but Hsu did not run against her in the 1986 race. Wu won the last seat in each of her three campaigns. Hsu came in 6th in 1989 (with four seats available), about 9000 votes behind Wu. In 1992, Hsu was a mere 107 votes behind Wu for the sixth and final seat. Hsu ran again in 1995 but Wu decided not to run at the last minute. Without her nemesis in the race, Hsu was largely ignored by the media and finished much further behind the six winners in eleventh place.

  7. frozengarlic Says:

    These two are starting to remind me of fights in junior high school.
    Kid #1: “Meet me out behind the convenience store, if you’re not afraid.”
    Kid #2: “No one fights behind the convenience store, because the grownups always break up the fight. You’re just scared.”
    Kid #1: “I’m not scared. I’ll meet you anytime, anywhere.”
    Kid #2: “You suck. My dad can beat up your dad.”

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