Yu Chang Scandal

The KMT has apparently now played what it thinks is its trump card, questioning whether Tsai Ing-wen is guilty of corruption due to her dealings with the Yu-Chang biotech company.  Details are still murky, and everyone has competing claims.  My current judgment is that there isn’t much to see here, but I could be wrong.  At any rate, I’m less interested in the specifics of the case than in the KMT’s overall strategy.

Let’s start with one basic point: there have been no new developments that forced the reopening of this case.  That is, there were no court decisions, no new facts that suddenly came to light, and no new people who came forward with incriminating evidence.  With new scrutiny on the case new facts may emerge, but thus far we are dealing with information that has been public all along.  The significance of this is that the KMT could have leveled these charges at any time.  They chose this point, one month before the election, as the time that they thought they could produce maximum benefit from introducing this case into the public debate.  (There is no doubt that this was deliberately introduced by the KMT.  It started in a hearing of the Economics Committee in the Legislature, in which several KMT legislators tossed softball questions as Christina Liu (Chair of the Economic Planning and Development Council) and acted shocked when she told them all about Tsai’s dealings.  Of course, Liu would not have known what happened if she had not been preparing for this hearing.  It was all very nicely stage-managed.)

The KMT has a strategy to ensure that this case will stay on the media agenda.  Since financial dealings often require secrecy, most of the documents were classified.  Premier Wu has demanded that the relevant documents be declassified.  That means that we will get a steady stream of documents for the media to report on over the next few days.

In the larger scheme of things, this case fits nicely into the narrative the KMT is trying to establish.  The KMT wants to argue that Chen Shui-bian’s government was corrupt, and Tsai’s government would be corrupt too.  They do this by repeating several themes as often as possible.  CSB’s government was the most corrupt in history; it is the very embodiment of a corrupt government.  All the people in Tsai’s campaign team worked in the CSB government.  If she wins, the same (corrupt) people will be back in office.  And now we get the final nail: Tsai is corrupt too!  Not only will Tsai not restrain her (greedy) officials, she herself will dip into the trough.  (VP Su, with his farmhouse, is no different.)  In short, a vote for the DPP is a vote for corruption.  If you press them, the KMT will also talk about their own fight against corruption, citing their party list[1] and the higher ranking from Transparency International.  However, since their own record is so obviously flawed, they would rather argue that the DPP is corrupt than that they are incorrupt.

Why is now the best time for the KMT to introduce this issue?  You need time to make the case, present details, argue about it, and let the image of corruption sink in.  You don’t want to move too early though, because voters will have time to digest the case and move on to other issues.  I think the KMT is haunted by the Chung-hsing Bills Finance scandal in 2000.  They introduced that scandal in December, about four months before the election, and it devastated Soong’s poll numbers.  However, by the time the election rolled around, many of Soong’s supporters had forgiven him, and he ended up with 36% of the vote.  This time, the KMT waited much longer so that the psychological impact would still be fresher on Election Day.  However, you can’t wait too long.  As you get closer and closer to the election, voters become more and more resistant to these sorts of accusations, seeing them as election stunts rather than as substantive indictments.  For example, we all knew that the Bills Finance scandal was a deliberate KMT attack.  However, with more time until the election, we might have been more willing to look at the details of the case and consider whether there was any merit to them.  Here in the final stages of the campaign, I think more people will simply interpret the Yu-Chang case through their partisan perceptual screen.  Blue voters will think she is guilty, green voters will think she is more innocent than ever, and non-aligned voters will think that all politicians are cynical, corrupt, and manipulative.

 

Tsai’s image will inevitably take a hit.  You can think of this in mathematical terms.  Imagine a politician is either corrupt or not corrupt, and I have to judge which type she is.  If everyone says she is honest, then I judge her probability of being corrupt as zero.  If a few people say she is corrupt, then I might raise the probability of her actually being corrupt from zero to 0.1.  The more people accuse her of being corrupt, the more likely I am to judge her as actually being corrupt.  This is, of course, a simplistic model that leaves lots of things out, but my basic point is that Tsai’s reputation does not benefit from this.  Mudslinging works.

However, mudslinging also backfires by making the accuser look manipulative.  I think this is a real danger for the KMT.  By going after Tsai in such a high-profile way with a case that, as far as I can tell, has very little actual substance,[2] Ma risks painting himself as someone who will sink to any depths to win power.  So much of Ma’s personal appeal is that he is a “good” man, with strong morals, a compassionate heart, and a sincere belief in justice, and if this case causes a few voters to reconsider that image, this case could end up doing significant damage to the KMT.[3]


[1] It is almost incomprehensible how much mileage the KMT has gotten out of those two party list seats.  Trading two seats for an enormous gain in party image was the single smartest thing that Ma has done in his four years in office.

[2] The KMT does have easier talking points.  When in office, Tsai authorized government investment in Yu-chang.  Later, she made profits of NT 10 million from Yu-chang.  That sounds incriminating.  The DPP counter-points are all much harder to understand.

[3] On the other hand, there might not be enough time left for the DPP to establish this counter-narrative.

10 Responses to “Yu Chang Scandal”

  1. Echo Says:

    Garlic,

    Counter-narratives are all over the nets now, only if you want to look. You can start with Michael’s blog post:

    KMT Smear Campaign Moves Into High Gear? =UPDATED X 2=
    http://michaelturton.blogspot.com/2011/12/kmt-smear-campaign-moves-into-high-gear.html

    The people who actually involved in the development — including pro-bluers — came out to defend Tsai. Scientists who knew about how hard it is for Taiwan to establish a competing edge on the high end tech are enraged for Ma’s intention to destroy a project that people worked so hard to establish. The documents are all there, only if people are willing to open eyes.

    As for the timing of this attack, a blue blogger has exactly the same reasoning as yours. However, he came up with totally different conclusion :the timing for the KMT to launch this attack is way too early — there are still 4 weeks, enough time for the green to re-arm.

    I think one thing critical is that the info exchange environment is very different now than before — the development of internet as well as the social media shorten the info cycle a lot more, making facts come out more easily. In just two days, many already saw Ma’s intention to persecute a person who sacrificed to help build Taiwan’s science and not ever want to brag about it.

    In fact, in just two days, I am seeing Ma’s support rate in the XFuture market drops, and Tsai’s surges. Tsai’s rate has been maintaining at around 50% for nearly two months. It jumps to 54% in these two days.

    • frozengarlic Says:

      Fascinating.

      You are almost certainly right about the shorter info cycles now. However, you have to remember that the information has to penetrate to people who don’t care very much. It takes some time for arguments to trickle down from opinion leaders to the more apathetic.

      I’m wondering if the lower intensity of this campaign (no flags everywhere to remind you that we are in a campaign) will help the KMT’s attack. If it doesn’t feel like the final stages of a campaign, my automatic anti-manipulation psychological defenses might not activate as quickly.

      There is also the TVBS poll today that shows the race tied. However, China Times and UDN show no movement from a week ago. This is the kind of thing where you really need focus groups, not surveys, to tell you how people are reacting.

    • frozengarlic Says:

      An interesting thing about that blogger: he assumes there will be more KMT attacks. I assumed that this must be the KMT’s best attack, because it is getting too late to launch new attacks. He assumes that it is still early, so if they are using this case now, they must have other, better attacks waiting in reserve for the next few weeks.

  2. Echo Says:

    By the way, Garlic, this case is something yet to be cleared. Well, in fact, like I said, many documents already show that Tsai has not only done anything wrong, but also she in fact took risk to help Taiwan’s science development.

    For any criminal case, you can’t describe the accused as a criminal before the law says so. You can only use the term “suspect.”

    In this case, scandal or not, you can’t decide that now. Your title thus is a misleading, and could unintentionally serve as a vehicle to plant seeds of wrong impression on reader’s mind to incriminate Tsai. .

    • frozengarlic Says:

      I don’t think the term “scandal” has a precise legal definition. Public opinion matters at least as much as any court decision. For example, Wu Yu-sheng had an extra-marital affair. I think that counts as a scandal, whether or not it is illegal. Many scandals end up not having any legal action. Maybe this is just the difference between the English term scandal and the Chinese term 弊案。

      • Echo Says:

        I probably have a wrong perception on the term “scandal.” It sounds like the target has done something wrong. Need to adjust this perception.

  3. J B Says:

    I feel like I hear a lot about the KMT making negative attacks more than the DPP, and they appear to be more successful. Is this actually the case, or does the DPP do this as often and we just don’t hear about it, or they aren’t as good at it?

    • hwengcat Says:

      “Ballots & Bullet” had an article on November 25 after KMT claimed that DDP will launch negative campain (http://nottspolitics.org/2011/11/25/refuting-the-dpp-smear-campaign/). Here is the author’s conclusion: “but I just wanted to quickly refute the notion of DPP candidates as persistent smear artists.”

      • J B Says:

        Thing is it seems like it’s actually the KMT who does it more, and in a more methodical fashion. Unless I’m missing something the DPP just jumped on the Ma-meeting-the-gambling-ring-leader scandal as it broke, rather than breaking it themselves and timing it for maximum damage. The KMT, in contrast, has clearly planned out the Yu-Chang scandal. It’s premeditated character assassination, especially ironic given Ma’s whining about smears. So I’m curious if the KMT is in fact more vicious, or if the DPP does this as well and it just doesn’t get as much media play, or the DPP just isn’t as good at it. Judging from the blue papers I mostly read, as well as mostly pro-DPP foreigner-written blogs, it’s the former, but I do wonder if I feel that way just because I tend to be pro-DPP.

  4. Echo Says:

    宇昌案、副手辯論 市場預測:蔡當選機率創新高 馬略降
    http://www.nownews.com/2011/12/11/301-2765640_1.htm

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