I’m watching Taoyuan 2 fairly closely for one primary reason: vote buying.
Four years ago, KMT candidate Liao Cheng-ching 廖正井 won this district over the DPP incumbent, Kuo Jung-chung 郭榮宗, quite handily, by a margin of 55-45%. However, Liao was subsequently convicted of vote buying and stripped of the seat. Kuo won the seat back easily in a by-election. (58-40%). This year Liao and Kuo are running against each other again, but more on that in a second.
Taoyuan 2 includes three coastal towns (Hsinwu 新屋, Kuanyin 觀音, and Dayuan 大園) plus Yangmei 楊梅. Yangmei is the biggest of the four towns with a little more than 40% of the district’s total population. This is a majority Hakka district, though it is by no means homogenous. Hsinwu and Kuanyin both contain substantial Min-nan minorities, and Dayuan (where the airport is) is majority Min-nan (with a substantial Hakka minority). The Taoyuan coast is also a traditional DPP stronghold. I have heard that this dates back to Hsu Hsin-liang’s 許信良 term as county executive (1977-1980), and that explanation seems reasonable, though Huang Yu-chiao 黃玉嬌 was winning Provincial Assembly elections for years and years, and she must have gotten votes here as well. Yangmei has usually had a small KMT majority, though it isn’t as overwhelmingly blue as the towns further inland (eg: Zhongli 中壢, Pingzhen 平鎮, and Longtan 龍潭). As a whole the district has a fairly solid green majority, and the DPP wins this area in nearly every election. When the KMT won this district by such a large margin in 2008, it was quite a shock to me. It really drove home how unpopular the DPP government was in the north and with Hakka voters. Now that people are not voting on Chen Shui-bian any longer, this district should revert to its old patterns, and I expect Kuo to win this race with some room to spare.
So what is interesting about this race? Liao is the interesting one. Liao is Hakka and the former mayor of Yangmei. He won in part by appealing for Hakkas to support him and by winning an overwhelming majority in Yangmei. (Kuo is Min-nan. He was born in Hsin-wu and served as mayor of Kuan-yin before moving up to the legislature.) Of course, there is more. Liao also won by buying votes. In the original conviction, evidence showed that he had given NT100000 to the head of a village in Kuanyin, who was in turn supposed to buy 20 votes at NT 5000 each (roughly USD 170 each). That’s about as clear as it gets.
On May 26, 2011, the court overturned the conviction. The ruling was based on the fact that police evidence was incomplete. In the notebooks, there was often only a page or two for several hours of testimony. The police explained that they had not written down everything because so much of it was not relevant to the case. Many of the witnesses were older and tended to go on long tangents about things like their wonderful grandchildren, the price of oranges, and their medical conditions. The court was not sympathetic to this argument and threw out the evidence. The important point is this. Kuo’s conviction was not thrown out because the evidence suggested he did not engage in vote buying. In fact, the available data clearly demonstrated that he had bought votes. This data might not be admissible in a court of law, but democratic elections do not use the same standards of proof as a court of law. He was guilty but got off on a technicality. I don’t have to care about the technicality. I’m making a political judgment, not a legal judgment. It’s pretty clear to me that Liao bought votes.
The KMT was originally having a hard time finding a viable candidate in Taoyuan 2. Before the verdict was announced, the KMT had planned to send its spokesman, Su Chun-pin 蘇俊賓 to run against Kuo. However, there was some local grumbling about this decision, and Su’s chances did not look good at all. As soon as the verdict was announced, Liao proclaimed loudly that the courts had proven his innocence, and he wanted to run in order to give the voters a chance to provide him justice by returning him to his rightful seat in the legislature. The KMT stopped the nomination process and eventually decided that they had a much better chance to win with Liao than with Su. Su was summarily dispatched to another hopeless district (Tainan 4), and the KMT nominated Liao.
What I’m really curious is whether Liao will run ahead of or behind his party. That is, will the voters punish him for buying votes, or will they reward him with an outpouring of sympathy for being “proven” innocent? It’s hard to know for sure because, for obvious reasons, we don’t have good data on vote-buying. However, anecdotal evidence suggests to me that vote-buying is becoming less and less common. If I had to guess, I’d say that they heyday of vote-buying was roughly 1995, and there has been a steady decline since 1998 or so. In 1995, I would have expected Liao to come back stronger than ever. Today, my guess is that voters will punish him, and he won’t even get as many votes as the KMT party list gets.