Sell! Sell! Sell!

[Warning: This post comes from the irresponsible and conspiratorial side of my brain.  The rational and cautious side disavows it completely.]

Sometimes I think of politicians like a stock for which the price is based on whether I think they can eventually win the presidency.  Every time they say or do something, I revise my evaluation of them up or down a bit.  For example, right now I think that Eric Chu 朱立倫 and Tsai Ing-wen 蔡英文 have the best chance to be the next president, so their stocks are the highest in my mental model.  They are somewhere near 80.  Tainan Mayor William Lai 賴清德 is many years away from a presidential run, but it is in the realm of possibility.  His stock is around 40.  When he was elected four years ago it was probably 45 or so, but he hasn’t produced much news and his standing in my brain has stagnated a bit.  Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu 陳菊 has gone in the opposite direction.  She was probably at 25-30 four years ago, but I’ve been impressed with the energy of her first term.  Most notably, she recently demonstrated tremendous political courage in daring to start a fight with one of Taiwan’s major corporations over environmental pollution.  She has roared ahead of Lai in my mental stock market, to about 45.  Younger people are also included.  Most politicians are at zero (sorry Apollo Chen 陳學聖 and Chen Ming-wen 陳明文), but every so often you can imagine a very long but slightly plausible path for a very young politician.  I can just about imagine Hsieh Kuo-liang 謝國樑 serving two terms as Keelung Mayor, getting promoted to Interior Minister and Vice Premier, then getting drafted to run for New Taipei City Mayor, and finally winning the presidency.  It’s highly unlikely, but just plausible enough that I’ll give him a price of 0.75.  Anyway, this is a fun game to play, even if I’m just guessing wildly.

One person I’ve been readjusting my price on quite a bit lately is Sean Lien 連勝文.  Recently, his price has been going up because it is looking more and more like he will be the next Taipei Mayor, and Taipei Mayors are almost automatically presidential contenders.  Today, however, he took a big plunge in my mental market.

Lien has not yet officially announced his candidacy, and he tells us that one of the reasons is that he is concerned for his family’s safety.  Fine, even if I can’t relate to how oppressive it must be to live in Taiwan’s most exclusive community because no other luxury residence has adequate security, I guess it makes a little sense.  Rich people live in fear of their children being kidnapped, or something like that.  (What? Am I supposed to have more sympathy for the trials of wealth?)  And, as he reminded us, he was actually shot in the face, so this is not just some abstract idea for him.

But then he added the detail that made me question whether he’s got what it takes in politics.  Over the past three years, he claims to have gotten over 300 letters threatening either him or his family.  Ten of them were death threats.  A couple were posted from Hong Kong in order to make tracing the source more difficult.

Why would anyone want to kill Sean Lien?  He hasn’t offered an answer to this.  In 2010 when he was shot, he never suggested a motive.  However, right after he was shot, the spokesperson for the Lien family immediately claimed that the shooting was not random or aimed at someone else.  They seemed to think that Lien was the target, not an innocent bystander.  But why?

It could be that there is a crazy stalker.  But after 300 letters and with all the financial might of the Lien family, don’t you think they’d have found that guy by now?  And if it were a single crazy person, Lien would probably just tell us about it.

Is Lien paranoid?  That doesn’t bode well for his political future.  Is he just making it up?  That might work in the short run, but secrets often come out over time.  Either of these would be a very bad sign for Lien’s long-term political career.

The only other answer that seems likely to me is that organized crime is involved.  Lien has extensive financial dealings both in Taiwan and China.  I wonder if he has stepped on the wrong toes.  Being connected to organized crime is not a great way to appeal for votes unless you are the Justice Minister and are trying to put crime lords in prison.  I’m pretty sure Sean Lien is not the Justice Minister.  That leaves the possibility of shady dealings with shady people leading to shady threats of violence.

This, of course, is baseless speculation.  What I don’t like about Sean Lien’s comments yesterday is that he invited me to have this train of thought.  Successful politicians generally try to focus attention on their strongest points and distract attention away from closets full of skeletons.  Lien is still the odds-on favorite to win the mayoral election.  However, I am starting to wonder whether he has the self-awareness and discipline to routinely give boring comments to the press.  (Eric Chu is fantastic at this.)  If he keeps adding little snippets like the 300 death threats to his normal statements, eventually the media will play the gotcha game.  I revised Lien’s stock downward today, not because I think anyone is going to beat him this year, but because I think there is a real chance he might self-destruct long before he gets to the presidential election.  Sell!

12 Responses to “Sell! Sell! Sell!”

  1. Brian Says:

    It’s likely that he’ll be found out if he’s making up the 300 death threats schtick but not if he’s got connections to organised crime sufficient that they want to kill him?

    Isn’t it possible instead – and I’m just throwing this out there – that a man who’s been shot in the face by an opponent of his politics is genuinely scared of it happening again? It’s only paranoia if they actually aren’t out to get you.

    • frozengarlic Says:

      It is possible that a man who has been shot in the face is afraid of it happening again. However, the first shooting was done by a minor organized crime thug, not by an opponent of Lien’s politics.

      http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/front/archives/2011/01/22/2003494113

      • Brian Says:

        The minor thug chose to try when he was standing on a husting at a political rally rather than a quieter and more easily escapable public event? Even if you don’t believe the prosecutor’s line that, “Prosecutors said that the alleged shooter thought Sean Lien was the candidate for office because he was standing in the middle of the stage” that’s a bit of a stretch.

      • frozengarlic Says:

        Ok, I’ll bite. What’s your explanation for why this guy (who did have criminal ties) decided to shoot Lien at a very public rally right before the election? Supposing someone was trying to shoot him for political motives, can you explain why they would do it on a public stage and not in a more easily accessible or escapable place? And why shoot Lien, who, at that point, had never really never made any political statements? Was the real target his father? If so, why not target his father at a similarly accessible public event? And who was the mastermind behind this all? Evidently it wasn’t the shooter. Does he have ties that the police aren’t telling us about with some radical political group? Which one? Spin a convincing story and try to convince me. I have been known to change my mind.

        I think the official explanation, that Lien was an innocent bystander in someone else’s argument, is (a) the most plausible, and (b) paints Lien in the best light. With the official story, Lien’s only contact with organized crime is standing on the wrong stage at the wrong time. He gets to be innocent and still enjoy public sympathy for his misfortune. Frankly, his reluctance to embrace the official story (whether or not he thinks it is correct) is another reason for my doubts that he is cut out for the electoral game.

      • Brian Says:

        The choice to try to shoot someone (whether Lien or someone else) at a political rally is an overtly political act. A criminally-motivated hit could more effectively been attempted in a host of other locations with a higher change of success and getaway, regardless of whom the intended target was.

        The shooter went to that rally intent on killing someone in the KMT and I think it more likely that this was for reasons connected to their KMT membership than some other, particularly when no underworld connection has been proven.

        I don’t think he needs to offer an answer to the question of “Why would anyone want to kill Sean Lien?” Someone’s already tried it.

      • Andrew Dale Says:

        In response to the suggestion that attacking someone at a rally is an overtly political act, I would say, yes, it is.

        But who ever said organized crime in Taiwan wasn’t political? It has been from the start. Shooting someone at a political rally says, we will get you, no matter where or who you are.

        The main point being, organized crime’s tentacles are everywhere in Taiwanese politics and they ought to be the default suspects given their history of extensive involvement in political violence and corruption.

  2. Pat Says:

    You don’t think Ko Wen-je will be a big threat to Lien? Looks to me like he’s shaping up to be the best chance the greens have had for taking Taipei in years, especially now that the DPP seems increasingly willing to yield to him.

    • frozengarlic Says:

      I’m not buying all the hype. Remember, four years ago Su Tseng-chang was also winning a lot of polls, and he eventually lost by 12%. Taipei City has the most stable partisan patterns in Taiwan. Historically speaking, Su’s 12% loss was a quite good result for the green side. Unless the blues split or the blue candidate publicly executes a panda, I don’t think there is much chance for any green candidate.

  3. David Huang Says:

    About the choice between Sean Lien and Kp, I was so disappointed that you do not understand Kp’s philosophy, political strength and his culture view at all.
    Apparently you did not attend his lecture or understand Kp’s source of attraction and power. Ker will win this race so sure and will stay in the political fabric for next 20 years will be the future president candidate for sure.

  4. Pat Says:

    Well this certainly wound up being on the money.

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