2014 mayoral races overview, part 1

So here we are at the beginning of the intense campaign season. Campaign offices are opening, more and more signs and flags are going up, and soon it will be impossible even for casual observers to ignore the impending election. So let’s take a quick tour around the country to see how all the mayoral races are going.

There are mayoral races, and then there are mayoral races.  In the large cities, mayoral races are mostly about national parties, with a few municipal public policy debates thrown in as window dressing. There is good reason for the national focus. Any mayor of a direct municipality is automatically on the short list of presidential or vice-presidential hopefuls. You might want to vote for more parking spaces on city streets, but you have to understand that you might also be voting in the quarterfinals for the next presidential election (or the one after that). Another factor is that direct municipalities are important in national politics. They control big budgets and can sometimes resist the central government. (For example, Eric Chu 朱立倫 recently announced New Taipei City wouldn’t go along with the Ministry of Education on its twelve year national education plan.) Voters have to consider whether they want a city government that will usually be working with or working against the central government. As you get to smaller and more remote counties, these considerations become less important. The next Penghu County magistrate isn’t going to be an automatic candidate for a cabinet position, much less the presidency. Penghu voters can afford to focus on local issues. Moreover, since more rural areas tend to have more tight-knit communities, campaigning can take on a different tone than in the atomized cities. Nonetheless, even if parties don’t matter as much in rural areas as they do in the big cities for these mayoral elections, partisan considerations are the most important factor for voters everywhere.

Let’s start remote and work our way back to Taipei. Jinmen and Lienchiang are hard for outsiders to understand. Since most of us care primarily about parties and not so much about local personalities, families, or factions, we tend to brush these two aside. Jinmen and Lienchiang are both 95% blue, so whoever wins will come from the blue camp. It does seem as though both of them have competitive races this year, with a (blue) independent challenging the official KMT candidate.

It looks like Penghu will have a very intense race. Penghu politics used to be a strictly blue camp affair, but the green side has made enormous inroads in the past decade. The DPP came within a few votes of winning the magistrate seat four years ago and then shockingly upset the five-term incumbent to take the legislative seat in 2012. Penghu might be getting what I like to think of as “southern infection.” Chiayi and Yunlin were once KMT bastions, with the local factions serving as the KMT’s wall of defense. However, the population always had Taiwan nationalist tendencies, and once the factions were induced to switch sides (Chiayi) or were reconstructed on the green side (Yunlin), the combination of ideology and factional networks has proven to be irresistible. Taichung, Penghu, southern Changhua, and maybe Taitung are the next places that this disease might infect.

The candidates in Penghu are quite different to us outsiders. I can’t tell you much about the KMT candidate, except that he came up through grassroots elections. The DPP candidate has a long track record, though it isn’t exactly full of successes. Chen Kuang-fu 陳光復 was a legislator in the 1990s, but he won his elections in Kaohsiung City. I don’t think he has ever won a race in Penghu. The media doesn’t do a lot of polling in Penghu, but indications are that the race is close.

The polls are also sparse in Taitung, but they seem to indicate a comfortable lead for the KMT incumbent, Huang Chien-ting 黃健庭. (My impression is that Huang has spent most of his first term selling the public coastline to private developers so that we can have more luxury hotels with fenced off beaches, so I’m not exactly thrilled at these polls.) I had expected the DPP candidate, Liu Chao-hao 劉櫂豪, to put up a stronger race. Liu won the legislative seat in 2012 (albeit with a plurality in a three-way race), and he was deputy magistrate a decade ago. The DPP is still not strong in Taitung, but Liu seemed to be personally popular enough to challenge an unpopular and corrupt incumbent. However, it seems that Huang might be a popular and corrupt incumbent.

In Hualien, Fu Kun-chi 傅崑萁 should roll to re-election. The KMT nominee is miserably weak, and the DPP hasn’t even bothered to run a candidate. Fu has quit the PFP, so he is officially an independent. This is another smart move from one of the smartest and most politically talented local politicians in the blue camp. Whenever there is a poll of mayoral performances, Fu is typically the only blue camp politician in the top five. If Fu wants to make a move into national politics, he has to get back inside the KMT. The current KMT leadership may be oblivious or indifferent to its current dearth of grassroots political talent, but the new party leadership that takes over after the 2016 election will do well to figure out how to get Fu to Taipei. They desperately need an infusion of people who know how to talk to ordinary voters from outside Taipei.

Yilan looks like an easy DPP win. The county usually leans toward the DPP, though it is less green than many people think. In this year, with the wider environment favoring the DPP, a fairly popular incumbent running for re-election, and an anonymous KMT recruited from the bureaucracy and with few local ties, it is hard to see the DPP losing. This one might end up 65-35.

Hsinchu City should be an easy KMT victory. Hsinchu tends to vote heavily KMT, and the green camp is split between two candidates. This looks like a 60-20-20 race.

Hsinchu County will end up blue, one way or another. The DPP did not nominate a candidate, so this is a straight KMT factional fight. The polls say the incumbent, Chiu Ching-chung 邱鏡淳, has a big lead over the former magistrate, Cheng Yung-chin 鄭永金. For me, it’s six one way, half a dozen the other.

Miaoli is a bit more interesting (but only a bit). Miaoli is one of the KMT’s strongest areas on Taiwan. The real race was in the nomination. Hsu Yao-chang 徐耀昌 has always been the most popular candidate, but he has a court case looming over him and that technically should have disqualified him from winning the KMT nomination. Had the KMT respected its rules and nominated Lin Chiu-hsiang 林久翔 (a third generation politician from the other KMT faction), Hsu almost certainly would have run as an independent, and Miaoli would have been an intense race. However, the KMT did the practical thing, and it figured out how to nominate Hsu. Once this happened, Lin bowed to the inevitable and withdrew. The main competition in this election will come from Kang Shih-ju 康世儒, a local politician from Chunan Township. However, he doesn’t have enough county-wide support to match up with Hsu. As for the DPP candidate, don’t get your hopes up. She has no electoral experience, and she has to carry the DPP label. That’s not a winning recipe in Miaoli. Prediction: Hsu 60, Kang25, Wu 15, and four more years of terrible local government.

Moving to the far south, Pingtung looks like a romp for the DPP. The Tangwai/DPP has won six of the eight magistrate elections since 1981, including the last four. Pan Meng-an 潘孟安 will (almost certainly) become the fifth DPP magistrate, and he will follow a fairly impressive set of predecessors. The high standards set by Chiu Lien-hui 邱連輝, Su Tseng-chang 蘇貞昌, Su Chia-chuan 蘇嘉全, and Tsao Chi-hung 曹啟鴻 are probably one important reason that the DPP seems to be getting stronger and stronger in Pingtung. This is another county where the weaker party could not manage to field a strong candidate. The KMT’s candidate was once a Pingtung local politician, but he has been working in the central government bureaucracy for the last two decades. My guess: 65-35.

(Does it bother anyone else that the two parties seem so unable to find competent candidates in so many races? In the less competitive races, the DPP has a real candidate in Taitung, and the KMT has a real candidate in Chiayi County. Yunlin and Keelung are competitive precisely because the weaker party found a strong local candidate. But everywhere else, you only find quality candidates where there is a reasonable expectation of winning. And sometimes they can’t even find quality candidates where they should win.)

Chiayi County is our last uncompetitive race among the nineteen regular cities and counties, though at least the KMT has managed to field a real candidate. Weng Chong-jun 翁重鈞 has won several tough races for the legislature, and he ran further ahead of Ma Ying-jeou than any other KMT nominee in 2012. However, he is also an experienced loser in county magistrate elections. This will be his third attempt, and it sure looks like strike three is imminent. Expect a comfortable victory for the DPP incumbent, but it might not be the landslide that we see in other places. My guess: 58-42.

4 Responses to “2014 mayoral races overview, part 1”

  1. R Says:

    Thanks for the update!

    About Hsinchu City, do you have any insight into why the DPP was disinterested in nominating former mayor 蔡仁堅 & insist on 林智堅?

    Also any comment on DPP’s lack of candidate in Hsinchu? I know it a really hostile county for the DPP, but declaring that they will support 鄭永金 still came as a huge shock & disappointment to DPP supporters online (including me). My guess is DPP feels that the expectation of their general supports will matter less in Hsinchu (which have a small base anyways) so it’s worth disappointing DPP supporters abroad for a slightly higher possible victory in Hsinchu? It still seems like a terrible decision regardless tho lol

  2. frozengarlic Says:

    R, those are good questions. I don’t know why they didn’t want to nominate 蔡仁堅, since he seems to be the strongest green camp candidate. And the decision not to nominate in Hsinchu County strikes me as stupid. We all know they aren’t going to win, and they may not wish to expend resources on a losing race. However, they need to worry about the message this sends to DPP sympathizers (who they will be trying to woo in the next presidential election). In essence, they are telling those voters that the DPP can’t be bothered to pay attention to their home county. The DPP should also be concerned that this will have an adverse effect on their county assembly candidates. Building up grassroots politicians is a long and difficult struggle, and not running a person at the top makes it harder. It would be one thing if Cheng and his entire faction were making a commitment to change sides and join the DPP. (That is the Chiayi model.) However, they are not doing that, so I don’t see any benefit to the DPP for sitting out this race (or the Hualien race).

    • R Says:

      Totally agree with the need to have, as they call it, a hen to lead the chicks, having seen myself the devastating effect the lack of a executive candidate for a party can have on the smaller legislative races. It’s also worth noting that from what I can see most green-leaning ppl have nothing but praise & respect for 陳明文, but only despises & contempt for 鄭永金.

      For Hualien, I wondered why they didn’t consider nominating 蕭美琴, since it seems like she have not been neglecting the county ever since her by-election there. She will have little chance to win if she run, but I can see her beating the lackluster KMT candidate, which might provide a decent morale boost should she seek to run next time.

      Some things I been hearing about Hsinchu City is that nominating 林智堅 goes with the generational change theme the DPP is promoting, & rumours are in-party polls indicate Lin is stronger than Tsai. Still if such is the case I see no reason for them not to have a primary. It’s inconsistent with the Yunlin nomination too (which imo resulted in the weakest of the three candidates being nominated.)

      Lastly I wonder whether 賴坤成 would have put up more of a challenge in Taitung than 劉櫂豪. Altho Liu was victorious in the legislative primary for 2012, Lai always struck me as someone more accomplished electorally & more charismatic somehow. He’s running for Taitung city again btw, which reminds me of how it seems like the DPP do have a decent crop of candidates for the in-county cities (Changhua City’s 邱建富, Hualien City’s 田智宣.)

  3. frozengarlic Says:

    I don’t know what 蕭美琴 is thinking, but if I were her career adviser I would tell her to do exactly what she is doing. She ran in Hualien to burnish her political credentials. The DPP respects people who win votes, and there is a little disrespect for party list legislators. She went to a hopeless race in Hualien, had a great campaign, and won a lot of respect from her peers. However, the last thing she should do is get stuck in local politics. Hualien, in particular, is a death trap. She will probably never do as well again, and her reputation will decline a bit each time she loses. (Remember 游盈隆?) She is wise to quit while she is ahead. Her strengths lie in international policy work, and she should focus on that area.

    She is still doing constituency service work in Hualien, and I think this is smart. She promised to keep working for Hualien when she ran there, and this marks her as a sincere politician who won’t forget about her promises the day after the election. However, she should resist, resist, resist the temptation to actually go back and run in another election. She did her service to the party, and now it is someone else’s turn.

    As you can see, what is in a party’s collective best interests is not necessarily in each individual member’s best interests.

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