The race in Taipei District 2

I always seem to write about Taipei 2nd district, and here I go again. I suppose I’ll feature it again four years from now, since I work in this district and go there every day. Anyway, while the race this year isn’t the craziest, there are a few interesting elements.

The district has nine seats, of which at least two must be won by women. All nine incumbents are running for re-election. Currently, the partisan breakdown is KMT 4, DPP 4, and PFP 1. This was a fantastic result for the DPP since the KMT easily had enough votes to take a fifth seat. The KMT got 96391 votes (47%), meaning that they had 19278 votes for each of their five candidates. The DPP only won 70155 votes (34%), or 17539 for each of their four candidates. However, the KMT’s fifth candidate was a disaster. Hou Yan-tai 侯衍泰 only won 4296 votes and lost by a wide margin. This allowed the DPP to win the last three seats, the last one with only 13863 votes. It wasn’t a good job of vote division by the DPP, but it was a meltdown on the KMT’s part. The KMT will try to avoid that outcome this year.

This year we have the nine incumbents plus a much stronger fifth KMT nominee. There is also an energetic New Party candidate, a much less energetic TSU candidate, and a couple others, but they don’t look like they will be able to hang with the big dogs. I think this is probably ten serious candidates fighting over nine seats.

 

First the KMT, starting with the only non-incumbent. Huang Tsu-che 黃子哲 is one of the two personal soldiers Sean Lien is sponsoring in the city council races. Huang has two themes. On the one hand, he is educated and has amassed a significant amount of policy expertise. On the other hand, he is Sean Lien’s man. If you like Lien, vote for Huang. While Lien doesn’t exactly enjoy universal admiration, to put it mildly, Huang only needs about 8% of the vote to win a seat. He is a serious challenger.

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Wu Shih-cheng 吳世正 is one of four incumbents in this district who was first elected in 1998 and will be seeking his fifth term. Wu is a mainlander who made his reputation working in TV news. That is not unusual; the media used to be dominated by mainlanders and they still comprise a disproportionate share of TV personalities. Wu stresses his honesty, promising he will not take kickbacks or bribes. Here’s a picture of him campaigning from the top of his sound truck the day before the election four years ago.

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Now that those two are out of the way, we can talk about the three KMT nominees that I really want to discuss. I’ve been thinking about political families a lot over the past few months, and these three are classic cases. First, Lee Yan-hsiu 李彥秀 was first elected in 1998. She inherited her seat from her father, Lee Chin-chang 李金章, who served two terms. One of my other interests is the prevalence and success of female candidates, and Lee Yan-hsiu neatly intersects family and gender politics. This is not unusual. A much higher percentage of women than men enter politics by inheriting their seats. Many observers use this to denigrate women’s electoral achievements by arguing that the women are merely proxies for the powerful man who is really running things. That is probably true for many women (and men) who inherit their seats. The real test is whether the younger politician grows into her power and eventually takes over the family business. For example, Yu Chen Yueh-ying 余陳月瑛 was merely a daughter-in-law when she started in politics. However, she eventually developed her power and took over the Kaohsiung Black faction, the Kaohsiung County government, became a major power in the DPP, and she sponsored her own children to positions in the provincial assembly, legislature, and her successor as Kaohsiung County magistrate. When Lee Yan-hsiu started out, she was not a mature politician. I remember attending one of her campaign events in 1998 and coming away with the impression that she was peppy, naïve, cutesy, and, at 27 years old, nowhere near ready for an important public office. She was entirely dependent on her father’s network to win that race, and her father probably ran her city council office as well. However, over the past 16 years, I have the impression that she has gradually become the real boss.

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The two Lee’s have built a nice political empire in Nangang over the past 25 years. Lee Yan-hsiu doesn’t seem to be in any danger of losing this time, but I think this might be her last term in the city council. She seems to have eyes on a seat in the legislature, and she is getting powerful enough to be able to push Alex Tsai 蔡正元 aside. In 2012, she challenged Tsai and lost by a razor-thin margin in the polling primary for the KMT’s nomination. This is probably one of the main reasons that Tsai is trying so desperately to move into the city government.

We are also probably counting the Lee’s short if we only credit them with six terms. Lee Yan-hsiu expanded the family business in the traditional way, through a marriage alliance. She married Hou Guan-chun 侯冠群, a New Party city councilor from District 5 (Wanhua and Chungcheng). Hou served two terms before losing in 2010. Interestingly, Hou’s campaign literature in 2010 trumpeted the marriage loudly, telling his voters that if they elected him, they would also get Lee and all of her clout working for them. Back in Nangang, Lee’s campaign materials made no mention of her marriage. Apparently, her voters wouldn’t have thought that he added anything to her appeal. Certainly she was better at the elections game; she won over 27,000 votes, while he couldn’t break 10,000.

Score for the Lee family: eight terms in the Taipei City Council.

The Chueh family 闕家 thinks the Lee family “dynasty” is cute. The Chueh family is a classic example of a great local clan. The Chuehs set up camp in Nangang a few hundred years ago and, by the end of the Qing Dynasty, they were the largest landlords in Nangang. If you go to any temple in Nangang and look at the names of the donors, you will see lots of Chuehs. If you visit Academia Sinica, you will pass the Chueh ancestral home right where Section 1 and 2 of Academia Road meet.

Taipei City became a direct municipality in 1967, and the Chuehs were absent in the first city council election. A Chueh lost in the second election, in 1973, but four different family members have won a combined ten terms since 1977, including two elections in which two family members won seats. The most successful Chueh has been Hsieh Ying-mei 謝英美, who won five terms (1981-1998). She turned the family business over to her daughter Chueh Mei-sha 闕枚莎 in 2002. The younger Chueh lost her first campaign, but she won in 2006 and 2010. She seems to be in no trouble this year.

Here’s a picture from inside Chueh’s campaign office. Note the prominent panda. Sometimes localist KMT politicians have nativist leanings, since they tend to appeal mostly to Min-nan voters. That doesn’t seem to be the case with any of the three dynastic politicians in this district. They all seem to be clearly in the Chinese identity wing of the KMT.

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Score for the Chueh family: ten terms in the Taipei City Council. However, they also get some credit for four losing (though still respectable) campaigns. They also get credit for winning lots of Neighborhood Head 里長 positions in Nangang over the years. (In 2010, three Chuehs ran, though only one won.) They also get credit for having a unique family surname. If you meet a Chueh in Nangang, you can bet he or she is from THE Chueh family.

The Chen family is the third political family in this race. The Chens are not a large, dynastic clan like the Chuehs, but they are arguably the most successful of the three families. There are only two politicians in the Chen family, current city councilor Chen Yi-chou 陳義洲 and his older brother Chen Chien-chih 陳健治. Chen Chien-chih won a seat in the first municipal council in 1969 when he was a mere 24 years old. He held the seat until passing it to his brother in 1998, and his brother is currently serving his fourth term. If you are counting, that comes out to ten terms with zero electoral defeats.

However, what sets the Chen family apart from the Lees and the Chuehs is that Chen Chien-chih worked his way into the highest circles of power for nearly a decade. Chen served as the vice-speaker from 1981 to 1989, and then as the speaker of the city council from 1989 to 1998. Because of his position as speaker, he was a member of the KMT’s Central Standing Committee (CSC) for nearly a decade. In the KMT’s old Leninist authoritarian system, the important decisions were made by the party chair, ratified by the CSC, and then passed down to the Executive and Legislative Yuans for implementation. By the 1990s when Chen was put on the CSC, the formal government bodies had started to take some of their constitutional power back from the party organs. However, most important policy decisions still passed through the CSC. As a member of that body, Chen could expect a lot of deference from government bureaucrats when he asked them to do something.

In 1994 Chen Shui-bian was elected Taipei mayor. Speaker Chen was suddenly catapulted into a high profile position in the media. As speaker, he was the KMT’s public face of opposition to everything Mayor Chen tried to do. It wasn’t a fair fight. Mayor Chen had cut his political teeth on public battles in the media, while Speaker Chen was an expert in backdoor dealings with party cronies. As a spokesperson, Speaker Chen was completely overmatched. Old guard KMT politicians simply didn’t know how to play to the media. Mayor Chen “won” almost all of the public fights, and this was a major element in his success as mayor. Perhaps in response to this new political challenge, a new generation of media savvy KMT politicians started to emerge in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

After his second term as speaker ended in 1998, Chen was rewarded with two terms in the legislature on the party list. However, since he was just an ordinary list legislator and not speaker or a member of the CSC, his tenure in the legislature was unremarkable.

I suspect Chen Chien-chih may have had a hand in Alex Tsai’s career. If you look at Tsai’s early campaigns, the geographic patterns of his votes mirrors the patterns of Chen’s votes very closely. I’ve never seen a reporter explain what the connection between the two was, but I’ll bet there was something more than the two merely being political allies.

The younger brother, Chen Yi-chou, has had a much more anonymous career. He has won four elections, but there doesn’t seem to be anything remarkable about his career. As Chen Chien-chih ages, I wonder if the Chen family’s political base might be weakening a bit. If Huang Tsu-che is able to dislodge a fellow KMT nominee, I suspect Chen is the weakest of the bunch. It’s possible that after 45 years, the Chen family might be leaving the Taipei City council.

Final score for the Chen family: ten city council terms including two as vice-speaker and two as speaker, two legislative terms, and nearly a decade on the CSC. If you think a political family should have contributions from several different family members, the Chueh family wins. If you care about winning power, the Chens are the clear victors.

 

If the KMT is able to win five seats, who will lose? It won’t be Huang Shan-shan 黃珊珊. Huang is another four term incumbent, and she is, by many accounts, the most accomplished city councilor in this district. Even green politicians and supporters respect her ability and professionalism. She also has a rock-solid group of voters behind her. I think she would make an excellent legislator, and I would be quite happy if she were someday elected mayor. Her biggest political obstacle is her party affiliation. Almost all the other major PFP politicians abandoned the sinking ship long ago. Huang opted to stay in Soong’s party, and she is paying the price. If she ever wants to move up the political ladder, she needs to figure out how to get into the KMT. Her PFP label won’t hurt her in this election, but it is the major reason that she is still stuck in the Taipei City council.

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I don’t think Wang Hsiao-wei 王孝維 is the weakest of the DPP candidates. Wang is a two term incumbent, though I can’t recall him ever getting in the media. I think he does heavy constituency service. In this picture he is posing with Ko Wen-je 柯文哲. Ko’s presence in this ad is actually rather rare; in most of his ads, Wang poses with Tsai Ing-wen 蔡英文. Both of these are a bit misleading. If Wang wanted to communicate his political affiliations more accurately, he should be posing with Frank Hsieh 謝長廷, his political patron or maybe former legislator Hsu Kuo-yung 徐國勇, who handed off the city council seat to Wang in order to move into the legislature. I suppose Wang is telling us that he’ll be a good soldier for any general in the green camp.

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I also don’t think Kao Chia-yu 高嘉瑜 is the weakest green candidate. She is the youngest of the four DPP candidates, and, at least to my eyes, by far the most charismatic. Probably none of them will ever get to the legislature, but Kao seems to be more likely than any of the others to move up to the next level. If she ever tries for a legislative seat, she might want to think up a better slogan than, “Worthy of approval, definitely worthy.”

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Lee Chien-chang 李建昌 might be the weakest of the four. He has won five elections, but he has yet to break 18,000 votes. Four years ago, he was the last winner and fortunate that the KMT nominated an incompetent fifth candidate. On the other hand, Lee has won five straight elections. He is from the New Tide faction, so he has a solid base to work off of. He will never soar to the top of the table, but there is a limit to how far he can sink.

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I think that Chiang Chih-ming 江志銘 might be in the most trouble. Chiang has one clear appeal to voters: a vote for Chiang is a vote for Chen Shui-bian. Almost all of the former Chen faction politicians have moved on and aligned themselves with Tsai Ing-wen, Su Tseng-chang, or some other part of the DPP. Other than Chen’s son, Chiang might now be the politician who is most closely associated with the former president. Chiang’s campaign billboard is a masterpiece. The dark green background identifies Chiang as the deep green candidate, the one for the hard-core independence supporters. Happiness and hope was Chen’s campaign slogan in the 1994 mayoral race. This slogan reminds people of a more hopeful and innocent time, with an upbeat campaign followed by an outstanding term in office. This was the Chen Shui-bian that people loved. Defender of sympathy and righteousness reminds us that Chen is still being oppressed, needs voters’ support, and that Chiang is leading the effort to help Chen. In sum, this ad is brilliant. In a few simple symbols and phrases that target voters will easily grasp, it communicates exactly why you should vote for Chiang. The problem is that there might not be enough voters who still care passionately about Chen Shui-bian. He has been out of office for over six years now, and the country is moving on to other concerns. Chiang might discover that most voters are more interested in the future than in refighting the battles of the past.

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It somehow seems fitting that, in the year of Taiwan’s most miserable mayoral race, the most likely outcome in this district is that the last seat will come down to a fight between Huang Tsu-cheh and Chiang Chih-ming, the protégés of Sean Lien and Chen Shui-bian, two of Taiwan’s most unloved political figures.

 

6 Responses to “The race in Taipei District 2”

  1. jsmyth Says:

    Please keep these up! I find these fascinating. What readings on this subject do you recommend outside this blog btw? Chinese and English both OK.

  2. ジェームス (@jmstwn) Says:

    Two dozen campaign ads on buses passing through Gongguan, hope you find this useful: http://solidaritytw.tumblr.com/post/101662484370/two-dozen-campaign-ads-on-buses-passing-through

    Eric Chu’s strategy of advertising the city’s social welfare programs is smart.

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