family politics in Taiwan

Yesterday a group called 翻轉選舉運動 (Transforming Elections Movement?) made a media splash by releasing a list of the ten most tyrannical political families 鴨霸家族 in Taiwan. The group claims to be disturbed by political families in general, since they believe that politics should not be monopolized by people already in power but should be open to all people. Unfortunately, that high-minded rhetoric is undermined by their blatantly partisan list. See if you notice any pattern with this list. (“M” means the person is running for mayor or magistrate this year; “CC” means they are running for city or county council; “TC” means they are running for town council; “LY” means they are currently a legislator

  1. Taipei Lien family: Lien Chan 連戰, Sean Lien 連勝文 (M)
  2. Taoyuan Wu family: Wu Po-hsiung 吳伯雄, John Wu 吳志揚 (M), Wu Chih-kang 吳志剛 (CC)
  3. Taichung Yen family: Yen Ching-piao 顏清標, Yen Kuan-heng 顏寬恒 (LY), Yen Li-min 顏莉敏 (CC)
  4. New Taipei: Kao-Chu family: Kao Yu-jen 高育仁, Eric Chu 朱立倫 (M)
  5. Hualien Fu family: Fu Kun-chi 傅崑萁 (M), Hsu Chen-wei 徐榛蔚 (M)
  6. Yunlin Chang family: Chang Jung-wei 張榮味, Chang Chia-chun 張嘉郡 (LY), Chang Li-shan 張麗善 (M)
  7. Zhonghe Chang family: Chang Ching-chung 張慶忠 (LY), Chen Chin-ting 陳錦錠 (CC)
  8. Keelung Chang family: Chang Tung-jung 張通榮, Chang Yuan-hsiang 張淵翔 (CC)
  9. Tainan Wu family: Wu Chien-bao 吳健保, Wu Yu-huan 吳禹寰 (CC)
  10. Hualien Wei family: Wei Chia-hsien 魏嘉賢 (CC), Wei Yu-cheng 魏鈺晟 (TC), Wei Chia-yen 魏嘉彥 (TC)

Of course, the answer is that they are all from the blue side of the political divide. However, the KMT does not have a monopoly on political families. The DPP has plenty of political families as well. If this group were really worried about political families and not simply trying to convince voters to vote against the KMT, you might have seen a few green families on this list. This year most of the high profile family candidates are in fact from the KMT side of the divide, but a little balance would have helped.

Could I do better? Of course I could! The first thing is to take the undeserving people off the list. The two Hualien families clearly are out of place on this list. Fu Kun-chi’s wife is not actually running. He and his wife both registered for the mayoral race as a way to look oppressed: if the KMT trumped up some charges against him and disqualified him, voters could still vote for his wife. However, this is really a one-person political “family.” The Wei family is simply not important enough to be on this list. The family has never won a legislative seat, though they came close 22 years ago. (I wonder if the Movement knows about that history.) Lots of families throughout Taiwan have members on county councils and town councils. Why is the Wei family singled out? Heck, a better choice from Hualien would have been the Wu family, where former magistrate Wu Kuo-tong 吳國棟 is running family member Wu Chien-chi 吳建志 for the county council. I’m a bit surprised that the Movement didn’t try to squeeze Chiayi City mayor candidate Chen Yi-chen 陳以真 on this list. She comes from a rich family that has a marginal history in Chiayi electoral politics, and her husband was briefly a KMT spokesman.

Which green figures should go on the list? The DPP has fewer mayoral family candidates this year than in past years (think about the Kaohsiung Yu family, the Yunlin Su family, the Changhua Yao family, and so on). The obvious exception is in Chiayi County, where magistrate Chang Hua-kuan 張花冠 is the wife of former legislator Tseng Chen-nong 曾振農. Her son Tseng Liang-che 曾亮哲 is also a county council candidate. In the city council races, there are several high-profile choices. Former Premier Frank Hsieh 謝長廷 is running his son in Taipei. In the same district, legislator Hsueh Ling’s 薛凌 (who is married to former legislator Chen Sheng-hung 陳勝宏, both are wired into the banking sector) son is running for re-election. If you want a more southern flavor, former Chiayi County magistrate (and local faction heavyweight) Chen Ming-wen 陳明文 is trying to put his nephew Chen Yi-yueh 陳怡岳 into the county council. There are plenty of other choices, but I’d probably put two or three of those on my list to make it more balanced. Also, the Zhonghe Chang family is a fine case, but you might want to mention that it also includes some DPP politicians such as CC candidate Chiang Yung-chang 江永昌.

I am actually starting to study political families in a more systematic way. I’ve just started collecting data, so I am nowhere near ready to present findings in formal research. However, this is a blog, so sloppy and incomplete conclusions are completely acceptable!

My data are mostly based on newspaper reports. Generally there is a story in the local sections within a week or two of candidate registration that introduces the candidates to the readers. Reporters often don’t say anything about incumbents except that they are almost universally expected to win re-election. For new candidates, reporters will usually give one or two details. I pay particular attention to family ties and previous offices. While local reporters give a surprising amount of information, it is not always systematic. Some local reporters know all the details, and some have no idea about family ties. Because of that, my data should be considered a lower bound. Just because I haven’t seen any reports of family ties does not mean that there are none. Moreover, we often don’t hear about family ties for incumbents. In a previous post, I discussed the Chen, Chueh, and Lee families in Taipei D2. I haven’t seen any references to these families this year. To find them, you might have to go back to 1998 and 2002 when the current incumbents ran for the first time. I am slowly filling in the history, but I am a long way from finished.

To keep things simple, let’s only look at the 688 candidates for the six municipal councils this year. (I am working on the county councils as well, but those data are spottier.) I am looking at legacy politicians, those who follow from a previous family member. For example, Yen Ching-piao’s children are legacy candidates, while Yen Ching-piao himself is not.

Variable category % legacy Total candidates
.
All 12.2 688
.
Incumbent? Yes 12.9 333
No 11.5 355
.
City Taipei 13.9 108
New Taipei 13.3 117
Taoyuan 7.0 143
Taichung 12.4 113
Tainan 14.9 87
Kaohsiung 13.7 117
.
Party KMT 18.3 213
DPP 15.0 200
New 0.0 18
PFP 0.0 25
TSU 7.4 27
Other 0.0 31
IND 7.5 174
.
Party * Incumbent KMT incumbent 18.9 143
DPP incumbent 9.8 133
IND incumbent 4.7 43
KMT new 17.1 70
DPP new 25.4 67
IND new 8.4 131

Overall, 12.2% of the candidates this year are legacy candidates. I was surprised that it was that low. When I was collecting data, it seemed like every other candidate had a family member holding some other office. Remember, all of these numbers will go up as my data becomes more complete. My guess is that the final number will be somewhere around 15-20%.

Taoyuan has fewer legacy politicians than other metros. There are two things going on. First, the newspaper reports for Taoyuan aren’t as good as for other metros, so I might be missing more cases there than in other areas. Second, this is Taoyuan’s first year as a direct municipality. I don’t have the numbers to back this up yet, but my initial impression is that family ties are more important in the six metros than in the sixteen other counties. The most important reason for this might have to do with the political ladder. In counties, there are township councils. An aspiring politician can get a spot in a township council first and slowly build up electoral strength to aim for a spot in a county council. A very high percentage of challengers in county councils are incumbent town councilors. In the municipal councils, the first ring on the ladder is the city council. This is a very high step, usually requiring well over 10,000 votes. This makes it very hard for outsiders with no electoral experience to break into the game, and legacy candidates step into this breach. This year, Taoyuan still has incumbent town councilors. In 2018, we might see a surge in family politicians. (I have not yet tested this hypothesis with the former Taipei, Kaohsiung, Tainan, and Taichung Counties.)

Overall, the KMT has a slightly higher percentage of legacy candidates, though the difference is not all that great. The KMT does not have a monopoly on family politics, no matter what the Transforming Elections Movement wants to tell you.

There is a difference in the nature of KMT and DPP family politicians. The percentage of incumbent KMT candidates with family ties is roughly twice as high as for incumbent DPP candidates. However, the DPP has a much higher percentage of legacy candidates among newcomers. Over a quarter of DPP newcomers have family ties. For some reason, the DPP has embraced family politics in this election cycle.

I expect KMT and DPP newcomers with party ties to do better in these elections than those without family ties. This is the normal pattern in other countries. If that happens, the current gap among incumbents between the KMT and DPP will shrink significantly. Again, neither major party seems interested in preventing family politicians from winning influence. Political families seem to be on the rise in both parties.

2 Responses to “family politics in Taiwan”

  1. ジェームス (@jmstwn) Says:

    My curiosity is piqued. Are any of your academic papers in the public domain?

    • frozengarlic Says:

      This project is about three years from publication if everything goes extremely smoothly. Other work is on JSTOR, if you have access to that. Earlier versions (ie: conference papers) are sometimes available on the midwest political science association website. Be warned, academic writing is boring and can seem pointless to outsiders.

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