I have a few photos that I’d like to chat about. There really isn’t a common theme other than that these are all part of the visual campaign.
I found these two photos on the internet, where they have gotten quite a bit of media attention. The first one was put up next to an ad for KMT Chiayi City mayoral candidate Chen Yi-chen and says, “voting for Chen Yi-chen is supporting Ma Ying-jeou.” The second one is from Yilan County, where the KMT member Lin Tzu-miao is running for re-election as mayor of Luodong Township. Her ad says, “Ma Ying-jeou does not equal to Lin Tzu-miao; [DPP county magistrate] Lin Tsung-hsien does not equal [DPP mayor candidate] Lin Shih-chi.”
Both of these ads are about the same theme. President Ma is very unpopular right now, and, especially in DPP-leaning areas such as Chiayi City or Luodong Township, DPP candidates would love for voters to vote based on how they feel about President Ma. In Chiayi, the local KMT candidate first reacted to this ad by calling it a dirty trick and illogical, then she avoided publicly campaigning with Ma, and finally, because that caused a backlash among deep blue voters, she had to make a very public appearance with him. In Luodong, where there are far fewer deep blue votes, the local KMT candidate has taken the initiative to publicly separate herself from Ma. She tries to make this into a purely local affair by also insinuating that her opponent is no Lin Tsung-hsien and voters should not consider either Ma or Lin but only her and her opponent. (Note: Lin preceded her as Luodong mayor before he became county magistrate, so Luodong voters presumably have fond memories of his tenure.)
I love seeing these ads. I believe strongly in representative democracy, but representative democracy only works with healthy party politics. Collective responsibility is at the heart of the system. If the whole party is punished whenever one member does something terrible, then the whole party has a strong incentive to constrain the individual members. It is nearly impossible to fight corruption one person at a time, but it is possible to vote out a party riddled by corruption. If a party leader tries some policy that is widely unpopular, the whole party should suffer the consequences. Again, this provides a strong incentive for party members to dissuade a leader from going in a strange and unpopular direction. If this collective constraining keeps party members advocating the same platform, it becomes much easier for voters to understand what a party stands for. That, in turn, allows them to make choices consistent with their own values. In a sense, constraining members is the single most important thing that political parties do.
One of the things that I have been particularly perturbed by over the past year is that the KMT has not revolted against President Ma’s leadership. A president with an approval rating consistently below 20% should face challenges to his power. Ma has become somewhat more impotent. The KMT legislative caucus has blatantly refused to follow his orders and pass the Services Trade Agreement or even the Oversight Mechanism. (Ma publicly blames this on the DPP, but if his caucus were united in wanting to pass it, they would pass it. It hasn’t passed because the KMT is divided, and the opponents are more scared of their voters than of President Ma.) However, with such extreme unpopularity, I would normally expect much more blatant rebellion. Finally, these sorts of ads force that tension out into the open.
I came across this ad while researching the post on independence alliances. I have never seen such a phalanx of female political power in a campaign ad. It’s not just that there are lots of women in the picture; it’s also that they are both powerful and mostly local. Lin Hsiang-ting is running in Chiayi County, and she is supported by the party chair (and presidential contender), the incumbent county magistrate, two Chiayi township mayors, as well as two prominent legislators from Tainan, just over the county line. This ad would have been unthinkable when I arrived in Taiwan. For one thing, the DPP barely had any local officeholders a generation ago, much less an army of prominent female politicians. For another, I’m not sure a candidate would have wanted to produce this ad for fear of widespread male chauvinism among rural voters.
Taiwan has seen an upsurge in female officeholders since democratization. The percentage of women in elected offices has risen globally over the past few decades, but it has gone up faster in Taiwan than elsewhere. I have written a few papers arguing that one of the drivers of this trend is the reserved female seat system in the SNTV (multi-member seat districts) electoral system. This is the rule that for every four seats a district elects, at least one must be won by a woman. Most people think of it as a largely useless and even anachronistic or embarrassing rule. It is almost never invoked, so most people think it has no effect. This couldn’t be more wrong. The rule drives parties to identify and cultivate female candidates so that those seats won’t go to their opponents. In districts without reserved seats, parties don’t have the same strong imperative and nominate (and elect) far fewer women.
Since the system is most effective with competitive party politics and multi-member districts, the direct municipalities should be the sweet spot. In fact, they are. In the six municipalities, over 35% of seats are currently held by women. If these six municipalities were a national legislature, they would rank #24 in the world. I’m going to be watching closely to see if that number goes up significantly in this election.
In the last few days, everyone screams danger! In this photo, five different candidates are begging voters to save them. In a multi-member district, the worst thing that can happen to a candidate is for voters to think they are safe. If a candidate is safe, (s)he doesn’t need your vote. Lots of candidates have suffered shocking losses due to overconfidence.
Wu Chih-kang (Wu Po-hsiung’s other son) understands this. “Safe victory means losing; don’t let fake surveys create another tragedy.” I don’t know that there actually were any surveys published for his city council district (Taipei 5), but credible surveys can be deadly. Surveys have caused so many unexpected losses that there is a name for the phenomenon, “the curse of number one.”
This candidate is not quite so bright. Many city council candidates will plead with their supporters to concentrate all their family’s votes and not to ration them out to several candidates. This particular candidate is running for neighborhood head, which is a single-seat election, but he is still pleading with supporters to concentrate their votes on him. Voters don’t need to ration out votes to try to elect three or four people in this kind of election. There isn’t even a possibility of strategic voting in this race since there are only two candidates. The only explanation for this appeal that I can think of is that everyone else is doing it, so he thinks he should say the magic phrase too.
Quick, which party is this candidate from? You’d never know from the color scheme that he is a DPP nominee. In fact, Lin You-chang has served as party spokesperson under Tsai Ing-wen, so it’s not like he is a fringe party member.
Lin’s two main foes in the Keelung City mayoral race are trying like hell to be his primary opponent. Unfortunately, they seem to be roughly tied, which is the worst possible position. They both want to convince blue camp supporters that the other one is hopeless. I like Hsieh’s slogan, “Dump Huang (yellow), save blue.” It not only invokes the dump-save formula, it also intimates that Hsieh is the real representative of the blue camp. Huang’s banner is more direct. This is a contest between Huang and Lin, and a vote for Hsieh is a vote for Lin.
Right across the bridge from those two banners, there is another pair of banners. Hsieh’s is the same, but Huang’s is somewhat earthier. Angry, fed up, and &@!#* voters should vote for Huang. Huang’s main appeal has been that the KMT is oppressing him. He has been treated unfairly, and he is pissed off.
The little yellow ribbon under the sign says, “Give Huang Ching-tai justice.” This is reminiscent of the authoritarian era, when Tangwai candidates threatened with prison sentences would tell voters that they expected no justice from the judicial system and their only hope was for the voters to give them justice. We’ve gotten several fliers about how oppressive the system is and reminding us about the injustices of the KMT going back to 228. Huang has been in prison without bail for a couple of months, and he thinks he is being politically persecuted. Both he and his brother, who is running the campaign in Huang’s absence, are on hunger strikes right now. The only minor thing is, we are supposed to have forgotten why Huang is in prison. He wasn’t arrested for throwing a shoe at President Ma or anything like that. He’s corrupt, and he got caught. Now he’s angry at the KMT for treating him unfairly, but we aren’t supposed to remember that he was a loyal KMT member who never talked about things like 228 until just a few months ago.
Finally, here is a picture of lots of flags. I love seeing a lot of flags everywhere. It gives the atmosphere of election season and makes me think happy thoughts about democracy in action. Some people love seeing Christmas decorations everywhere; I love election decorations. Unfortunately, this may be the last time we see such a scene. It seems the powers that be have come to a conclusion that this is visual pollution and have agreed to ban as much as possible. You will still be free to put up all the billboards you can afford, but unpaid banners and flags covering public spaces may be a thing of the past. Taichung is particularly sterile this year, and I mourn this development.