Last week, the DPP published the list of aspirants for nominations in the 43 legislative districts.20150306180657_link I think it is time that I should write about this.
First, why 43? Aren’t there 73 district seats? Yes, but the DPP is only holding open nomination contests for 43 of them. The DPP only holds open nominations in districts in which it has a reasonable chance of winning. In “difficult” districts, the party chair is empowered to identify and nominate whoever she thinks has the best chance of winning. Difficult districts are defined as those in which the DPP legislative candidate got less than 42.5% in the previous election.
The DPP currently holds 26 of the 43 districts. 24 incumbents are running for re-election, and two are retiring. 19 of the incumbents are running unopposed, while five face primary challenges. 15 of the other 17 districts have more than one aspirant. Former Yunlin County magistrate Su Chih-fen 蘇治芬 is running unopposed for the Yunlin 1 nomination, and nobody registered for the Taoyuan 1 seat, though everyone seems to think that former legislator and current DPP spokesman Cheng Yun-peng 鄭運鵬 will be drafted.
The DPP’s 27th district legislator is Liu Chao-hao 劉櫂豪, from Taitung County. Since Liu won a three-way race in 2012 with only 41.6%, he represents a “difficult” district and does not have to face a primary. This is somewhat ironic. In early 2010, the DPP shocked everyone by winning several by-elections in deep blue territory. Taitung was one of these, with the DPP’s Lie Kun-cheng 賴坤成 narrowly edging a KMT candidate awash in corruption allegations. This was the first time the DPP had won anything in Taitung, so you might have expected they would go out of their way to protect this precious asset. Instead, Lie was forced to defend his hard-earned seat in a party primary, where he was challenged by and lost to Liu Chao-hao, the only other prominent DPP politician in the county. I don’t know if Lie was planning to try to regain his seat by challenging Liu in this year’s primary, but because Taitung is a “difficult” district, he doesn’t have a chance. He has to be wondering why that rule couldn’t have been put in place four years earlier.
I’m going to look at a few of the more interesting nomination contests, but let’s first consider a basic bit of electoral math. There are 73 district seats, 6 Aboriginal seats, and 34 party list seats. If the DPP wants to win a majority, it will probably need to win 40 district seats. This seems a more reachable goal than winning an Aboriginal seat or winning an 18th party list seat. So how hard would it be for the DPP to win 40 district seats?
The DPP’s presidential vote share is a good indicator of how difficult a given district is before adding in all the local considerations. We can rank the 73 districts from Tsai Ing-wen’s highest vote share to her lowest vote share. The green bars are seats the DPP won in 2012, while the pink bars are seats the blue camp won. In the first 25 districts, Tsai broke 50%, and the DPP generally won these districts. In the 26th through 40th districts, Tsai got between 45 and 49%. These districts were the battleground, with the DPP and KMT roughly splitting them. In the 41st through 73rd districts, Tsai got below 45%, and the DPP lost all of them except for Taitung, where the KMT’s vote was split.
There are a few things to note about this. First, the KMT did relatively well in the DPP’s territory and in the battlegrounds, but they had two big advantages. For one thing, most of the races featured a KMT incumbent. For another, in almost all of those battleground districts, Ma actually outpolled Tsai. That is, the DPP managed to win a hefty share of seats in districts in which they had to challenge an entrenched incumbent and they had to make up a small deficit in party votes. Second, most every expects Tsai to do better in 2016 than in 2012. That will put many of those 2012 battleground districts firmly into the DPP majority column in 2016. Third, it might sound demanding to expect the DPP to win 40 out of 73 districts, but they actually won their 40th best district in 2012. That district was Taichung 6, which was won by Lin Chia-lung 林佳龍 (and retained easily by Huang Kuo-shu 黃國書 in the by-election last month). Taichung 6 might not still be the DPP’s 40th best district, but neither is it expected to be much of a challenge for the DPP to retain. The point is, the DPP had a reasonable chance at a majority in 2012, and they will have an even better chance in 2016. Let’s imagine that Tsai’s vote share goes up by 5%. It wouldn’t go up by exactly 5% in each district, but the increase probably wouldn’t vary too much. For our purposes, it’s probably not too crude to imagine a uniform 5% increase everywhere. That would give the DPP’s presidential candidate a majority in the top 40 districts and would put districts 41-53 into that 45-49% range where the DPP would have a chance to steal a few more seats. Of course, the DPP almost certainly wouldn’t sweep the top 40 seats. There are some KMT incumbents who will be able to hold out against the tide. However, this math is starting to look more daunting to the blue side than to the green side.
That’s all well and good, but the candidates matter, too. Let’s look at a few of the more interesting districts.
New Taipei 6 (the northeast half of Banqiao) will be one of the most interesting districts in the general election. It is currently held by Lin Hung-chih 林鴻池, who was the KMT’s party whip during the September struggles and the Sunflower Movement. When Ma couldn’t remove Speaker Wang from the legislature, he tried to route everything through the party caucus. Lin was thus a key cog in Ma’s struggle to hollow out Wang’s position. I’m not sure how Lin felt about being caught up in this power struggle, but he always played the loyal soldier. Now he has to face the electoral consequences. In 2012, the DPP nominated a relatively weak candidate, and Lin’s deep local connections produced a fairly easy re-election. However, his district is by no means deep blue territory. Tsai got 47.1% here, making it the DPP’s 32nd best district. Lin won’t go down easily, but this district could be a major trophy for the DPP.
Ambitious DPP politicians can apparently sense this district’s vulnerability. Four solid aspirants have thrown their hats into the ring. Chuang Shuo-han 莊碩漢 is a former legislator who acquitted himself well during his tenure in office. Yu Mei-mei 余莓莓 is a well-known talk show host. You Ping-tao 游秉陶 hasn’t done anything (that I know of), but he has an influential father. His dad is Yu Hsi-kun 游錫堃, the former Premier who just came within a few thousand votes of defeating Eric Chu 朱立倫. The strongest candidate might actually be the least nationally-known one. Chang Hung-lu 張宏陸 is a city councilor, and he is also one of Su Tseng-chang’s 蘇貞昌 most trusted lieutenants. Unlike Yu and You, Chang has been working the district for a decade. Chuang has local ties dating back at least to the early Chen Shui-bian era, but I’m not sure how intensively he has been maintaining those ties. The national media focus is on the former premier’s son, but I have doubts he will be able to survive this heavyweight primary.
Right next door in New Taipei 5 (Shulin), another high-profile second generation aspirant looks to enter the legislature. Former premier Su Tseng-chang’s daughter, Su Chiao-hui 蘇巧慧, is running against former city council member Ou Chin-shih 歐金獅 and Liao Yi-kun 廖宜琨, the son of former legislator Liao Pen-yen 廖本煙. The younger Su is a lawyer who is most famous for overseeing the DPP’s legal team in the 2004 presidential election recount. She has also been running her father’s foundation for a few years. Su has chosen an excellent district to contest. One of her opponents lost his re-election bid last year, while the other is the son of the candidate who lost the legislative races in 2008 and 2012. The Liao family will have a hard time arguing they deserve a third chance. This district is also perhaps the DPP’s best target for a pickup in New Taipei City. Tsai got 47.4%, making it the DPP’s 29th best district. The KMT incumbent is Huang Chih-hsiung 黃志雄, who was a famous athlete in karate. He hasn’t done very much in office, though. This district is extremely vulnerable.
Su Tseng-chang has strong representatives in New Taipei 5 and 6. He also has a close ally in New Taipei 4 (Xinzhuang). Wu Ping-jui 吳秉叡 and Chang Hung-lu might be his two closest lieutenants, and Su Chiao-hui is his daughter. These are also all winnable districts. Su could be very busy campaigning in New Taipei in the fall, and he could have a strong delegation in the next legislature.
The third prominent second-generation candidate is in Kaohsiung. Former President Chen’s son ran as an independent in Kaohsiung 9 four years ago and split the green vote, throwing this deep green district to the KMT. This year, he is trying to win the district by first winning the DPP nomination. This nomination contest will probably be a referendum on how people feel about the president and his son, with the other two candidates merely being not-Chen. Until today’s breaking news, I assumed that Chen Chih-chung 陳致中 would easily win the nomination and the seat. The DPP cannot afford to mess up this district again.
All five nominations in Tainan are being contested. It’s not surprising to see intense competition over the two seats with retiring incumbents. In 2012, Wang Ting-yu王定宇defeated a five-term incumbent in the District 5 primary and set off an intense struggle for the nomination that was only resolved by giving the seat to a geriatric Mark Chen 陳唐山 for a term. Chen is now retiring, so Wang is trying to get take the seat he thinks he should have won four years ago. I don’t know anything about the city councilor opposing him, but I wonder if they are continuing the same feud. In District 4, a former DPP spokesman, Lin Chun-hsien林俊憲, is facing off against a former chair of the city DPP party branch, Tsai Wang-chuan蔡旺詮, and a couple other people. Wang, Lin, and Tsai could all be future party stars. What’s more surprising is that all three incumbents are being challenged. I think two things might be going on. First, the local DPP is in a bit of a crisis because of the city council speaker scandal. Several DPP councilors were implicated, and there is now a pretty vicious fight between the various factions. It’s probably oversimplifying, but the New Tide faction led by Mayor Lai 賴清德 is struggling for supremacy with the faction loyal to former President Chen. This leads to the second factor. The various sides are starting the fight to see who will take over Tainan in 2018 (or maybe 2016 if Lai becomes VP). The three incumbent legislators are the most likely to be the next mayor, so some of these challenges might be attempts to remove them before that fight. As long as the DPP can manage to settle the fights before next January, these should all be easy victories.
Staying in the south, Kaohsiung 3 (Nanzi, Zuoying) is held by KMT stalwart Huang Chao-shun 黃昭順. Huang had always been considered to hold a safe seat. Zuoying has a large military population, and most people thought that and Huang’s two decades of local connections were too much of an advantage for the DPP to overcome. Four years ago, many people were quite surprised that DPP city councilor Lin Ying-jung林瑩蓉came within 6,000 votes of upsetting Huang. Tsai won 46.6%, making it the DPP’s 34th best district. This year, when ambitious DPP politicians looked around for a good district to try to attack, several focused on this district. Former Premier Frank Hsieh 謝長廷 declared he would run in a difficult district (which would springboard him to the Speaker’s chair), and he seemed quite surprised to find that the rest of the world had also figured out that Kaohsiung 3 was not so impossible. He was promptly shamed into targeting a more difficult district (perhaps Taipei 1). Meanwhile, back in Kaohsiung 3, Lin Ying-jung is trying to win a second opportunity. She probably deserves it, but she is not getting a free pass. She is being challenged by Liu Shih-fang劉世芳, a former Kaohsiung City Deputy Mayor and a New Tide faction leader. It will be interesting to see if the local politician or the one with a national profile comes out ahead.
You have probably noticed the term “city councilor” popping up repeatedly. This is not an accident. In most of these open seats, the DPP nomination is being contested by one or several city or county councilors. A generation ago, the DPP didn’t have these sorts of grassroots politicians ready to move up the ladder. After two decades of inroads into local politics, the DPP is no longer at a clear disadvantage. They can field candidates with strong local connections almost as easily as the KMT. I can’t tell you much about any of the people who registered for DPP nominations in central Taiwan, but they are almost all local office holders.
Finally, let me mention three districts that are officially “difficult.” The DPP failed to get 42.5% in the legislative races in 2012 in Taichung 3 (Tanzi), Taichung 8 (Fengyuan), and Changhua 1 (Lugang), but that reflected weak legislative candidates rather than general party unpopularity. Tsai got 47% in all three, making them the 28th, 30th, and 31st ranked districts. These are districts that the DPP should consider as winnable rather than as difficult and unlikely.