In the conclusion of my previous post about the DPP primary in Kaohsiung 9, I casually suggested that Chen Hsin-yu of the Hsieh faction was probably well ahead of Lai Jui-lung of the Chen Chu (CC) faction. Today the results were released, and, as you probably should have expected, I was wrong. Lai won the polling primary by a clear 5%, 33.70 to 28.79%.
This was a shocking result to me. I don’t know much about either Chen or Lai, but based on the little I did know, Chen should have been the superior candidate. Chen is an incumbent city councilor while Lai was the head of the city Marine Bureau. Time and time again, some bureaucrat runs for office. The national media loves him, pundits talk about how qualified he is, and people in the bureaucracy praise him for his hard work at solving substantive problems. Then he gets crushed by some local politician who no one has ever heard of. The thing is, politics is a difficult game, and local politicians have been working at it (successfully) for years. They have been going to local housing association meetings, mediating car crashes, convincing schools to enroll voters’ children, getting roads paved, showing up at countless weddings and funerals, and so on. They have been building ties, one at a time, for a long time. Chen Hsin-yu, for example, has been working her district for over a decade. Lai, in contrast, was a last-minute entrant into the race. Bureaucracy, on the other hand, is a very different game. Bureaucrats develop connections primarily with other bureaucrats. Those are great for working the levers of power, but they don’t do a whole lot when it comes to wooing ordinary voters. Politicians are almost always better than bureaucrats at elections. This is even true when the bureaucrat is sponsored by a popular elected politician. Many popular mayors or magistrates at the end of their second term have tried to pass the office on to a trusted deputy. However, the few that manage to make through the party nomination stage generally fare poorly in the general election. Voters historically don’t buy the idea that “a vote for him is a vote for me.”
Moreover, Chen Hsin-yu (and everyone else) acted as if she expected to win. Leading candidates are the ones who keep repeating that everyone should just follow the process and have a fair and clean test of strength. Calls for more negotiations, delays, or changes in the process always come from people who think they are losing.
So what happened? I think this has to be considered a huge triumph for Chen Chu. Because Chen Shui-bian’s son was involved and because this turned into a fairly nasty fight between Hsieh and CC, this race got a lot of media coverage. By the time the polling was held, we all had a pretty clear idea that this was a proxy war between the CC and Hsieh factions. Normally, even in nasty faction battles, the individual candidates are the deciding factors. I assume most of the 28% who supported Chen Hsin-yu made their decision because they supported her personally. However, I simply can’t make that assumption for the relatively anonymous Lai. His 33% almost certainly reflects a tremendous vote of confidence for CC.
Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that CC is different. She is more popular than almost any other mayor. Her satisfaction ratings have been in the 70s for several years, and she is consistently rated as one of the best two or three mayors in the country. She just won re-election with an unthinkable 68%. Moreover, she runs Kaohsiung, a major city with a big budget. She has a lot of resources to spread around, and she is very good at spreading them around. She has been so effective at building her faction in Kaohsiung that people commonly talk of the “Chu Faction” rather than of the local New Tide faction. (Among the current seven DPP legislators from Kaohsiung, Li Kun-tse is her nephew, Chiu Chih-wei was previously in her mini-cabinet, Chiu Yi-ying (who is usually considered part of the Su faction) is married to the deputy mayor, and Lin Tai-hua has connections to the New Tide faction. I don’t know anything about Hsu Chih-chieh, and the other two are in the Hsieh faction.) Given the overwhelming dominance of the DPP in Kaohsiung 9, she has almost certainly just added another major post to her faction’s power base.
If Chen Chu is the big winner, Frank Hsieh and Chen Shui-bian are the big losers. The former president no longer has enough popularity to win a primary for his son, even when deep green voters were jolted back to 2007 by unfounded accusations of corruption. At least he withdrew before suffering a humiliating defeat. The former premier went into this battle with a clear advantage in candidate quality and suffered a stunning loss in the city he governed for six years. If other races go like this, this could be the year that the old factions formed in President Chen’s second term give way to new factions oriented toward politics in the next decade.
I should note that this primary has worked out quite well for Tsai Ing-wen. For one, she has always had better relations with Chen Chu and New Tide than with Hsieh and A-Bian. For another, her top goal was simply for the green side to settle on a single candidate in order to win the seat. That seems to have been achieved. For a third thing, this contest may have silenced Chen Shui-bian. Tsai didn’t want to have Chen Chih-chung running for the simple reason that she didn’t want the blue camp and the media constantly talking about him. She wants voters to think about what a lousy president Ma Ying-jeou is, not what a lousy president Chen Shui-bian was. By allowing Chen Chih-chung back into the DPP, she forced him to take part in the party primary where he could be defeated. Even better, the Chen family withdrew, perhaps because they were made aware of how tenuous Chen’s medical parole is. I can’t imagine the former president will stay completely out of the limelight, but he made have come to understand that a lower profile has some advantages. A silent Chen is exactly what Tsai wants.
Finally, I want to make a point about intra-party fights. These fights are healthy for the DPP. If Chen Chu’s power is increasing and Hsieh’s is waning, it will be better for the party if that is out in the open. Conflict can be papered over in the short-term, but eventually they will burst out into the open. Now, a full ten months before the election, is the perfect time to have those fights. Remember what happened four years ago when the DPP tried to avoid having a fight over its party list. They delegated power to Tsai Ing-wen to determine the list. Inevitably, people were unhappy with the result. Moreover, since the losers had not had a chance to have an open fight, they felt cheated. They raised the issue deep into the presidential campaign, complaining that Tsai’s list was “the same old people” and it didn’t have any social activists or progressives, and demanding that it be revised. In addition to damaging party unity, this long, drawn-out fight tarnished Tsai’s image as a leader and the DPP’s image as a reformist party. They would have been much better off with a vicious but fair and open fight in the early spring. Almost as much as fights between parties, fights within parties are an essential part of the democratic process.