Archive for July, 2015

Quick thoughts on a few races

July 29, 2015

A few thoughts on recent developments in legislative nominations.

In Keelung, Hau Lung-pin didn’t exactly win a smashing victory in the KMT primary, with only 45% in a three-way race. On the other hand, he didn’t spend much time preparing or campaigning for the race either. I’m not terribly surprised he won. Perhaps the most surprising thing is that the third place candidate was Lin Pei-hsiang 林沛祥, son of a current KMT legislator Hsu Shao-ping 徐少萍 and former Keelung City mayor Lin Shui-mu 林水木. With such high-powered parents, I had originally thought that Lin would be a fairly strong candidate. However, I recently unearthed something that made me more skeptical about whether Lin’s family still had much clout. In my real career, I’m writing a paper on candidates from political families. In collecting data for this project, I came across the case of a certain Lin Yi 林毅, who ran for the Keelung city council in 2005 and 2009. He lost both times, failing to break 3000 votes. Lin Yi’s parents are – you guessed it – legislator Hsu Shao-ping and former mayor Lin Shui-mu. This is probably a good time to remember that Hsu has never been a very strong candidate. She nearly lost in both 1995 and 1998, and she finished far behind the PFP candidate in 2001 and 2004. Her husband was last elected over two decades ago. Simply put, the family was never all that popular, and they haven’t won an election in over a decade.

The point is, the other candidates in the field were not that impressive. If one of them had been strong, the KMT might have nominated someone a long time ago. This lousy field was ripe for a shark to come in and clean up. Hau was simply playing the time-honored role of a shark, which is nice for him but also good for his party. (The classic case of this sort of cold-blooded shark might be Su Tseng-chang elbowing aside a sick and weak Lu Hsiu-yi for the DPP Taipei County magistrate nomination in 1997. It was not a compassionate move, but the DPP was ultimately much better off because of Su’s cutthroat maneuvering.)

Some people think that PFP candidate Liu Wen-hsiung will split off lots of blue votes from Hau, thus throwing the race to the DPP. This is certainly possible, but we should throw in a note of caution. Liu hasn’t run in Keelung since 2001 2007 [edit: see comments], so his mobilization networks are probably gone. Moreover, he last ran when the PFP represented the deep blue portion of the spectrum and the KMT’s Hsu Shao-ping was thought of as part of the nativist Taiwan KMT wing. This time, the deep blue voters will almost certainly go for Hau. With the PFP attempting to move into the vacuum in the light blue part of the spectrum, Liu will have to woo voters who he has never been that successful at winning over. This might be harder than it appears at first glance.

After a tortuous process, the green side has finally settled on legal scholar and Sunflower leader Huang Kuo-chang in New Taipei 12. He will be facing Lee Ching-hua. From one point of view, this is a great matchup for Huang. Lee has direct ties to the old authoritarian era, as his father was one of Chiang Ching-kuo’s most trusted aides from way back when the KMT still held the mainland. Lee is an unapologetic Chinese nationalist, fully in sync with Hung Hsiu-chu’s unificationist rhetoric. In fact, Lee might be one of the few elected politicians in Taiwan who is even more pro-unification than Hung. Huang Kuo-chang can have a field day picking at Lee’s ideological positions and his privileged family ties. To the extent that the Lee-Huang race makes national headlines, the green side should benefit.

On the other hand, Huang is pretty much the definition of a parachute candidate. He is not embedded in any local networks. About 65% of district 12 voters live in Xizhi, which is predominantly urban. Xizhi has grown very rapidly, so many people are not incorporated into the old social networks. It is also an overflow suburb; people move to Xizhi because they can’t afford to live in Taipei City. This is fertile territory for Huang. However, the other 35% of district 12 is spread around in various rural districts. These are the sorts of places in which personal connections can deliver votes. While several of them have slight green tilts, they also tend to swing to the party in power. Lee has now spent eight years cultivating these areas. He isn’t a natural fit since he isn’t what you would call a “grassroots” style politician, and he lost significant chunks of votes in both 2008 and 2012 to third party candidates. However, compared to the outsider Huang, Lee will have a decided advantage in familiarity.

Tsai Ing-wen clearly made a decision based on national political considerations that she wanted Huang in this race. On purely local merits, I think the DPP would have been better off with their local city councilor.

In Taichung 4, the green camp has two former student leaders vying for the nomination. The foreign press is fawning over Wuer Kaixi吾爾開希, but Chang Liao Wan-chien’s 張廖萬堅 history in the Wild Lily movement is probably more pertinent to Taiwanese voters. The Wild Lily movement, after all, played an important role in democratizing Taiwan. Chang Liao has also spent the intervening years organizing votes in Taichung. Doing the dirty political work usually trumps getting a short burst of international press.

Either way, the KMT incumbent in Taichung 4 turns the race into an interesting test case. The KMT shouldn’t be vulnerable here, but Tsai Chin-lung 蔡錦隆 survived a surprisingly close race in 2012 and he is one of the rare KMT candidates in central Taiwan who is actively embracing Hung Hsiu-chu. I’m curious to see how much that will cost him.

The KMT has had difficulty convincing its top people to run in many districts. Yunlin 2 is perhaps one of the more disappointing cases for them. The KMT is in disarray in Yunlin. They have lost control of the county government, and it certainly looks as if they will lose both legislative seats. The Hsu family is a spent force, and the Chang family looks as if its best days are in the past. However, the KMT does have one rising star in Yunlin. Hsieh Shu-ya 謝淑亞 is currently the mayor of Douliu City, and she previously served as mayor of Gukeng Township. She is also from a prominent KMT family; her father-in-law Liao Fuw-peen 廖福本 was a legislator (and KMT floor leader) back in the 1980s and 1990s. (Those of you with long enough memories will certainly remember “Red Envelope Peen” 紅包本.) If the KMT is going to make a comeback in Yunlin, Hsieh is likely to be the vehicle. However, she prudently decided to sit out this year’s race. Rising star or not, this is a terrible year for an aspiring KMT politician in the south to risk any political capital.

On arrests at the Ministry of Education

July 29, 2015

I’m swamped right now in my real job, so I haven’t had time to write much recently for this blog. I’m hoping to clear out the pile by maybe … November? In the meantime, in place of fully developed ideas, I’m going to have to resort to relatively short comments.

I have two thoughts about the recent student protests at the Ministry of Education. First, the students crossed an important line when they broke into the ministry, and the government was fully justified in arresting them. Protesters have the right to protest all they want out on the street. They don’t have the right to try to enforce their demands by shutting down part of the executive branch by forcibly occupying it. The legitimacy of the ministry rests on the 2012 election results, in which the KMT won a majority of votes in the presidential race and a majority of seats in the legislature. Voters gave both the president and the legislators four year terms, and those four years are not up yet. No matter how popular the students are, political power must be apportioned through elections. I understand that the executive branch has taken some liberties with the normal processes of textbook revision. Protesters have the right to scream as loudly as possible about that and to try to convince the electorate to impose the heaviest penalty possible the next time they go to the polls. What protesters do not have the right to do is to effectively overturn the previous electoral result by removing the incumbents’ power to govern.

During the Sunflower movement, Taiwan faced a similar situation. A group of protesters forcibly stopped government operations by occupying the legislature. In that case, I swallowed hard and decided that because of the extraordinary circumstances the occupation was perhaps compatible with democratic practices. At the time, the occupation was a unique occurrence. Now these new student protesters are copying the Sunflower occupation and attempting to transform an extraordinary tactic into an ordinary one. This is where I get off the bus. I do not believe that protesters should be able to regularly shut down the government by occupying government offices.

In a somewhat related story, I’m also increasingly disenchanted with Tainan mayor William Lai’s refusal to report to the Tainan city council. Lai has decided that the speaker is guilty of bribery, so he will not enter the chamber. However, Lai is not the prosecutor, judge, and jury. There are institutions that process accusations of election bribery; the mayor is not charged with this task. By asserting the right to make a unilateral judgment of the speaker’s guilt, Lai is showing extreme contempt for the regular legal framework. The KMT sarcastically calls him “God Lai” 賴神, and Lai seems not to have tried to distance himself from this nickname. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Lai seems to place himself above the law.

Returning to the student protests, my second thought on the incident last week is that the arrest of the journalists covering the protests is a disgrace to Taiwan. Whether you agree or disagree with the students’ actions, they were doing something that affects the public interest. The public has a right to know about what they were doing, and the media has an obligation to cover important news concerning public policy. These reporters were providing a necessary public service. However, the police decided to treat the media as if they were protesters. This is unforgivable. It is not as if this is a brand-new situation that the police had to figure out. By now, the police should have clearly defined protocols that distinguish between media and protesters. If Freedom House or some other international organization (deservedly) downgrades Taiwan’s freedom of the press this year, the police and their political masters will bear that responsibility.

Hung is nominated

July 21, 2015

The KMT slow-motion train wreck lumbers on, inevitably heading toward the cliff that everyone can see approaching in the distance, though some choose to avert their eyes.

One of the big themes from this weekend’s party congress was that Hung Hsiu-chu had not mentioned her “One China with the same interpretation” idea or that she could only talk about the ROC government, not the ROC itself. Instead, after a few weeks of immense party pressure, she “returned” to the formal party position of the 92 Consensus. To me, this is simply more of the KMT pretending a problem doesn’t exist. She has already laid out her preference, and she never repudiated her stance. In fact, she complained to the media that the simply didn’t understand her position and/or were misrepresenting it. In other words, just because she is strategically not talking about One China with the same interpretation these days doesn’t mean that that is not her actual position.

We have been through this before. In 2000, if you just looked at the three candidates’ China White Papers, they took very similar positions. Arguably, Chen Shui-bian had the friendliest position toward China, and Lien Chan (who was still campaigning under Lee Teng-hui’s “Special State to State Relationship”) had the least friendly position. In 2008, Ma Ying-jeou took great pains to tell voters that he was a Taiwan-first candidate. However, with hindsight we can see clearly that Lien and Ma have been clearly pro-unification and Chen tried his hardest to move the country towards independence. Talk is cheap, and campaign talk is even cheaper. This time, since Hung didn’t expect to actually get the nomination, she did us the favor of telling us all what she really wants. There is no reason to expect us all to forget that just because she has decided to stop talking about it in pursuit of votes. Certainly the DPP won’t stop bringing it up.

Hung’s actual speech was a stunning recitation of one cliché after another. She will fight hard to carry out her historical mission, uphold our cherished values, and create a better tomorrow! There was not a single concrete idea in the speech. The closest she came to an actual policy was to mention a list of problems the country faces: “global competition, economic stagnation, wealth gap, unfair distribution of resources, worsening standards of living, and so on.” However, with nary a hint of how to address those problems, she went on in the very next sentence to say that the real crisis was political strife and populism. For a candidate who insists the opponent is “empty” 空心蔡, she is running a remarkably substance-free campaign. (President Ma was much more concrete in his speech.)

At some point in the speech, it is obligatory for a candidate like Hung Hsiu-chu to talk about how much she loves Taiwan, reminding us that she has a very personal and deep connection to the island. If I had been the speechwriter, I would have had her tell some touching story from her own personal experience about the warmth and generosity of ordinary people. Instead, she chose to use someone else’s words and experience, reciting the lyrics of a song about Taiwan. To me, that is a problem. I already believe that other people love Taiwan; I want to know how she feels. There is another problem. Hung Hsiu-chu is very good at being strident and laying down the law. She still sounds like a high school guidance counselor authoritatively telling students which behavior and beliefs are Right and which are Wrong. However, she is not so good at being soft, tender, and loving. When she read the lyrics to the song, she used the same expressions and speech intonations as when she insisted that the people must unite around the KMT and its ideals. Seriously, turn the sound off and just watch her before and after 12:08, when she starts reciting the lyrics. She looks (and sounds) exactly the same. She’ll get better at this soft sell on the campaign trail over the next six months, but right now it is a disaster.

None of this is terribly unexpected. We’ve all seen this coming for the past month. Every time there was a slight hint that someone might try to pull the brake and stop this train, the effort quickly vanished. Once she passed the polls, she had too much momentum for anyone to stop her. So now Hung Hsiu-chu, who no one wanted as the candidate six months ago, will be carrying the KMT banner. She is unprepared for the job, having no security or economic training, she didn’t spend the last several years brushing up on policy questions, she is out of touch with mainstream opinion, and her party is severely divided. I can’t imagine that this will go well.

[Edit July 23, 2015]

In my rush to finish the post, I forgot to mention two of the most important parts of Hung’s speech.

At one point, she stated, “Everyone’s common feeling is that, only if the KMT does well can the country be safe and make progress, only if the KMT does well can Taiwan be prosperous and develop, and only if the KMT does well can Taiwan have a better future” 大家共同的心聲是,只有國民黨好,國家才能安定進步,只有國民黨好,台灣才能繁榮發展, 只有國民黨好,台灣的未來才會更好。This is not the normal rhetoric you hear in most democracies. Usually politicians will say that the country’s fate is the most important thing, and in comparison to that, their party’s fate is inconsequential. In the United States 2008 presidential election, one of Barack Obama’s big applause lines was that, “There are no red [ie: Republican] states. There are no  blue [ie: Democrat] states. There are only the United States.” Country first, party second. Hung has reversed that formula, putting her party before the society.

The other point is somewhat less revealing, though it is somewhat more amusing. Without any hint of irony, Hung screeched, “We must not deliver Taiwan over to those who would govern using lies, deliver it over to those who would govern using populism, and we must especially not let a party whose leaders have never reflected or apologized for their mistakes come back into power.” 我們絕對不能把台灣交給謊言治國、交給民粹治國,甚至讓一個從未反省道歉的政黨班師回朝. Ok, then.

Miaoli County government runs out of money

July 10, 2015

The Miaoli County government is completely broke. Not broke as in, it can’t afford a fancy National Day celebration and it’ll have to make do with a modest one. No, broke as in, it can’t pay basic expenses on time. Civil servants didn’t get their paychecks as scheduled this week. The county government is currently NT800m in the red, and that’s after some creative accounting is already figured in. One prominent media figure is comparing the situation to the current Greek crisis. It’s not an entirely crazy analogy.

How did this happen? As soon as the new county magistrate took office and got a peek at the county finances early this year, he immediately started screaming that the previous administration, led by Liu Cheng-hung 劉政鴻, had spent the county into financial disaster. This is not a partisan ploy. Both the prior and the present magistrates are KMT members, though they are from different local factions. The KMT owns 100% of this calamity. Their guy borrowed way too much, spent the money irresponsibly, and the central government never stepped in to slow him down. They didn’t even complain.

It should have been obvious to the technocrats that something was going wrong. I’m a novice when it comes to finances, and even I can see a problem in the numbers.

(Note: The numbers are hard to get straight. The newspaper report says Miaoli has a total debt of NT64.8b. I can’t find that number in official documents. The numbers I have found are NT48.7b in May 2015 or NT49.1b in 2013. I’m going to be using the document with the 2013 number for the rest of this post, so keep in mind that the actual debt might be 30% higher. Even if I am using the wrong year or making some other minor mistake, the broad story is unmistakable. Miaoli is not like everywhere else.)

Miaoli County debt went from NT16.2b in 2005, the year before Liu took office, to NT49.1b in 2013. That seems like a big increase. However, we need some context. Regulations governing how much debt local governments were allowed to incur were revised, so everyone’s debt went up. Further, we shouldn’t compare Maioli with Taipei. Direct municipalities run under different rules and have very different revenue streams. In this post, I will only look at the eleven county governments in Taiwan. That is, I’m not looking at Taichung or Tainan Counties (which were upgraded to direct municipalities), Keelung or Hsinchu Cities (which, as cities, don’t have the same sorts of revenue or expenditure profiles as a rural county like Miaoli), Kinmen (which is mostly funded by the alcohol factory) or Matsu (which gets nearly all of its budget directly from central government subsidies). The eleven counties in this table (especially the first eight) face roughly comparable fiscal challenges.

2005 debt 2013 debt % increase
(billion NT) (billion NT)
Yilan 20.32 25.28 24.4%
Hsinchu 22.66 27.76 22.5%
Miaoli 16.23 49.05 202.3%
Changhua 14.35 33.05 130.3%
Nantou 12.58 17.90 42.3%
Yunlin 23.58 31.99 35.7%
Chiayi 19.57 28.69 46.6%
Pingtung 17.92 28.02 56.4%
Taitung 4.52 9.08 100.9%
Hualien 8.76 12.41 41.6%
Penghu 1.12 2.18 93.7%
6 KMT counties 71.46 139.01 94.5%
3 DPP counties 61.06 88.70 45.3%

Compared to the other ten counties, Miaoli stands out. Miaoli’s debt increased by over 200%, which is another way of saying it more than tripled. The next biggest increase is from Changhua, which increased by a mere 130%. Everyone’s debt went up, but Miaoli’s debt exploded.

Since I know everyone wants to make a party comparison, I’ve summed the totals for the six KMT governed counties (Hsinchu, Miaoli, Changhua, Nantou, Taitung, and Penghu) and the three DPP governed counties (Yunlin, Chiayi, and Pingtung). On the whole, the increase in the KMT group is roughly double the increase in the DPP group. Does this mean the DPP is the party of fiscal responsibility? Hold your horses there, Sonny. There’s more to this story.

Maybe Miaoli could handle the increased debt load. If Vanuatu and the USA both borrow a billion Euros, it will be a big burden for Vanuatu while the USA will barely notice it. We really need to know something about how much debt Miaoli is capable of carrying.

2005 revenues 2013 revenues % increase
(billion NT) (billion NT)
Yilan 17.20 18.62 8.2%
Hsinchu 19.60 24.62 25.6%
Miaoli 18.01 26.33 46.2%
Changhua 28.04 35.49 26.6%
Nantou 17.05 20.30 19.1%
Yunlin 19.01 27.79 46.2%
Chiayi 14.56 20.90 43.5%
Pingtung 24.76 30.58 23.5%
Taitung 9.21 12.63 37.1%
Hualien 13.38 17.34 29.6%
Penghu 6.81 8.05 18.2%
6 KMT counties 98.71 127.42 29.1%
3 DPP counties 58.32 79.26 35.9%

Miaoli has roughly the same population as Hsinchu, Nantou, and Chiayi, so you would expect those four to have similar revenues. In 2005, the first three were roughly similar, with Chiayi trailing behind. By 2013, Miaoli was outspending Nantou and Chiayi by quite a margin, and it was even ahead of fast-growing Hsinchu. Miaoli’s revenue stream increased by 46.2%, tied with Yunlin for the highest growth of any county. (Data on revenues and expenditures can be downloaded here.)

2005 expenditures 2013 expenditures % increase
(billion NT) (billion NT)
Yilan 18.83 18.62 -1.2%
Hsinchu 21.39 25.02 17.0%
Miaoli 18.14 26.33 45.1%
Changhua 32.40 39.84 23.0%
Nantou 19.50 20.30 4.1%
Yunlin 22.36 27.79 24.3%
Chiayi 18.88 21.40 13.4%
Pingtung 26.74 30.58 14.4%
Taitung 10.78 14.40 33.5%
Hualien 15.38 17.34 12.8%
Penghu 7.69 9.43 22.6%
6 KMT counties 109.92 135.33 23.1%
3 DPP counties 67.98 79.76 17.3%

However, Miaoli also led the way in spending growth. A lot more money came in, but all that money went right back out. Miaoli’s expenditures increased by 45.2%, just about the same percentage as its revenue growth. By contrast, Yunlin’s expenditures only increased by 24.3%. This brings us to the final table, the one that really matters.

2005 debt as a % of revenues 2013 debt as a % of revenues % increase
Yilan 118.1% 135.8% 15.0%
Hsinchu 115.7% 112.7% -2.5%
Miaoli 90.1% 186.3% 106.7%
Changhua 51.2% 93.1% 81.9%
Nantou 73.8% 88.2% 19.5%
Yunlin 124.0% 115.1% -7.2%
Chiayi 134.4% 137.3% 2.2%
Pingtung 72.4% 91.6% 26.6%
Taitung 49.1% 71.9% 46.5%
Hualien 65.5% 71.5% 9.3%
Penghu 16.5% 27.0% 63.9%
6 KMT counties 72.4% 109.1% 50.7%
3 DPP counties 104.7% 111.9% 6.9%

In 2005, Miaoli was firmly in the middle of the pack. In 2013, it was far, far more indebted than any other county. I don’t know what level of debt is sustainable, but judging by Miaoli’s inability to pay its bills, I’m guessing the magic number is somewhere below 186% of revenues. The current magistrate’s complaint, that Liu Cheng-hung’s administration spent the county treasury into a crisis, appears to be entirely reasonable.

What about the comparison between the KMT and DPP? It is tempting to see that the three DPP governed counties have only increased their debt load by an average of 6.9% and conclude that the DPP is much more responsible. However, I think that is far too simplistic. Sometimes borrowing is responsible. If the money is invested wisely, increased debt can set the stage for long-term prosperity. (Miaoli is said to have blown its money on extravagances such as elaborate fireworks shows and invitations to international celebrities such as Sarah Brightman. That probably wasn’t wise.) Moreover, if we are simply to look at the fiscal situations, we must consider responsibility for the starting points. In 2005, Yilan and Chiayi were two of the most indebted counties. The DPP had governed Yilan for 24 years, so it was completely responsible for the 2005 debt. While it had only governed Chiayi for four years, the DPP county magistrate had increased the debt by 28% in the previous three years. Similarly, we probably shouldn’t give Yunlin and Chiayi too much credit for keeping their debt growth low from 2005 to 2013 since the 2005 debt levels were already so high. I don’t think we should draw any broad conclusion from a simple table like this about the performance of the two parties.

However, given the current state of Miaoli’s finances, I’m pretty confident in concluding that the previous administration borrowed and spent irresponsibly. In every one of these tables, Miaoli is the extreme case. Why didn’t the Finance Ministry step in to investigate what the hell was going on? They should have been able to see the broad trends developing, and they should have had enough contextual information to know that Miaoli couldn’t sustain that debt. And where is the Control Yuan? Sorry, I got carried away. Everyone knows that the Control Yuan is only used to harass the other party, not to investigate actual government incompetence or malfeasance. Any real oversight will have to come from the voters.

A KMT Party Congress Floor Rebellion? Don’t Count On It.

July 7, 2015

Over the past few days, bad news for presumptive KMT presidential nominee Hung Hsiu-chu has continued to mount. She made strange statements about not recognizing the ROC, she is not doing well in several recent polls, and rumors continue to swirl about KMT legislative candidates who will jump ship if she is nominated. In the face of this, the KMT secretary-general suggested that the KMT might actually hold a formal vote on her nomination at next weekend’s party convention, rather than by using the customary method of coronation by applause. For Hung, this last bit of news is … fantastic.

If the KMT is going to deny Hung, it has to do it through its normal channels of power. That is, it has to do it in back room dealings out of the public eye. She needs to worry about the word coming down from the presidential office that she is no longer acceptable. However, if the party’s mechanism for dealing with discontent is an open floor vote, she is home free. Once the decision is entrusted to the rank and file, there is almost no chance that Hung’s nomination will be overturned.

I haven’t been able to find a breakdown of the delegates to the party congress, but the rough outlines are as follows. There will be about 1600 delegates. Most will be elected by the various party branches, Central Committee members are automatically delegates, and Central Standing Committee members can designate some other delegates. Recall that the KMT has lots of party branches other than simply the various local city and county branches. They also have a youth branch, a women’s branch, and, most importantly, they have the Huang Fu-hsing party branch. The Huang Fu-hsing branch represents military veterans, and it is so big that it has its own local branches in every city and county. Moreover, since party members over 75 no longer have to pay dues, these military veterans are all party members in good standing. They all get to vote, and their votes will be overwhelmingly in favor of Hung.

However, the severe underrepresentation of the nativist faction isn’t the main obstacle to a floor rebellion. The more fundamental problem lies in the nature of those party members themselves. Sam Rayburn, the Speaker of the US House of Representatives in the 1930s and 1940s, used to tell new members, “To get along, go along.” In the USA, Rayburn’s advice meant that new members shouldn’t cause any problems, they should vote with the mainstream of the party, and they would slowly but surely rise up the seniority-ordered hierarchy and get real power. In Taiwan, the nativist wing of the KMT has also committed itself to a “to get along, go along” bargain, though it is slightly different from the American version. Here, the local politicians go out and win votes for the national KMT, but they are not expected to rise up in the power hierarchy. Important national policy was, for the most part, decided at the center by the (mostly) mainlander elite and their technocratic allies. Some isolated individuals might emerge (eg: Wu Po-hsiung 吳伯雄, Chang Feng-hsu 張豐緒, Lin Feng-cheng 林豐正), but the more common final post for the most successful local politicians was a spot in the cabinet of the Provincial government (entrusted with executing policy), not in the Executive Yuan (entrusted with deciding policy).

In return for winning votes and not making too much noise about national-level politics, the nativist wing was allowed to get rich. Most times a road was paved, a public building was built, or farmland was rezoned, some KMT local faction politician was taking a cut. When politicians bought 10,000 votes at NT3,000 apiece to get elected mayor of some minor township, it was with the expectation that they would be able to recoup this investment several times over. This corruption was endemic, though it was never allowed to get completely out of control. KMT politicians could expect lenient treatment from the judicial system, but they could not expect complete immunity. The most blatant cases were punished, but the law looked the other way in less serious instances. Moreover, if a conviction were rendered, it was often reduced or overturned on appeal. Even if a politician had to go to jail, he or she could often arrange a flimsy excuse and be granted medical parole. (“Ouch, my ankle is sprained!”) Farmers associations were also a key institution in this political model. Faction politicians went to great efforts to win control of the local farmers association, not so much for its access to farmers and their votes as to control the financial assets in the affiliated credit unions. However, in the 1980s and early 1990s, these credit unions grew bigger, and “lax management” led to several spectacular bank runs. Eventually, the central government stepped in and fundamentally reformed the entire banking system, stripping the farmers associations of much of their usefulness to local politicians.

This was the model of politics that Wang Jin-pyng and his allies in the KMT grew up in. They kept their heads down, didn’t ask questions, and enjoyed the benefits of power. Just as they stayed out of high politics, they also learned to look the other way in political struggles. Time and time again, a KMT figure would be on the losing side of a political fight and suddenly find that all his erstwhile allies were studiously staring nervously at the ground rather than backing him up. How many times have I heard a KMT person who had been denied a nomination scream bloody murder about the unfair and arbitrary use of power in the party headquarters? Let’s just say that Huang Ching-tai’s 黃景泰 (the guy who in 2014 was stripped of the KMT nomination for Keelung Mayor due to low poll ratings and then hit with corruption indictments) case wasn’t exactly a new story to me. (The corruption case is also part of the model. Most faction members are guilty of something, and they all know that a corruption investigation can be launched if they do not behave.) More importantly, when he screamed bloody murder about the new White Terror being inflicted on him, it wasn’t surprising that his local KMT comrades kept quiet. He had done the same in countless previous cases. People who learn how to get along simply are not good at collective rebellion. They have spent their whole lives learning how not to react to injustice.

Even if there is deep dissatisfaction with Hung Hsiu-chu in the KMT rank-and-file, a rebellion on the floor is highly unlikely. People in the True-Believers wing of the party could lead a rebellion; they have a strong sense of agency. People in the nativist wing will grumble in private and try to avoid a public conflict. Many of them will decide not to attend the party congress, and many of the ones that do attend will simply “go along” and begrudgingly vote with the party. If they actually do hold a vote, we might see as many as 10-15% vote against Hung. However, there is almost no chance that she will actually lose the vote. In fact, by daring her opponents to stand up and be counted – which most of them will shy away from – she might emerge from the party congress significantly strengthened.

KMT troubles in Changhua 3

July 1, 2015

Apparently Cheng Ju-fen 鄭汝芬 has decided not to accept the KMT’s nomination to run for re-election in Changhua 3. She specifically cited the effect of Hung Hsiu-chu’s “One China with a common interpretation” position, saying it was too far away from public opinion. [Edit: She stated that the KMT has drifted too far away from public opinion. She did not specifically cite Hung Hsiu-chu; I confused her statements with those of KMT legislator Chang Chia-chun.]

I have been watching Changhua 3 for a few years now. This district is very similar in many ways to neighboring Yunlin. Compared to the rest of Changhua, the southwestern corner is less densely populated, more agricultural, more exclusively Min-nan, and has lower education levels. The biggest town (Erlin) is also a noted center of organized crime, similar to Huwei in Yunlin 1. Both areas were traditionally KMT strongholds, as the local factions’ grip on the voters kept the DPP at bay. This changed in Yunlin about 10 years ago, and the county suddenly shifted dramatically into the DPP’s column. However, the Changhua factions managed to hold on. The KMT incumbent in Changhua 3 is one of the prime reasons. She is from a political family that has dominated the area for at least three generations, and she easily won the legislative races in 2008 and 2012. Nevertheless, the KMT is under increasing pressure.

To illustrate, I have concocted very, very crude indicators for ethnic identity and party ID for each electoral district. The typical survey has about 1000 cases, so each of the 73 legislative districts will only have about 15 cases. That is far too few to estimate a parameter. I have combined several surveys from the past four years, and this has yielded about 200 cases for each district. 200 is still small, implying a margin of error of about 7% for a 95% confidence level. Still, it is sufficient to get a crude picture. Further, some of these surveys are a little older, so I have weighted the more recent surveys more heavily. This is anything but definitive.

On party ID in Changhua 3, my estimate is that the DPP now has a lead over the KMT, by 29.5-22.5%. Even considering the small sample size, a gap that large probably reflects an underlying DPP advantage. On ethnic ID, 71.5% think they are Taiwanese, 4.7% think they are Chinese, and 22.1% think they are both. The 71.5% figure is the highest point estimate of any district in the country. Even considering the large margin of error, Changhua 3 certainly has an overwhelmingly exclusive Taiwanese identity. Hung Hsiu-chu’s China discourse is probably highly unpopular here.

If Cheng Ju-fen isn’t representing the KMT in this district, I think it is highly likely to become a DPP pickup. I’m expecting Tsai Ing-wen to win this district by a healthy margin. If Cheng Ju-fen stays in the race, she might possibly be strong enough to overcome the partisan deficit, similar to the way Chang Chia-chun 張嘉郡 and Wong Chung-chun 翁重鈞 were able to hold Yunlin 1 and Chiayi County 1 in 2012. However, the combination of the KMT’s swing toward a pro-China stance and the entrance of a PFP candidate into the Changhua 3 race might have been sufficient to convince Cheng that it was becoming an unwinnable race.

If the localist rebellion in the KMT is confined to Yunlin and southern Changhua, it is bad but not necessarily catastrophic. These districts were probably going to flip anyway. However, if it expands further north, the KMT should probably start panicking.