This morning I took time out from the crazy circus swirling around the Ma-Xi meeting to go back to election activities. It was nice to feel grounded again!
I went to Zhonghe to see KMT legislator Chang Ching-chung 張慶忠 open up his campaign headquarters. I have written about Zhonghe local politics in detail in the past. Suffice it to say that Chang is from a prominent local family, and his DPP opponent is from the same family. At any rate, this race isn’t about the DPP. It’s all about Chang and the KMT.
Zhonghe is an overwhelmingly blue city. It has a very large percentage of Mainlanders, and while the DPP is slowly building up strength, they are still a long way from overtaking the KMT. New Taipei 8 should not be competitive. Nevertheless, there were some odd rumblings in the media – from both the KMT and the DPP – that the race was close. I found this to be very odd, but they kept popping up. Since the KMT replaced Hung with Chu, however, the rumblings have stopped. Chang seems to be comfortably back in the lead. At least, that is my impression.
For the rest of his career, Chang will be known for one thing. Chang was the KMT legislator who chaired the Internal Affairs Committee when it was reviewing the Services Trade Agreement. When the DPP blocked proceedings by occupying the podium, Chang went into the corner and declared that the bill had passed committee. That night, angry students forced their way into the legislature, and that protest blossomed into the Sunflower Movement. Chang was one of primary targets of the students’ rage, and they nicknamed him “30 second Chung” 半分忠。
Chang is an unlikely person to be thrust into the ideological wars. He is the epitome of a grassroots politician whose career is based on constituency service. He isn’t particularly articulate or ideological. He is just really good at taking care of constituents’ little problems.
The rally started at 10:00am. I got there around 10:20, and they were having musical performances. In fact, the political part of the event didn’t start until 11:20. They had about five different dancing performances, including a group of old ladies doing a Japanese-style dance, a group of ethnic Burmese, a can-can, a belly-dance, and a group doing street dance. Two things stood out to me. First, the Burmese group matters. There is a large community of ethnic Burmese who came to Taiwan as part of the KMT retreat in the early 1950s, and they are an important KMT constituency. In fact, Zhonghe has a lot of people from elsewhere. The Kinmen hometown association was there in force (my good friend from Kinmen used to tell me that there were more people from Kinmen in Zhonghe than in Kinmen!), as was the Yunlin hometown association. There are also a lot of military communities in Zhonghe, and the Huang Fu-hsing branch was well represented. I also noticed a lot of people wearing yellow shirts identifying them as part of an association of military police reserves. Second, everyone was old. Everyone is always old at events like this, since these are heavily tilted toward people in organizational networks. However, this event seemed extreme even by the normal standards. Even the belly dancers and the street break dancers were all over 50. (I thought the street dancers were moving awfully slowly until I realized they were in the 50s and 60s, not in their teens and 20s. Then I thought they were pretty spry!) Couldn’t they find any young people to display on stage? People under 30 made up less than 5% of the crowd.
In between the musical performances, they introduced all the VIPs. This was the real purpose of the event, and it was impressive. They were publicly recognizing all the people who will work for the campaign and produce the votes, and there was a long, long list. Neighborhood heads are the heart of Chang’s organization, and there were a lot of them. They read out all the names, one by one, and it took at least five minutes to get through them all. It was a strong message that all of the local organization is working for Chang.
At 11:20, the dancing ended and the politics began. Eric Chu was the star guest, and other speakers included former New Party superstar Chao Shao-kang 趙少康, legislator Lin Teh-fu 林德福 (from neighboring Yonghe), and a long laundry list of organizational workers who each got a few minutes.
They started the event with Chang and Chu entering the arena. I’ve started getting used to watching Tsai Ing-wen enter events, and this was a pale echo of those spectacles. There wasn’t a whole lot of enthusiasm at this rally, even for the obvious cheering parts. This reflects the different purposes of KMT and DPP rallies. DPP events are like church. The faithful go to hear the gospel and feel the electricity of being surrounded by fellow believers. KMT events are all about flexing organizational muscle. The point is to practice getting large numbers of people to do something, in this case sit in a parking lot on a hot Saturday morning for two and a half hours. Only a few people are there to hear the message. (They had about 3,000 people, which completely filled the available space. They hit their target very successfully.)
Chu was the first speaker. It was kind of weird to see him go without any warmup act, but he obviously has a tight schedule. Chu made two points. First, he praised the Ma-Xi meeting, and he criticized the DPP for its opposition. The latter was his main focus: the DPP is an empty party that can only oppose things. Given recent events, I listened very carefully to see if he would say the phrases “92 Consensus” or “One China.” He did not mention either one. In fact, the only speaker who did was Lin Teh-fu, who criticized the DPP for continually rejected the 92 Consensus. Second, he put on his mayor’s hat and talked about local construction projects. He bragged about the MRT projects that he has recently broken ground on, and he explicitly rejected attacks that these were false starts. [Note: Over in Xizhi close to where I live, I’m still waiting to see evidence of the MRT construction project that he broke ground with great fanfare last year right before his election.] He finished his very short speech, gave Chang Ching-chung his ceremonial candidate’s sash, and left for some other campaign event.
Chao Shao-kang was the next speaker. Chao was once the KMT’s Golden Child, and he was the driving force behind the New Party in its early years. Chao is a charismatic speaker, but he was a little off his game today. Still, he perked up the crowd far more than any of the other speakers. It was clear that Chao can see the impending electoral disaster. While he insisted gamely that Chu would win the presidential election, he also warned the crowd of the terrible consequences if the KMT couldn’t maintain at least 1/4 of the LY seats. Another interesting point he made was to blame the DPP for the country’s current poor economic growth statistics. After all, the DPP is the party that blocked the Services Trade Agreement 服貿 and the Goods Trade Agreement 貨貿, so it is their fault that the economy can’t grow!
Lin Teh-fu gave an impassioned speech defending Chang’s role in the Service Trade Agreement controversy. He blamed the entire event on the DPP, criticizing the DPP in extremely harsh terms for violating legislative procedures and hypocritically blocking even the Cross Straits Agreements Oversight Framework. He asserted that Chang had been repeated insulted by students and the public, and he demanded that the electorate must re-elect Chang in order to clear his good name 還他一個清白.
Chang was the last to speak. He only had two points. The first was his efforts in constituency service. He told a story about how he had helped a student with visa problems clear customs in the UK so that she could get an education, and then he pointed out that his cell phone number was plastered all over his campaign ads. If you ever have a problem, you can call him. His second point was about his role in the Services Trade Agreement. He recounted the events blow by blow, pointing out how he had carefully followed all norms and procedures at every step and how the DPP had repeatedly violated all those same rules. He also complained about all the unfair slander that he had suffered. At one point, he complained that there were lots of young people trying to make him to lose the election. Those people were all outsiders, he claimed. None of them were from Zhonghe, and they were riling up problems in this otherwise peaceful and harmonious community. I couldn’t help grinning at the irony of a KMT legislator complaining that outsiders to a community demanding that their voice be respected should not be seen as legitimate members of that community. He ended his speech by thanking all the different people working for his organization.
Anyway, this event did exactly what the Chang campaign wanted. It allowed them to flex their organizational muscles and show that they have ties with a wide variety of constituencies in the district. I fully expect Chang to easily win a fourth legislative term.
The newly opened campaign headquarters.
Taken from the very back of the space, this is almost all of the crowd.
Showing up is more important than enthusiasm. Also, it was hot.
Street dancers dressed in shiny clothes. Aren’t they hip!
Belly dancers. As Dara O’Braian would say, something for the dads. Or maybe for the grampas.
Burmese folk dancers.
She is from the management committee of a local traditional market.
These guys are members of the Yunlin Hometown Association.
Eric Chu (white shirt) and Chang Ching-chung (light blue) are in the middle. If it looks like there are a lot of people on the stage, it’s because they invited all the neighborhood heads up with them. It’s important to give a moment of glory to the backbone of your network.
Frozen Garlic! [It seems some malicious person has blocked Chang Ching-chung’s face with a strategically placed fan. She must a plant from the Sunflowers!]