Last Sunday, after all the hoopla over the Ma-Xi summit, I needed to get away from dismal cross straits relations and back to the joys of elections. Since I had seen a KMT event on Saturday morning, I targeted a DPP event on Sunday. After a bit of searching on Facebook, I found an event in Taichung, so that is where the wife and I went for our relaxing day off.
Taichung 6 covers the downtown area around the train station. It includes a lot of the decayed city center areas, though it has some more newly developed areas out toward the west. However, most of the real estate frenzy of recent years has been in Taichung 4 and 5. The DPP won Taichung 6 away from the KMT in 2012. Lin Chia-lung 林佳龍 ran quite a bit of Tsai Ing-wen, who won fewer votes than Ma in this district. As readers well know, Lin ran for and won the mayor’s seat in 2014. Longtime DPP city councilor Huang Kuo-shu 黃國書 stepped into the vacancy, easily winning the by-election.
He is being opposed this time by former KMT legislator Shen Chih-hui 沈智慧. Shen was elected in 1989 and served six terms, finally losing her re-election bid in 2008. She is a Mainlander and came up through the KMT’s Huang Fu-hsing military veterans party branch. She never went over to the New Party, but she did join the PFP. In 2008, she was the odd person out, as the blue camp had four incumbents for three seats. She didn’t get nominated, and she didn’t get very many votes running as an independent in (what is now relabeled) Taichung 5. We haven’t heard much from her in recent years, and I assumed her career was over. Actually, I’m still pretty sure about that. Once you are out of the game, it’s extremely difficult to get back in.
However, one of the most telling indicators of how far the electoral terrain has shifted is that the KMT has had such difficulty attracting top-tier candidates for districts like this. This district was not merely competitive in 2012, it was actually a KMT-leaning district! This year, the KMT is putting forward a very weak challenger and effectively ceding the district without a fight. The KMT simply isn’t playing offense this year.
I didn’t really know what to expect from an event to open Huang Kuo-shu’s campaign headquarters. Since the KMT isn’t really contesting this district and the presidential race is a foregone conclusion, there wasn’t much reason for the DPP to put out too much effort. What I found was a fantastic crowd at a really nice event. There were not the usual signs of large-scale mobilization; my guess is that only about 20% of the crowd came as part of a group. However, it was a pretty big crowd. The space was a smallish street. They filled the first block and spilled onto the second block. From the way they had set up their tents and stalls, it looked like they hadn’t expected to need the second block. One speaker bragged that there were 10,000 people. That was clearly a stretch. I’d estimate it at 4000-5000, which is especially impressive given the limited mobilization. It was a moderately enthusiastic crowd. I wouldn’t characterize them as frenzied, but they were definitely engaged. There was one thing that I have never seen before: one stall had a couple of espresso machines and was giving away free coffee. Does this officially mark the beginning of gentrification of election campaigns?
The speakers included 2012 VP candidate Su Chia-chuan 蘇嘉全, legislator Tsai Chi-chang 蔡其昌, Pingtung County magistrate Pan Meng-an 潘孟安, mayor Lin Chia-lung, candidate Huang Kuo-shu, and Tsai Ing-wen. You might notice a New Tide flavor there, as Tsai, Pan, and Huang are all from the New Tide faction. One of the hosts, Taipei city councilor Lee Chien-chang 李建昌 is also a prominent New Tide figure. I didn’t listen too carefully to the speeches. They mostly said the sorts of things that you might expect. They criticized Ma for the Ma-Xi meeting, complained about the KMT in general, talked about how hard Huang works, explained the importance of this election, praised Tsai Ing-wen, and so on. I do remember a couple of jokes Huang made during his speech. People often ask him the difference between being a city councilor and a legislator. He tells them, as a legislator, he has a LOT more work. (laughter). No, they insist, there must be some benefit to being in the legislature. Not really, he replies. Well, maybe there is one. At campaign events like this one, he gets to stand in the front row next to Tsai Ing-wen. (laughter)
I did listen carefully to Tsai’s speech. Unfortunately, that was three days ago and my memory is deteriorating rapidly. It was a lengthy, meaty speech. She spoke disparagingly about the Ma-Xi meeting, criticizing Ma for lack of transparency, failing to include the “each side with its own interpretation,” and so on. However, since I had heard her say the same things in her press conference the previous day, none of that struck me as surprising. What struck me most was her tone. She was a little angry, but well short of furious. I think the best way to describe it might be as dismissive. What do you expect from him? That’s who he is. At one point she said, “Ma just isn’t democratically cultured” 他沒有民主素養。Ouch. Then, she moved on.
She started talking about what she would do as president by going through her five big principles: generational justice, government reform, congressional reform, transitional justice, and ending political divisiveness. She spent a few minutes talking about each one. For instance, generational justice included putting public finances in order to ensure that future generations wouldn’t be unduly burdened with public debt. After going through these five big ideas, she went through another list of concrete policy proposals, such as her regional development plan and four or five other things I can’t remember right now. One thing she mentioned was Taiwan’s growing drug problem. This stood out to me because I have never heard a candidate mention drugs in a campaign speech. Moreover, she mentioned drugs in the context of prisons, saying that 40% of people in prisons are there on drug crimes. I can’t remember anyone ever talking about prisons, either.
I’m sorry that I’m so short on specifics now. I can tell you that when we left, I couldn’t help but contrast her speech with the one I had heard from Eric Chu the day before. As I wrote in a previous post, Chu’s speech was short and only consisted of two points. First, he complained that the DPP could only reject and oppose; it had no constructive ideas. Second, he talked about local transportation projects in New Taipei City (where he is mayor). Tsai’s speech was so much more substantial. She talked easily about several different policy areas, occasionally dipping into what was probably too much detail for a stump speech. Chu complained that Tsai had no constructive ideas and repeated the “Empty Tsai” 空心菜 nickname the KMT has given her. Tsai didn’t even bother to point out that Chu has no clear program; she was too busy telling the voters what she would do if she were elected. I understand that there was a big difference in the two crowds, and Chu’s audience probably wasn’t interested in too much policy talk. Still, one got the idea that one of them has been preparing for this race for several years, and the other one jumped in at the last moment.
Now, some pictures. I’m a terrible photographer, but I got some good shots this time.
Su Chia-chuan recommends Huang (and his wife) to the voters.
Tsai Chi-chang and a few Taichung City councilors.
Awesome balloon candidates. If you look carefully, you can see that they are wearing sashes saying “legislative candidate Huang Kuo-shu.”
The volunteers giving away free coffee. I had some. It was good, even considering it was hot coffee on a hot day.
They were also giving out cold water and cold jelly tea. I passed on these. My hands were already full.
A group of people in orange shirts. I didn’t see what their group was, but the number of people wearing group shirts, vests, or hats was extremely low for an event like this.
The view from way in the back. I don’t think they expected anyone to be sitting in this area.
The people on stage are holding up signs with the name of their organizations. This is where the DPP pales in comparison to the KMT’s organizational muscle.
Hey, why is everyone looking in the wrong direction? Someone said something about Tsai Ing-wen, and they are getting excited to see if she is going to enter soon.
Huang Kuo-shu goes to the back of the event space so that he can enter along with Tsai. You better believe he is going to try to soak up some of the excess love thrown her way.
Now we’re getting serious. She’s almost here. Every time I see Tsai or Chu or any other candidate enter an event like this, I think about their personal safety and I cringe a little bit. Remember, Tsai does this five or six times a day on weekends. Then I look at people’s faces, and I remember just how important these sorts of rituals are. This is their candidate. She has to come to them, and they have access to her. A day after I watched Emperor Xi, who is surrounded by security and always at a safe distance from the ordinary people, I was deeply touched by how accessible Taiwan’s politicians are. This really matters. Just to drive the point home, a little old lady with a hunchback – she must have been 80 years old and no more than 140cm tall – jostled me out of my prime spot on the center aisle. She really wanted to see Tsai up close.
Here she is! (The woman just behind her is former Taichung mayor Chang Wen-ying 張溫鷹.)
I got TWO good pictures?? Didn’t anyone remind me I’m a terrible photographer?
Everyone up on stage while Tsai speaks. Hey, Huang Kuo-shu did get a front-row position!
I saw a friend at the event who asked me if I was going to hurry over to NPP candidate Hung Tsu-yung’s event in Taichung 3. What? I didn’t know about that! I hadn’t had a chance to see a NPP event, so we rushed over. Alas, it was already over. The buses were pulling away (they apparently mobilized quite heavily), and people were starting to sweep up and tear down the stage. Here is the backdrop. The slogan says, “Progressive Forces, Light Up Taiwan.” I don’t know what the airplane is supposed to symbolize.
On the left side, “use ideals to win the campaign.”
On the right, “bring justice into the legislature.”
Apparently Tsai went to another event later that night in Hsinchu City, and the crowd looked enormous – easily 10,000 – on TV. I wish it were easier to find out where the events are before they happen. I keep reading about them in the next day’s newspaper and wondering why I wasn’t there.