campaign trail: KMT event in Keelung

On Saturday afternoon, I drove to downtown Keelung to see Hau Lung-bin open his campaign headquarters. If you familiar with Taiwanese politics, you know all about Hau. His father, Hau Pei-tsun, was the top army general in the late 1980s, premier in the early 1990s, and the bitter factional enemy of Lee Teng-hui during the early years of democracy in Taiwan. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the elder Hau was the last bulwark of the old Chinese KMT before it had to fundamentally transform itself to adapt to survive in a democratic Taiwan. Hau Lung-pin entered politics as a New Party legislator in 1995. He served as head of the environmental protection agency (in Chen Shui-bian’s administration), won two terms as Taipei mayor, and is currently the deputy KMT chair. He doesn’t have much history with Keelung, but that is the point. He is trying to expand his footprint in preparation for national leadership. There was some speculation that he would run for the presidency this time, and he is almost certainly thinking about taking over as party chair after the 2016 election and running for president in 2020.

You might look at Hau’s resume and automatically pigeonhole him as a neo-authoritarian reactionary like his father. However, the younger Hau is more complex. He is a scientist, not a soldier. He was ideologically flexible enough to think about cooperating with the DPP when he was a New Party legislator and then to join Chen Shui-bian’s cabinet. No one was under the impression that this indicated a shift on national identity, where Hau still believes strongly in One China and eventual unification, but he has a strong pragmatic streak. A few years ago, Hau was also one of the first KMT figures to publicly call on President Ma to give a special pardon to former President Chen for any corruption charges in order to help society heal its wounds.

I was interested to see how Hau would present his candidacy. How much would he talk about national issues, and how much would he talk about local issues? Keelung has always been a fairly solid blue city. In last year’s mayoral race, the DPP won an outright majority with 53% of the vote, so the partisan foundations are probably shifting in Keelung as in the rest of Taiwan. Still, some of the DPP’s fantastic performance last year can be attributed to a big advantage in candidate quality, and I suspect the KMT still has an overall advantage here. This year, the KMT probably has an edge in candidate quality. The DPP is running a relatively anonymous city councilor, who will soak up most of the DPP support but probably not too much more. The PFP is running longtime Keelung politician Liu Wen-hsiung, and there will be a few other minor candidates. A NextTV poll conducted about a month ago showed the race at Hau 28%, Tsai (DPP) 22%, and Liu 13%. I expect that support for Liu will gravitate to the main two candidates as the election nears.

The rally was held downtown, on the roof of a parking garage with a nice view of the harbor. There were about 4,000 people there. Almost all of them showed the telltale signs of being mobilized. I’d guess that fewer than 10% came as individuals. Unlike the geriatric crowd at Chang Ching-chung’s event a couple weeks ago, this crowd had quite a few younger faces. In fact, this crowd might have skewed even younger than the DPP crowd I saw in Taichung a couple weeks ago. It was not overly engaged in the happenings on stage. Even when one of the stars was speaking, you could see lots of people talking among themselves and completely ignoring the stage. Still, they were engaged enough to wave their flags at appropriate times. It wasn’t a terrible crowd by any means. In fact, I got the feeling that it could have been a much better crowd, but it was held back by the awful theatrical production values. The hosts were terrible at their job. They had no idea how to build or maintain emotion. They didn’t cooperate at all, leaving lots of empty gaps of silence. At one point, one decided that they would do the frozen garlic cheer in four languages, Mandarin, Hakka, “Indigenous language,” and Taiwanese. He explained his idea to the crowd in a mumbling tone, draining any emotion out of the audience. He also skipped over the most important thing, apparently not realizing that not too many people know how to say “frozen garlic” in Hakka or Amis. After a minute of mumbling with zero energy, he suddenly decided to straight to fully charged, screaming out Eric Chu’s name. Was it any surprise that the audience wasn’t ready to participate? To make it worse, the other host seemed to have no advance warning of this plan, so when he called out Eric Chu’s name (always in Mandarin), she had no idea how she was supposed to answer in Amis. We were treated to an awkward silence. This happened three separate times! He did the same thing when he introduced Eric Chu. Instead of slowly building emotion and introducing Chu to a frenzied crowd, he caught everyone off guard, asking the people on the stage to step forward a little bit “and here is KMT chair Eric Chu!” Wait, what? When you are talking to a crowd of true believers, you don’t really need to persuade them that you are right. What you really want to do is take them to church, and let them be emotionally inspired to go out and work hard for you. This event must have felt more obligatory than inspiring to the true believers.

When I got to the rally LY Speaker Wang Jin-pyng was giving a long speech. It was all in Taiwanese, and I didn’t understand any of it. (I can follow some people’s Taiwanese, but others are incomprehensible to me. Some people speak like Shakespeare, but I need Mr. Rogers.) It is probably significant that Wang was invited to be a major speaker at Hau’s event and that he accepted that invitation.

In addition to Wang, there were a lot of other notable politicians present. You would expect to see lots of Keelung figures, and there were at least two former mayors (Lin Shui-mu 林水木, Chang Tong-jung 張通榮), two legislators (Hsu Shao-ping 徐少萍, Hsieh Kuo-liang 謝國樑), and several city councilors present. I also saw a guy wandering around who I’m pretty sure was Lin Pei-hsiang 林沛祥, the guy who was in line for the nomination before Hau parachuted in. However, the Keelung politicians were far outnumbered by the Taipei politicians, who showed up in force to support their former mayor. I counted four incumbent legislators (Alex Fai 費鴻泰, Lai Shi-bao 賴士葆, Chiang Nai-hsin 蔣乃辛, Lin Yu-fang 林郁方), two legislative candidates (Chiang Wan-an 蔣萬安, Lee Yan-hsiu 李彥秀), three city councilors (Speaker Wu Pi-chu 吳碧珠, Wang Hsin-yi 王欣儀, Kuo Chao-yan 郭昭巖), and there was a whole cheering section of neighborhood heads in the crowd. In fact, there were so many people there that I started trying to figure out who was absent. (I didn’t see legislators Ting Shou-chung 丁守中, Lo Shu-lei 羅淑蕾, or Alex Tsai 蔡正元.)

Hau Lung-bin answered my question about whether he would position himself as a local or national candidate quite clearly. He did not say one word about national politics until the last sentence of his speech, when he reminded people to vote for Eric Chu for president. Other than that, it was all local. Hau started by remembering coming to Keelung as a child, when his father had a post in the harbor, and thinking that Keelung was the most prosperous and bustling urban area in Taiwan, except perhaps for Hsimenting 西門町 in Taipei. Before entering politics, he often came to Keelung to teach in a local university, and two decades ago Keelung was the world’s seventh busiest container port. Keelung has obviously not grown as fast as the rest of Taiwan, and Hau promised that he was just the guy to help it transform to meet the future. Hau repeatedly emphasized his experience as Taipei mayor, talking about all the people and resources he could call on from Taipei to help Keelung implement a regional development plan. The phalanx of Taipei politicians standing behind him gave this claim some credibility. He finished his speech by noting that he had a clear lead in the polls and warning that the DPP would resort to mudslinging to try to turn the race around.

It was a nice, charismatic speech, and it seemed to do the job of connecting with the people in the audience. Hau is developing a stage presence that I didn’t notice when he ran for re-election in 2010. The themes were all reasonable. You have to acknowledge the obvious fact that Keelung is losing out economically. It doesn’t hurt to stress local issues and reassure the electorate of Hau’s ability to take care of grassroots concerns, especially in a bad KMT year like this one. Telling the voters that he is clearly in first place is a smart move since there is a PFP candidate with some support that Hau would like to siphon away. Yet, there are a few concerns that keep nagging at me. If Keelung is slipping, whose fault is that? I have three answers and none of them are great for the KMT. First, Keelung never got its fair share of the tax revenues generated by port. Decades ago, the KMT central government decided that the port would be directly under the central government, not the city government. The tax revenues were diverted elsewhere rather than being invested in Keelung. In other words, the KMT regime used Keelung as a cash cow (much like it used farmers) to fund higher priority projects. Second, the port doesn’t do as much volume these days because Taiwan’s industrial base has been hollowed out. Chen Shui-bian didn’t do much to stop that process, but Ma Ying-jeou has openly rooted for Taiwanese capital to go northwest. Third, Keelung wasted what resources it had. Instead of wisely investing in infrastructure, Keelung’s politicians built lots of shoddy pedestrian overpasses and similarly superficial projects. Over the past four decades, Keelung might have suffered worse local government than any other city or county in Taiwan. Almost all of that was courtesy of the KMT, including many years under people standing on the stage. Acknowledging the pain is dangerous if you are responsible for that pain. Last year when Premier Jiang came and complained that Keelung was a “moldy, rusty, second-class city,” I loved that he acknowledged the problems Keelung’s extreme humidity cause. However, the second-class part of it was a problem. The KMT didn’t create the climate, but they were responsible for Keelung’s declining stature.

The other thing that nags at me is whether it is wise to ignore Hau’s national profile and ambitions. Why did we need him to parachute in from Taipei if he is just going to do local stuff? Isn’t the whole point that KMT voters in Keelung have an opportunity to shape the rebirth of the party next year by ensuring that Hau is still in the picture? Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there is no need to say that sort of stuff out loud.

Chu was the last speaker, and he managed to speak for a long time without actually saying anything. While he was going on and on and not saying anything of substance, I found myself contrasting him with Hau. From the lens of this single event, even though Hau was supposedly the undercard and Chu was the main event, I wondered if everyone else was also mentally picturing Hau as the next party leader. Hau had a much more commanding presence, and he seemed to connect much more easily with the (mostly deep-blue) crowd. Maybe it’s just that, given all the events of this year, I’ve come to the conclusion that Chu is overmatched in national politics. I don’t know if Hau is ready, but I think he might get a shot. At any rate, on this day, it felt like Hau was already displacing Chu as the KMT’s champion.

When Chu finally stopped talking about how nice it was to be in Keelung and how hard working all KMT candidates were and other pro-forma drivel, he made three points. First, there must be peace in “China.” I put China in quotes because he used the term zhonghua 中華, which is the most ambiguous of various terms for China. Zhonghua can mean the ROC, it can mean the Chinese area (both the ROC and PRC), or it can mean a cultural China. It was a strange formulation, and I’ve never heard it put that way before. He was speaking in (mostly) Taiwanese, but he repeated the phrase three or four times and I’m pretty sure about this. Chu did not go into specifics about what would be required to maintain peace. He did not mention the Ma-Xi meeting, One China, or the 92 Consensus. He just insisted that it was imperative to maintain peace in zhonghua. Second, Taiwan must continue to open up. This meant opening up to China and to the international world. I think he specifically mentioned RCEP and TPP. Third, Taiwan must continue to be tolerant. The KMT is a party that welcomes all people, Min-nan or Hakka, Indigenous or Han, native Taiwanese or mainlander, old residents or new residents. At this point he talked for several minutes about putting an immigrant from Cambodia on the KMT party list and how that represented the KMT’s commitment to tolerance and welcoming of all different people. He didn’t talk much about anyone else on the party list, so it was quite obvious that he wanted to sell Lin Li-chan to the voters. At one point, it almost seemed like he was telling the mainlanders that, in a way, she represented them too. Maybe I misunderstood that part. At any rate, he spent more time and energy bragging about this choice than on any other point he made during his speech. Once again, it was a dissatisfying speech from a presidential candidate. It was long on platitudes and short on specifics. If Chu didn’t want to talk policy, at least he could have thrown some red meat to the crowd. That’s what Hung Hsiu-chu would have done. Alas, Chu didn’t do that either. Meh.

 

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The crowd from the back. Look at all the matching hats and red shirts. This crowd was almost entirely mobilized.

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The sign indicates that this is the youth section is surrounded by some people who are not exactly youthful. Ok, that’s a cheap shot. There were lots of young people in this crowd.

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This guy is holding a sign saying, “women.” Ok, that’s another cheap shot. Everyone around him is, in fact, female.

The sign behind him says Huang Kuo-chi 黃國基, which is the name of the local Huang Fu-hsing 黃復興 (military veterans) party branch in Keelung. The big white flag behind that says Huang Fu-hsing. Military veterans are always one of Hau Lung-bin’s strongest constituencies. Remember who his father is?

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Some kids from a temple loitering around the periphery. They’re much too cool to sit with the rest of the crowd.

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Some kids working for the campaign wearing snazzy ROC flag shirts.

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These guys work for Taipei legislator Chiang Nai-hsin, Taipei legislator Alex Fai, and Taipei legislator Lai Shi-pao. Wait, wasn’t this event in Keelung?

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Yep, that’s Keelung harbor. I had to look to make sure. They thoughtfully put a big sign on the hill, just in case I got confused.

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Before going on stage, Hau works the crowd a bit.

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Chu makes his big entrance. Actually, this was another area in which the hosts utterly failed. They didn’t build up the entrance at all. In fact, they didn’t even tell us that Chu was making his entrance until he was halfway through the crowd. (Since the seating area was wide rather than narrow, it was already a very short walk from front to back.)  Then, rather than continually talking and building up tension through the entire process, they mostly just watched with the rest of us. They need to go watch a DPP rally to get a clue of how to do this properly. On the other hand, there is a lot less demand from the crowd to catch a closeup glimpse of Chu than Tsai. Everyone is quite aware that he is not about to become president. So maybe it’s best to get the entrance over as quickly as possible.

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Before they spoke, Hau and Chu handed out campaign flags to the various support groups in Hau’s campaign. You could tell Hau is a parachute candidate, since this part took far, far less time than it does in most KMT campaigns. (I think there were more neighborhood heads from Taipei than from Keelung in the audience.)

For each group, a representative came up to the stage, was handed a flag, waved it around a few times, and then walked off. The last group was a bit different. They saved the last spot for the new residents (ie: immigrants from Southeast Asia and China). Instead of only one person, a whole group of women came on stage, wearing a native dress, and carrying a sign saying, “Cambodia, Lin Li-chan.” The host took a few minutes to emphasize what a wonderful thing it was that the KMT had put an immigrant on its party list. He added that Keelung has about 9000 new immigrants, slightly more than indigenous people. (I wonder how many of them are eligible to vote and actually will vote.)

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Hau commands the stage.

The woman on the left in the politician’s vest and the miniskirt is Taipei city councilor Wang Hsin-yi 王欣儀. This might be the first time I’ve ever seen a public official wearing a short skirt at a campaign event. I can’t identify the two people to the right of her, but the next one is city councilor Lee Yan-hsiu 李彥秀, who is running for legislator in Nangang/Neihu. Next to her are three legislators. Lin Yu-fang 林郁方 is wearing a baseball cap but mostly hidden from view. Alex Fai 費鴻泰 is the tall guy, and he makes Lai Shi-pao 賴士葆 look short. Wang Jin-pyng is between Eric Chu and Hau Lung-pin.

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Chu takes his turn.

Wang Jin-pyng is to the right of Chu. Behind him, you can just see legislator Hsieh Kuo-liang 謝國樑 and his crew cut. Right over Hsieh’s shoulder, I think that is legislator Chiang Nai-hsin 蔣乃辛 and his comb-over. The fifth person from the right is Taipei city councilor Kuo Chao-yan 郭昭巖 (pink shirt), Taipei city council speaker Wu Pi-chu 吳碧珠 is third from the right, and the last two on the right are the two hosts.

3 Responses to “campaign trail: KMT event in Keelung”

  1. Alan Says:

    His father called Taiwanese “Imperial Japanese citizens”. Now, he is running for Keelung legislator without explaining his father’s unfair criticism against Taiwanese and without apology at all. I don’t see any reason for me to vote him.

  2. ジェームス (@jmstwn) Says:

    I’m confident he’d do better than Eric Chu as KMT chairman.

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