Campaign Trail: DPP event in New Taipei 3

Last night the wife and I went to a rally in Sanchong 三重 for the DPP candidate for New Taipei 3. Kao Chih-peng 高志鵬 is an incumbent, and most people think he will win re-election fairly easily in the general election. The race is a rematch of the two main candidates from four years ago, when Kao only beat the KMT nominee Lee Chien-lung 李乾龍 by 1015 votes (0.52%). However, while the names are the same, almost all the important changes have been in the DPP’s favor. Of course, the most important factor is the national partisan shift. Whereas Sanchong was moderately green in 2012 (Tsai beat Ma 51.2-46.0%), it should be very green in 2016. In 2012, the KMT candidate almost overcame the partisan deficit. Lee had just finished his term as Sanchong mayor, and he had a very strong local organization spearheaded by all the neighborhood chiefs. Kao, in contrast, was an outsider who had parachuted in from Taipei. Four years later, Kao is no longer an outsider but an incumbent who has been building local ties for several years. Lee, meanwhile, has been out of power for five years and has inevitably seen his organizational strength erode. To make things worse for Lee, the PFP is running a candidate in New Taipei 3. Zhang Shuo-wen 張碩文 is a former KMT legislator from Yunlin. Normally I would sneer at a politician who switched both parties and districts to restart his career, but Yunlin and Sanchong are not exactly unrelated. A very large portion of Sanchong’s population has Yunlin roots. At the rally last night, they claimed that over 30 of the 100+ neighborhood chiefs in Sanchong were originally from Yunlin. You often see Yunlin politicians campaigning in Sanchong and vice versa. So while I don’t thing Chang is a threat to win, he is certainly a threat to take 5000-10000 votes out of the blue camp lunchbox. All this should add up to a fairly easy win for Kao and the DPP.

The event was to open another campaign office. (Can’t we just have a rally for the sake of having a rally any more?) In particular, it was launching the support organization for Kao sponsored by city councilor Lee Yu-dian 李余典. This is a little strange. Support organizations 後援會 are usually organized along geographic or functional lines. That is, a candidate might have a support organization in each township in the district, and he or she might also have organizations for teachers, used car dealers, sports associations, lawyers, dentists, temples, or any other grouping. However, I can’t ever recall a support organization for a single individual’s network. What’s more, support organizations usually bring non-party people into the fold. You might not be a DPP member, but you can still organize a support organization for a DPP politician. In fact, that is precisely the purpose. Support organizations expand a politician’s reach into society. Lee Yu-dian, however, is already a DPP member. In fact, he is a prominent DPP politician. City councilors usually work directly for legislative campaigns. I can’t ever recall this sort of arrangement. It was as if Lee was telling Kao, “I will support you, but you can’t have my organization.”

Of course, there is a back story. Kao is an outsider. He was one of Chen Shui-bian’s closest associates and had gotten spots on the DPP party list in 2001 and 2008. However, Chen’s influence was waning by 2012, so Kao needed to strike out on his own while he still could. He targeted Sanchong, a very good DPP district that was surprisingly open. In the DPP’s debacle of 2008, Sanchong was one of only 13 districts they managed to win. However, the legislator was something of an embarrassment. Yu Tien 余天 was a Taiwanese pop star (imagine a Taiwanese Tony Bennett), and his primary contribution to the party seemed to be showing up at rallies to sing songs. He was decidedly out of place in the legislature, where it helps to have detailed policy expertise. It didn’t help that his son acted like a pop star’s spoiled child, making the gossip news several times with scandals. Instead of running for re-election in Sanchong, Yu decided to try for a party list seat. I suspect party leaders had a hand in trying to ease him out of the district. Yu surprised everyone by obtaining the 14th spot on the DPP’s list, but then the TSU surprised everyone by getting nearly 9% of the party list vote and causing the DPP to only win 13 list seats. For our purposes, the important thing is that this move left New Taipei 3 empty for Kao to parachute into. Kao managed to win a hotly contested nomination fight against former legislator Chou Huei-ying 周慧瑛 and then eked out a victory in the general election.

This year, Kao was once again challenged for the DPP nomination. His opponent was – you guessed it – Lee Yu-dian. Lee, whose father 李火土 was a former mayor of Sanchong, was elected to the Taipei county council in 1998 as an independent. He ran for mayor in 2002 and finished second a three-way race (beating the DPP candidate but losing to Lee Chien-lung). He joined the DPP and tried to win the mayoral seat again in 2005. This time Lee beat him in a two-way race. The mayoral position was abolished when Taipei County was upgraded to New Taipei City, so Lee went back to the council, winning seats in 2010 and 2014. Whereas Kao is still something of an outsider trying to sink roots into the Sanchong soil, Lee (and his family) has very deep local roots.

If you read my post on the Tamsui race, you are probably wondering about factional politics by now. I suggested that everything in DPP politics in New Taipei is affected by the background struggle for primacy between former premiers Su Tseng-chang and Yu Hsi-kun. A quick internet search on factions says that Lee belongs to – wait for it – the Su faction. Kao was once a core member of the Chen faction, but Chen Shui-bian is no longer a major influence in DPP power politics. In this race, Kao was supported by figures such as Yu Hsi-kun, Taichung mayor Lin Chia-lung (a Yu ally), and Yunlin county magistrate Lee Chin-yung (who is allied locally with former magistrate Su Chih-fen, who is a prominent Hsieh faction member, which makes her a Su enemy). That sounds suspiciously like another Su vs. Yu fight to me! Kao won the primary, so this round went to the Yu faction.

 

The event was felt like a throwback to the 1990s. There didn’t seem to be any crowd mobilization. A stage and about 1500 stools were set up next to a park. At the beginning, almost no one was sitting down. However, as the event went on, lots of people wandered over to listen, others showed up, and by the time we left, the place was jammed with well over 2000 people.

It was a throwback in another way as well. Like the KMT events of the 1990s, it was heavy on entertainment and light on political speeches. One of the speakers claimed that Sanchong has more karaoke bars than any other place in Taiwan, and it seemed like they were intent on demonstrating how much people in Sanchong love music. When we got there, a group of saxophonists were playing cheesy Taiwanese music. Then they had a few singers do some cheesy Taiwanese music. There was the obligatory child, who was barely old enough to say her name but somehow was able to sing a cheesy Taiwanese pop song in front of a big audience. Then we got to hear some more cheesy Taiwanese songs. (If you can’t tell, music is not what caused me to fall in love with Taiwan.) Then we had one of the more memorable acts I’ve seen in a while. A group of street dancers put on the most overtly sexy act I can ever remember seeing at a political rally. A couple of them wore daisy dukes that would have made Daisy Duke blush. You don’t often see sexy acts at political rallies. Politicians like to talk about themes like family values; even a whiff of sex can be dangerous for politicians. These types of acts might perform at political rallies, but they tend to dress more modestly and emphasize youth and vitality rather than overt sex appeal. On the other hand, Sanchong is full of working class people, not the upper middle class types found in the posh areas of Taipei who pretentiously pontificate about how they are more highly cultured than “those people.” The street dancers were a big hit with the crowd.

Oh yeah, there was also a political rally hidden in between all the music. As befits this sort of event, they spent a lot of time introducing all the leaders of the organization. Lee Yu-dian apparently has a pretty comprehensive team. He had about five waves of organizations, and each time they introduced 30 people or so who each lead a unit of his network. I can see why Lee would insist on keeping his organization at arm’s length from Kao. He doesn’t want Kao to be able to pluck them away from him. I suspect that Lee is planning on trying to run for legislator again. In fact, I wonder if he and Kao have an informal agreement that Kao won’t run again in 2020 or that Kao will support Lee if Kao gets a position in the Tsai administration. They were all smiles on stage, but you could sense the tension between the two rivals.

When Lee Yu-dian spoke, he said something very interesting. There is a division of labor between Kao and himself. If people have national-level problems, they should go to Kao. However, if they have a problem with the local government, he will take care of those. I can’t imagine that Kao was very happy with that suggestion. I’ve never heard of a (successful) politician telling constituents to go to another politician for help. Instead, it sounded to me like Lee is trying to hollow out Kao’s local support.

After Lee and Kao spoke, Yu Tien’s daughter was next. She has followed her father in the family business. No, not politics – she is a singer. We couldn’t take it any more. We came for politics, and this was just too much sappy music for us. Even the prospect of seeing VP candidate Chen Chien-jen wasn’t enough to make me sit through any more of this. As we were walking away, former premier Yu Hsi-kun took the stage. We stopped and edged back toward the event to see what he would say. He talked for a minute or two about food safety. Then he apologized for being a bad singer and sang a song. Aack! Anyway, he was right. He’s not a very good singer. (I would have assumed that he, like everyone else his age, would tend toward saccharine love songs. Not so. He sang a rock song that started with a heavy metal guitar riff. Who would have guessed that he would have an edge to him? Given his difficult youth, maybe I should have expected this. Still, just for having a hint of angry young man in him, I like him a little more today than I did yesterday.)

It was dark, so I didn’t get very good pictures. Here are a few:

IMAG2428.jpg

The street dancers.

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One of Lee Yu-dian’s many support groups. Notice the backdrop. Three of the four faces are conventional. You have the presidential, vice-presidential, and legislative candidates. However, the fourth face is Lee Yu-dian. He isn’t running for anything this year, so it is very unusual to have his face up there with the others.

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Lee Yu-dian takes the stage.

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