I finally broke through the KMT-DPP duopoly today and went to a rally for someone else. There was a big rally for the James Soong 宋楚瑜 and Hsu Hsin-ying 徐欣瑩 ticket today in Taipei.
I still don’t know quite what to make of the MKT or the MKT-PFP collaboration. Hsu’s party is a weird combination of old fashioned local organization, high tech money, a cultish pseudo-religious group, and a strong strain of authoritarian Chinese nationalism that hides behind everything else. Soong’s party brings a credible candidate and some actual voters. All these elements were on display at today’s rally.
There were about 9,000 people at the rally. Judging by their signs, at least half of them seemed to have been bused in from Hsinchu County. Many others came from Miaoli and other places with an MKT candidate. This local support base is the most obvious base for the MKT. Hsu Hsin-ying managed her constituency fairly well, and she probably would have won re-election if she had stayed in Hsinchu County. She certainly was able to mobilize a good crowd for this event. Like most mobilized groups, they were fairly old and only moderately enthusiastic.
The PFP politicians didn’t have as many clearly organized blocks of supporters in the crowd. The few that I did see were a lot smaller than the MKT blocks. There was also a block of supporters for Lee Ching-yuan 李慶元, the independent Taipei city councilor running in Taipei 8. (Lee and PFP city councilor Huang Shan-shan 黃珊珊 were the only members of the DPP-Ko Wen-je supported Capitol Forward Alliance that I noticed today.) However, there were a lot of people sitting and standing around the edges of the crowd who I suspect were PFP supporters. Some of them were carrying old Soong or PFP signs. Others just looked different. I am guessing that most of the unmobilized crowd, especially the families with young children, were more likely to be there to support Soong and the PFP than Hsu and the MKT.
Visually, the crowd was a fantastic sea of roiling orange and mustard yellow flags. Again, you could see the MKT’s organizational muscle. Even though the PFP is the older and probably more popular party, the MKT’s logo and colors were far more pervasive. Attendees were all handed a MKT flag, a Soong-Hsu flag, and a MKT hat. No one was handing out PFP flags or hats. There were also far more MKT banners and large flags waving around.
Some of the MKT’s organizational power comes from having lots of young party workers. The MKT has apparently developed ties with quite a few college and university student groups, especially those dealing with meditation, tai chi, or Buddhism. I used the term “developed ties with” in an attempt to sound as neutral as possible. However, the way most people have described the relationship to me is with far more loaded words, such as “penetrated,” “infiltrated,” or Chinese terms with similarly loaded meanings. They also have used terms like “brainwash” and “cult.” I don’t know about those, but it is evident that there are a lot of student-aged MKT volunteers.
The MKT also had a huge security team. As I was taking pictures near the stage, about 50 guys dressed to look like official security workers formed a human wall to push people back further away from the stage. I’m not sure what they were trying to accomplish. None of the party leaders was coming down the stage into the crowd, and they left the other side of the stage entirely unguarded. It seemed like they were just there to look tough and impressive. (I, for one, wasn’t impressed.)
The rally was televised on one of the cable stations, so they had to stick to a tight schedule. Hsu had her 20 minute speech, and Soong had his 20 minute speech. Hsu’s speech was rather uninspiring. She spoke in platitudes about how Taiwanese are honest and hard-working. She tried to talk about specific policies, but the message that came through to me was that she doesn’t know many details. For example, she talked for a long time about educational reform, but the main point seemed to be simply that every child needed to have the opportunity to get a good education. I wondered if she was time-traveling back to 1960 and proposing building elementary schools in every village. She also claimed that the DPP and KMT hadn’t bothered to invest in Taiwan at all during the previous 16 years, so she was planning to widen all the expressways. I lived in central Taiwan 20 years ago, and I can tell you that there are lots of new roads and expressways. We also have a few new MRT systems and a high speed rail system. I’m mystified by her complaint. I’m not sure how many people in the audience were also confused, since very few of them seemed to be listening. She isn’t a very charismatic speaker, and the host had to break in a couple of times to stir up a little enthusiasm.
Overall, I’m still a bit confused as to why Hsu is making a play for national leadership. She isn’t overly charismatic, and she doesn’t have any specific signature ideal that she wants to promote. She doesn’t seem to be a policy nerd, and she doesn’t seem to be representing any sizeable national block of voters. She has a strong organizational base, and she seems to have managed her constituency well. That kind of politician is usually best off staying in the local district. The only thing I can come up is that either she has grossly overestimated or I have grossly underestimated how many votes her organizational muscle can produce. I’m not at all confident the MKT will still be around in a year.
It has been a while since I’ve seen James Soong out on the stump, and I had forgotten just how good he is. At age 73, Soong is still energetic, passionate, sharp, likeable, and still oozing charisma. His basic message was the both the DPP and KMT have failed Taiwan over the past 16 years, and what the country needs is a leader with experience, vision, and the ability to get things done. He didn’t bother attacking the DPP too much; most of his firepower was aimed at President Ma. For example, he spat out disgustedly that Ma had a labor minister who sued workers and an education minister who charged students with crimes. “Does that make you proud?” he demanded. “Does it?” He also talked about lots of projects that Ma hasn’t gotten done, questioning whether Ma had any idea what it meant to be a leader. For example, a few days ago Ma criticized the slow pace of construction for the new bio-tech complex at Academia Sinica. (I still haven’t seen anyone make the explicit connection, but I’m pretty sure he’s attacking DPP VP candidate Chen Chien-jen, who was the Academia Sinica VP from the life sciences division.) Soong wanted to know why Ma didn’t know about the progress of his own important projects, and he complained that the two sides were simply trying to push the responsibility to the other. “Is that leadership? Is that called taking responsibility?”
Soong also played to ideological themes. He noted that there is public discussion of whether the KMT is trying to sell off some of its party assets before its impending loss of power. He was dismissive of this mindset, saying that money comes and goes. However, what the KMT didn’t understand was that its most important party assets were Sun Yat-sen’s Three People’s Principles and the spirit of service left by Chiang Ching-kuo. The KMT had squandered these precious assets without even realizing it, Soong railed. At the end of his speech, Soong did something that I haven’t seen before. I think they were running late on time because the host kept trying to cut in. However, Soong insisted on continuing, and he invited (ordered) the crowd to join him in saluting the ROC flag. “Salute!” [Ten seconds of silence.] “Salute!” [More silence.] No one else seemed to be aware that he was going to do this. In fact, it took the cameras quite a long time to find an ROC flag to put up on the video board. Only after very ostentatious display of old-fashioned ROC nationalism did he wrap up his speech and yield the microphone.
Some MKT supporters. This group is old and grumpy.
These MKT supporters are young and enthusiastic. You rarely see people so young in groups mobilized by the KMT or DPP.
The sign identifies this group as the eighth bus from Zhubei township in Hsinchu County.
Two enthusiastic MKT supporters. Note that they are wearing ID badges. That’s different.
Way at the back of the crowd, this group is the 5th bus from Xinfeng township in Hsinchu County. If I remember correctly, Hsu Hsin-ying’s father was once mayor of Xinfeng.
This group is here to support Lee Ching-yuan, the independent.
This group belongs to current legislator Lee Hung-chun, who is running for re-election on the PFP list rather than in his current district, New Taipei 4.
They had a booth for children to color pictures.
These apparently were elite volunteers responsible for taking care of VIP guests. It seems kind of creepy to me to have these sorts of class distinctions at a democratic event like an election rally.
A row of signs and flags forms a nice backdrop to the speakers on stage. What I didn’t realize when I took this picture was that the pseudo-security team was just about to occupy the empty space.
These are not real police or secret service agents. Note that their uniforms are all a little different. They are officialish-looking people organized into a security team.
The guys on the outer edges don’t have uniforms, but they are clearly part of the same security group. This group has a bit too much paramilitary flavor for me. Remember, the KMT once had its own group of thugs modeled after the Nazi SS. This group strikes me as what we might call “authoritarian-nostaligia.”
Let’s go back to the happy parts of the rally. Here the people near the back of the audience stand up and push toward the middle as they await the big entrance by Soong and Hsu.
The legislative candidates await Soong and Hsu. The PFP candidates are on the left, and the MKT candidates are on the right.
Hsu Hsin-ying makes her speech.
Soong makes a point.
凍蒜! [Frozen Garlic!]