Last night I drove down to Taichung 3rd district for my 23rd rally of this election season and my first for the New Power Party. Like so many other tossup districts, Taichung 3 has a KMT incumbent with years of constituency service and deep local roots trying to fend off a challenger in a district that will probably go decisively for the DPP in the presidential election. Unlike the local voters in Taichung 3 the national media is probably more familiar with the challenger, Hung Tsu-yung 洪慈庸, than the incumbent, Yang Chiung-ying 楊瓊櫻. Yang is a fairly standard local faction politician who has a fairly low profile in national politics. Hung burst into the public eye in 2013 when her brother died to abuse by his superiors in the military, leading to massive protests. Hung joined the New Power Party, announced her candidacy for the legislature, and eventually managed to persuade the DPP to yield the district to her. At first she was considered a decided underdog to the heavily favored Yang, but the partisan balance of the district and her fairly effective campaign have eaten away at Yang’s edge. At this point, many people consider Hung more likely to win than Yang, though it would be overdoing it to sat that Hung is clearly favored.
The rally was in a park in Houli township, which is not one of the prettier parts of Taiwan. They set out (what looked to me like) fewer than 1000 stools, and they didn’t seem to mobilize heavily. However, the crowd kept growing as the event went on, and I think they eventually had well over 1000 people. As far as logistics go, there was a clear difference between this NPP event and well organized DPP events. The DPP always has a real stage with a custom-made backdrop. This stage was a platform truck designed for outdoor musical performances. The light show on the stage was a crazy array of flashing lights, which didn’t exactly scream “politics” to me. The sound guy was also less professional than at the typical DPP event, which I kind of liked. As I wrote in my previous post, I think the DPP overdoes it these days. I was happy to have less of a soundtrack and more audience interaction. There was plenty of enthusiasm in the crowd. It might be that this was a self-mobilized neighborhood crowd, or it could be that people are more passionate for the NPP than other parties, but I suspect the main reason is that the election is getting closer.
I thought that a rally for a small, ideologically oriented party would be filled with serious and meaty speeches. Not so. More time was given over to musical performances than speeches. I think I saw four dance groups and four singers before I left. Moreover, the speeches were notable mostly for being rather light on substance. As I left, I couldn’t help but think that there was nothing they said that I hadn’t heard many times at DPP rallies. I thought they would talk about what makes the NPP different from the DPP, but there was none of that. Hung is running a campaign that, at least judged by last night’s rally, is indistinguishable from any DPP candidate’s campaign.
The feature speaker was VP candidate Chen Chien-jen. Of course, he spent a lot of time recommending Hung, criticizing Yang for following Ma’s party line, and explaining why it was so important for the green camp to win control of the legislature. I wondered how he would handle the party vote question. He answered my question emphatically. Even though this was an event for a NPP candidate, he was not shy at all about asking the crowd to vote for the DPP party list. In fact, he spent several minutes talking about how Tsai was worried about the party list vote, talking about all the fantastic people on the DPP’s party list, and telling the audience that they could just vote 1, 2, 3 (1: DPP party list number, 2: Tsai’s registration number, 3: Hung’s registration number). When he finished speaking, the host – who was wearing a yellow NPP vest – took up the 1, 2, 3 slogan, which I thought was interesting. Hung stood next to Chen during the entire speech and gave no indication of awkwardness. However, Hsu Yung-ming 徐永明, who is number 2 on the NPP party list, remained seated in the front row rather that joining them up on stage as would be normal. It was an interesting (and probably negotiated) compromise to save face for everyone. It also sent a clear message that the DPP is not encouraging people to vote for any other parties’ lists, something that they have really started to hammer these past few days.
After Chen’s speech and another musical performance, Hsu Yung-ming got up to speak. Hsu talked for a while about how important it was for Houli residents to support their local daughter. He also pointed out that he is from neighboring Shengang, so if voters vote for the NPP, they can have two good legislators. That will certainly result in more budget money flowing to Taichung 3, Hsu promised. Of all the speakers tonight, Hsu was the only one to mention the comments by Hu Chu-sheng 胡築生, KMT party list candidate and representative of the Huang Fu-hsing military veterans party branch. For some strange reason, Hu decided to complain about Hung Chung-chiu, Hung Tsu-yung’s younger brother who died due to maltreatment by the military. “If all soldiers were like Hung, this would become a womanly country 軍中都是洪仲丘就成女人國,” Hu said. This statement violates two important unwritten rules of electoral politics: don’t speak ill of the dead, and don’t be a male chauvinist. There was certainly ample opportunity for the speakers tonight to pick up this cudgel and beat the hell out of Hu and the KMT with it, but for some reason they didn’t do that. Hsu Yung-ming brought it up, but he merely called on the crowd to give Hu his retirement papers. Then he suggested they could give Ma Ying-jeou, Eric Chu, and Jennifer Wang their retirement papers as well. The tone was very light-hearted rather than indignant or offended.
Following another musical performance, Hung took the stage. She talked about local development. The International Flora Expo is coming to Taichung in 2018, and it will be held in the Houli area. Hung stressed that it was important to spend all the extra money budgeted for infrastructure improvements wisely in order to emphasize Houli’s natural attractions. Only a person from Houli could know what Houli needs. She is from Houli and has lived there all her life, so of course she understands what Houli needs and its best features to show to the world. She never did get around to telling us what specifically those might be. I was curious, since Houli doesn’t seem to have any obvious scenic attractions. Maybe “decaying industrial blight” can become trendy.
Neither Hung nor Hsu ever got around to asking people to vote for the NPP party list. After Chen’s long plea for support for the DPP party list, it seemed strange to me that they didn’t respond with their own plea.
As I left, I also realized that I never heard anyone mention China. Supposedly the NPP is a radical party that has staked out some space on the ideological fringes. I saw no evidence of that tonight. There was a decided absence of the fiery populist demagogues that the KMT propaganda would lead us to expect. Other than the weaker organizational capacity and the yellow campaign paraphernalia, there was almost nothing to suggest that the NPP was different in any important way from the DPP.