Campaign Trail: Han rally in New Taipei (2)

On Saturday evening, I went to another Han rally in New Taipei. This one was in Tucheng, in New Taipei 10. Like New Taipei 5, the KMT won this district in 2008 and 2012 but lost it in 2016. Unlike New Taipei 5, this district does not feature a pair of young, promising, nationally-prominent legislative candidates. The DPP incumbent is one of the most anonymous members of the legislature. I’m struggling to think of anyone from the Taipei area with a lower national profile. Wu Chi-ming is a classic grassroots politician. He votes the party line in the legislature, but his main job is working the district, securing development funds, and ensuring that the DPP continues to hold this seat. His opponent promises to be pretty much the same. Like Wu Chi-ming, Lin Chin-chieh comes out of the city council. He was closely allied with the previous KMT legislator, Lu Chia-chen. Lu was also a fairly anonymous grassroots politician except for one thing. Lu was noted as perhaps Wang Jin-pyng’s closest follower in the legislature. During the primary for the legislative nomination however, Lin Chin-chieh hitched his wagon to Han Kuo-yu, a move which surprised some people. So here’s what I know about the two main candidates: Wu is associated with the Yu Hsi-kun faction, Lin is allied with the Han faction, both are boring and locally-oriented, and that is all. This district is slightly bluer than New Taipei city as a whole. In fact, in 2012 it was the median district in the entire country. That is, this is arguably the swingiest of all swing seats. Win New Taipei 10, and you will probably win a majority in the legislature.

The event was large, but I got a very strong impression that it was not nearly as large as the organizers had expected. There were a few areas of mostly empty seats, and you could find seats even in the more densely populated areas. I think about 75% of the seats were filled. There was an overflow section that was completely empty. Campaigns usually don’t set up seats in overflow areas until its clear that they will need them in order to avoid embarrassing photographs (and also to concentrate the audience into a smaller space since more concentrated audiences are more responsive). There was also a standing-room space at the back of the plot that was mostly empty. A lot of people did gather on the sidewalk just outside the space (on the other side of a fence). I think there might have been 10,000 people, but it looked like they expected at least 15,000. It wasn’t a huge space; if it had been packed to the gills it might have held 20,000 people. (If 10,000 seems too low, remember that my estimates are notoriously stingy.) Early on in the event, the hosts asked the crowd, “Do we have 50,000 people?” I had to suppress a giggle, since it looked to me like they might have had 8,000 at that point. Campaigns always inflate their numbers, but that was way too far from reality. Anyway, 10,000 people is still a lot of people, and it was a good crowd. They were self-mobilized and enthusiastic. This was a successful event.

There were several speakers, and they were feeding lots of red meat to the crowd. Tsai Ing-wen, it seems, has been a complete disaster as president.

Hong Kong came up a few times. This audience clearly disliked the common rhetoric that Taiwan is trying to avoid becoming a second Hong Kong. The speakers told them not to let themselves be blackmailed by this argument. There wasn’t much sympathy for the Hong Kong protesters. One speaker said that it was fine to demonstrate for democracy, but their tactics had gone far beyond acceptable levels and they no longer could express any reasonable goals or demands. The protesters were now the ones to blame.

The KMT’s party list came up once or twice. One person, from the KMT youth department, told the crowd enthusiastically that their first vote should be for Han Kuo-yu. Hooray! And of course, everyone knows who should get your legislative district vote! The crowd roared back, “Lin Chin-chieh!” And about the party list vote… Suddenly her tone changed from confident and enthusiastic to hesitant and defensive. She told the crowd that they should feel welcome to complain or swear a bit first, but they eventually needed to vote for the KMT party list as well. That is not exactly a ringing endorsement.

They talked a lot about Han’s real estate dealings. They discussed at length how rich President Tsai is and how much property she Tsai owns. It was totally unfair that the media was only talking about Han and not about Tsai. They also defended Han’s actual dealings, explaining that NT70 million is not all that much and that Han had to take out loans like a normal person. Again, the tone was always defensive. It seems pretty clear to me that they don’t want to talk about this topic, but they feel they need to. The attacks seem to be hitting home.

At first glance, it seems a bit strange that the real estate “scandal” is having an effect. There really isn’t much of a scandal. The DPP and media aren’t directly accusing Han of doing anything illegal. At most, there are hints and innuendos that he might have improperly used his political influence to persuade financial institutions to loan him money. As corruption scandals go, it’s pretty tame stuff. However, this isn’t really about corruption. It’s really about trust. This attack is persuading voters that Han isn’t who you thought he was, and he isn’t who he says he is. He claimed to be one of you, just an ordinary person. In fact, he was always one of the predatory elite class using his power and influence to get rich off property schemes while ordinary people are stuck trying to get by on a fixed salary. If you give Han your trust, he will abuse that trust to enrich himself.  Trust is the most basic ingredient of political power in democratic politics, so this attack on Han’s trustworthiness is actually potentially quite lethal.

Han had another good speech last night. He spoke mostly about economics and how Taiwan has fallen behind its peers over the past thirty years. While this was an inherently negative message, his tone was generally positive. He wasn’t projecting anger; rather he was identifying a problem (bad economy) and telling people how to fix it (vote for me). As always, there weren’t any specifics in his speech. The crowd didn’t mind. They were highly enthusiastic for him. It wasn’t a coincidence that the most intense roar of the entire day came when someone (I can’t remember if it was Han or someone else) said that “we need to throw the DPP out of office!” That is what they really want, and they believe that Han is the one to do it.

The event was over before 8:00pm, which seemed unfathomably early to me.

This section of seats was empty because the view was blocked by a tree. On the right side of the picture, there is a building at the back. (The lot was empty because they will build a brand new fancy apartment building here, and that temporary building is where they pre-sell the units.) Most of the seats on the side in front of that building were empty because of the terrible acoustics caused by the sound bounding off the wall at the back. You would think that campaigns would know a thing or two about sound systems by now, but I’ve been to more events with terrible sound systems than with good ones. The crowd goes back to about where the two tents. Between those two tents and the billboard, there was a large, conspicuously empty space.

This picture was taken from the same place as the previous one; I just turned around to face the front. It’s a nice-sized crowd, but it isn’t like people are crammed in.

The sad, sad overflow space. Campaigns hate it when jerks like me publish pictures like this.

It was a spirited rally. The crowd was roiling when Han took the stage.

The rally was in New Taipei 10, but several KMT candidates from nearby districts also showed up. Here, Han introduces Lo Ming-tsai (NT 11), who waves to the crowd. Lin Chin-cheih (NT 10) is in the dark blue vest standing next to Han. Ko Chih-en (NT 7) is on the far left in the pink vest. Huang Chih-hsiung (NT 5) is in the blue and yellow jacket two people away from Han. Lin Kuo-chun (NT 6) is the tall guy standing right behind Han.

Dong suan! Dong suan!

Bonus picture: This is not from the rally. This billboard is for a candidate running as an independent against Lin Chin-chieh. His father is Lee Chia-chin, a KMT legislator from this area back in the early 2000s. Lee wanted to run for this seat, but lost to Lin in the KMT primary (when Lin cozied up to Han). Lee’s son is now running with the endorsement of Terry Gou and Ko Wen-je. These are the kinds of candidacies that can get anywhere from 2,500 to 25,000 votes. This is already a tough race for the KMT, but they have no hope of winning unless they can suppress Lee’s vote.

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