campaign trail: DPP rally in Keelung (last weekend)

I tried to go to a campaign event today, but I encountered a series of mistakes and misfortunes and never made it to the event. So instead of reporting that, I’m going to talk about an event that I went to last Saturday and never got around to writing up.

 

Last Saturday, I went to see a DPP rally in Keelung City. I usually don’t have a specific agenda when I go to rallies, but I did for this one. To remind you of the context, earlier that week the KMT had announced its party list which included the controversial retired general, Wu Sihuai. A few days later, my wife pointed my attention to an ad for the incumbent DPP legislator from Keelung, Tsai Shih-ying.

This ad is unlike anything I’ve ever seen the DPP produce. The text reads: “National Security, Soldiers Have Respect.” Below that, it says “choose a real military-system legislator: Tsai Shih-ying.” In the smallest font, it lists his qualifications, including serving as a frontline officer on Kinmen during the 1996 missile crisis, promoting moving the naval base from one side of Keelung harbor to the other, and securing a submarine development center for Keelung.

Remember, the DPP traditionally has an anti-military bias. DPP politicians have run before as military specialists, but what they always meant was that they were going to rigorously scrutinize the military and the military budget to uncover any abuses of power or any wasteful spending. For example, Chen Shui-bian was famous for uncovering military scandals back in the early 1990s. This ad has an entirely different tone. Tsai Shih-ying is positioned as being a representative of military interests, not an opponent. He has served in the military, understands its culture, and can help it to secure the programs it wants. (There is also a good dose of local development pork tossed in the mix.)

Of course, this is all part of President Tsai’s broader reorientation of traditional DPP positions. Tsai has quite conspicuously championed the military during her tenure. The retired soldiers might never like her, but she is energetically wooing the active-duty officers and soldiers, by taking lots of photo-ops, by praising them whenever she has an opportunity, and by vigorously promoting higher levels of military spending. From an even broader perspective, she is wooing the traditionally Chinese nationalist officer corps through her “ROC Taiwan” discourse.

(I’ve been meaning to discuss this discourse in depth for a few months now; it is one of the most significant things bubbling under the surface in 2019. Hopefully I’ll get around to writing about this topic soon.)

At the rally, I was curious to see just how far Tsai Shih-ying and Tsai Ing-wen would take this argument. Would they put his military credentials front and center when selling him to the general public? Or would this appeal get buried beneath the more traditional appeals (local development, Taiwanese nationalism, Tsai being named an outstanding legislator ever session).

It turned out to be the latter. Other than President Tsai, none of the other speakers mentioned the military appeal. She did bring it up, but only briefly. She spent less than a minute on it, basically limiting herself to repeating the points in the advertisement. Everyone seemed to think that all the other arguments would be a lot more persuasive than this pro-military appeal. Perhaps this was due to the nature of the audience. The event was, after all, opening his campaign office. The audience was stacked with older DPP die-hards, the types of people who don’t exactly feel their spines tingle when you talk about purchasing military hardware. Maybe Tsai will dwell on this issue more with ordinary Keelung voters or in the neighborhoods with lots of military veterans and/or Mainlanders.

For now though, it seems there are limits to how much Tsai has repositioned the DPP. Tsai’s pro-military stance is evident, but it isn’t the centerpiece of the DPP’s election campaign. The traditional appeals are still the most prominent appeals. More broadly, this is also the case with the ROC Taiwan discourse. It gets mentioned every now and then, but you can easily miss it if you aren’t paying attention or you haven’t been clued in that this is important. ROC Taiwan hasn’t really become a mainstream talking point the way that “ROC on Taiwan” or “special state to state relationship” did during Lee Teng-hui’s presidency. I suppose that will have to wait until her second term.

 

Some pics:

It wasn’t a huge event; it was probably just over a thousand people. The rally was downtown, next to the canal. They only had the sidewalk plus one lane of the road. It was overcast, but it never started raining. In Keelung, that counts as spectacular weather.

The very popular mayor, Lin You-chang, talked about what a good job he has done. Oh yeah, Tsai helped, so vote for him.

Tsai Shih-ying leads the cheers for himself.

President Tsai addresses the faithful.

Indigenous legislator Chen Ying is on the left. Keelung has about 3000 indigenous (mostly Amis) voters. They mostly vote blue, but Chen Ying did get nearly 500 votes here four years ago.

 

While I’m on the topic of Keelung, let me say a few words about the legislative race. Keelung was always considered a reliably blue seat until four years ago. The DPP had never come close to winning it, losing 67.8%-28.6% in 2008 and 52.4%-40.1% in 2012. However, Hsieh Kuo-liang chose not to run for re-election in 2016, leaving the seat wide open. The KMT’s local Keelung politicians failed to coalesce around a single person, and eventually former Taipei mayor Hau Lung-bin decided to swoop in like a vulture to steal this plum seat away. Unfortunately for him, the local politicians didn’t agree on him either, and two of them launched rival campaigns. Tsai Shih-ying, a fairly anonymous city councilor at the time, didn’t noticeably increase the DPP’s vote share, getting only 41.5%, but since the three blue campaigns split the rest of the vote, it was enough to win.

This year, Tsai is an incumbent, and that comes with significant advantages. He has had four years to work the city. He is also aligned with a very popular mayor, and he can take some credit for city government achievements by claiming to have been the city’s representative to the national government. He has also been recognized by Citizen Congress Watch as an outstanding legislator all seven sessions of this term. In sum, he is a much more formidable candidate in 2020 than he was in 2016. The KMT candidate is Song Wei-li, the speaker of the city council. She is an old-fashioned patronage-oriented politician. In larger cities, the city council is the primary source for high-quality challengers. In a small city like Keelung, there is reason to doubt Song’s preparedness. Whereas a Taipei city councilor needs to win 20,000-30,000 votes, in Keelung, 4,000 votes is enough to win a seat. Taipei city councilors who want to run for legislator already have a pretty good idea how to do wholesale politics, whereas Keelung councilors are only trained in retail. In addition, Taipei council districts are a lot larger. When I lived in Taipei, my city council district and legislative district were exactly the same (covering Nangang and Neihu). An ambitious city councilor already had years of experience familiarizing herself with the voters in the legislative district. Keelung, in contrast, is cut into seven city council districts, so Song Wei-li is an absolute stranger to voters in the six other districts. There is a pretty big gap between the Keelung city council and a national legislator, and this might make the incumbency advantage even bigger.

I love her English slogan, but probably not in the way she intends it. Every time I pass this billboard, I imagine someone sarcastically sneering, “be real!” In my head, sometimes they’re talking to her about her chances of winning, sometimes it’s her responding to a presidential proposal, and sometimes they’re responding cynically to her slogan about taking care of ordinary people (she’s quite rich). For the record, what I think she wants to say is that she is sincere.

Song Wei-li has another problem. Once again, there are two other rival blue candidacies that will steal votes from her. Moreover, both of them have track records of taking significant numbers of votes. Four years ago, Yang Shih-lung won 10.0% representing the MKT, while eight years ago Chang Keng-huei won 5.9% as an independent. Song is already in a tough race, but if Yang and Chang replicate those performances this year, she is doomed.

At the beginning of 2019, all this wouldn’t have mattered. Back when Han Kuo-yu was soaring in the polls and the KMT thought it would waltz back into power, it was almost a foregone conclusion that the KMT would recover Keelung. However, as national polls shifted, this seat became competitive and perhaps even leaning green. As unlikely as it seemed several months ago, I think Tsai Shih-ying is in pretty good shape to win re-election.

 

5 Responses to “campaign trail: DPP rally in Keelung (last weekend)”

  1. Rev. Michael Stainton Says:

    Love all your insights! I have learned more reading your indepth observations than I even did in election observation groups. I appreciate your taking note of the 台/ROC discourse. I have always seen Tsai as LTH’s greatest protege, but how much his influence continues struck me when I read Lai’s statement of November 22 that:
    Lai then gave a “pragmatic response” that listed three points:
    • Taiwan is already a sovereign and independent country. Its name is the Republic of China [Taiwan]. It does not belong to China. Having already been administered, there is no need for Taiwan to declare independence separately.
    • The future of Taiwan is determined by its 23 million people. No one else, even the president, can interfere.
    • Presently, Taiwan’s most important task is to develop its economy, build its country, benefit its people, and expand.

    And I thought- LTH said exactly the same thing 25 years ago.

  2. What is the Significance of Tsai and Han’s Vice Presidential Choices? | New Bloom Magazine Says:

    […] Han, nor is—as some would have it—about to replace Han as the KMT’s presidential candidate. Given that Han is already lagging behind Tsai in polling by some twenty points, replacing Han with another candidate would likely just cause the KMT’s approval ratings to drop […]

  3. malaita Says:

    If you are interested in DPP’s new shift in terms of military policy, or even ROC TW, you might want to check out another two candidates, who would tell more stories than Tsai Shih-ying: Li Wen (Matzu) and Wu Yi-nong.

  4. Orange Says:

    It always struck me as odd that the DPP wouldn’t have embraced the military more wholeheartedly, starting in the 1990s. The party that supports the more pro-independence platform would in theory have all the incentive in the world to support the Taiwanese armed forces, considering that such forces would be what prevents China from annexing.

    Likewise, strange that the military didn’t have a backlash against the KMT for blocking all that defense spending under the Chen administration.

    • Mr. Wang Says:

      The military was much more aligned with the KMT in those days. And was basically a branch of the KMT, especially so in the Chiang presidencies. The DPP was understandably wary of the military as a result. And old-school greens were much more fearful of the ROC military than the PRC military.

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