The party list debate

Today, Citizens’ Congress Watch held a debate for the party list ballot. There are 19 parties registered for the party list section, but only eight were invited to participate in this debate. The debate lasted nearly three hours and each party only had five scheduled two-minute slots, so it’s hard to blame CCW for limiting participation to the eight leading contenders.

What follow are my general impressions of each party’s overall performance. I did not take notes and I’m writing this from memory several hours later, so it’s possible I am remembering something incorrectly or overlooking something. That said, here are my impressions, party by party.

 

DPP

This was a pretty forgettable performance by the DPP, and that counts as a success. Each party had two representatives, and while the small parties sent their best people, the big guns from the two major parties were all out on the campaign trail. The DPP had a party spokesperson and the #28 person on the party list (that is, an anonymous person with no hope of getting into the legislature this time). They did a fairly competent/bland job of presenting party positions and rebutting various attacks.

Let’s be honest, this was not an important forum for the DPP. They get lots of media attention, and they have lots of opportunities to define their party positions. Today, they just needed to avoid any major errors. Mission accomplished.

Grade: B-

 

KMT

The KMT was roughly in the same position as the DPP, though it did not handle the challenge as well. They also sent two relatively obscure people, Chen Yi-hsin (#10 on the party list) and former legislator Chang Hsien-yao. Chen did fine. The problem was that Chang spoke about two-thirds of the time, and he was terrible. He was very shouty, shrill, and complainy. He was also unprepared. Some of the other parties prepared visual aids; Chang scribbled some unintelligible diagram on a blank sheet of paper and screamed about some conspiracy theory. He also got off topic repeatedly. And he complained about “being labeled” as pro-China. (Recall that four years ago, it was President Ma who accused Chang of being a Chinese agent.) Basically, every time Chang appeared on the screen, I spent the next two minutes cringing.

One thing the KMT has repeatedly failed to do in this campaign (and again in this debate) is to present an alternative vision of how they would govern. It is the biggest opposition party and the only one with a plausible chance of replacing the DPP in power. However, its campaign has been entirely devoted to attacking the DPP’s record. The KMT has not explained at all what it would do in office. I guess that is (barely) defensible in the presidential race, but the party list is exactly the place where that argument is insufficient. If you don’t like the DPP, you have 18 other options, including several other blue and/or viable options. The KMT didn’t give anti-DPP voters any positive reason at all today to vote for them.

Grade: D+

 

New Party

The New Party complained very loudly and energetically about the DPP, so its supporters are probably mostly happy with their debate performance. However, I feel frustrated by the New Party. They have an honest substantive argument to make. The New Party should be making the case that unification with China is in Taiwan’s best interest. They started out that way, talking about the necessity of peace. However, they shied away from embracing the full argument, talking about pride in their Chinese identity, the prosperity resulting from being part of a huge economy, and things like that. Instead, they tried to downplay their pro-unification position and spent a lot of time talking about conspiracy theories, such as President Tsai PhD dissertation. What kind of tiny radical fringe party is afraid to boldly proclaim its core beliefs?

Grade: C+

 

Taiwan Statebuilding Party 台灣基進黨

I think the Statebuilding Party was one of two clear winners in today’s debate. They spoke entirely in Taiwanese, the only party to do so. My Taiwanese is worse than rudimentary and the time-pressured format makes debaters speak in a machine-gun rapid-fire pace, so I had no chance of following their content. However, I could tell that they focused heavily on sovereignty.

The Statebuilding Party’s task today was to define itself as the main party for radical Taiwan independence supporters. In a sense, they won by simply being on the stage. Their main competitors (TSU, Formosa Alliance 喜樂島聯盟, Taiwan Action Party Alliance 一邊一國行動黨) for this bloc of votes were not invited. The Statebuilding Party can now make a simple argument: don’t waste your votes on them, we are the only Taiwan independence party with a chance of passing the 5% threshold.

The Statebuilding Party is different from those other three parties in another sense. Those are all parties for old men trying to relive the glory days; the Statebuilding Party is run by young and energetic people. Those other parties have stopped doing things to attract any new voters, while the Statebuilding Party has worked hard to build itself up over the past four years from almost nothing to earning a place on the debate stage. I don’t think they are going to get into the legislature this year, but they might establish themselves as the only viable vehicle for the independence movement going forward.

Grade: B+

 

PFP

To some extent, the remaining four parties are all in the middle of the political spectrum. Moreover, their strategies are all being affected by the fact that the KMT is failing to hold massive numbers of voters who would have traditionally voted for them. As a result, all these center parties are shifting toward a bluer position or reacting to other parties shifting in that direction.

The PFP’s job today was to establish itself as the main option for people who can’t stand the DPP but aren’t comfortable with the KMT this year. It did an ok job of attacking the DPP, but it did take some uncomfortable fire from the Green Party (see below).

Grade: B-

 

Green Party

The Green Party was the biggest winner today. They had the best performer on the stage (Wang Hao-yu 王浩宇 is a future political star) and also the most coherent message. Unlike everyone else, they had a consistent theme throughout the debate: the Green Party has ideals – environmentalism, pluralism, and sovereignty – that guide its decisions. Wang used this theme to attack the other parties. He asked the PFP why it was acceptable for one of its senior leaders to attend a PRC event, equating his action to KMT list nominee Wu Si-huai. He asked the TPP exactly what its ideals are, asking who they supported for president and whether they would vote for Wu Si-huai as a committee convener in the legislature. He also took a couple of shots at the NPP, though he didn’t explicitly name them. Party ideals had led them to support Tsai for re-election, even back earlier in the year when her polling numbers were low and “other parties” were on the fence. If elected to the legislature, party ideals would guide their actions, so they wouldn’t play games like introducing incomplete bills on marriage equality and then screaming that the DPP was against marriage equality when it blocked those flawed bills. In short, the Green Party landed shots against all its major competitors, painting them as speculators interested in short-term gains and devoid of guiding ideals.

Grade: A-

 

TPP

The TPP had an ok performance. I think we learned two things about them.

First, they explained their position on cross-straits issues. The USA will not permit unification with China or Taiwan independence, so it is useless to spend any time on sovereignty questions. [Note: It’s worth reading that sentence again and thinking about its assumptions and implications.]

They stuck to this position in other answers. The TPP representative refused to endorse anyone in the presidential race, saying that was up to each individual voter. However, he did say that, just speaking for himself personally, if elected to the legislature he would not vote to make Wu Si-huai a committee convener.

Second, if they don’t have any opinions on cross-straits issues, what do they stand for? They believe in budgeting. Apparently, the most important thing a party can do is to spend money carefully and repay outstanding public debt.

[Note: That doesn’t help. What is worth spending money on? Anything?]

Grade: C

 

NPP

I think the NPP might have had the worst performance of all today. They tried to talk about detailed public policy today, but you simply cannot do that in this format. You only have a few speaking slots, so you really don’t have time to develop any detailed ideas. Moreover, if you try to talk about public housing, you don’t have any time to talk about any of the other public policies you stand for. You get lost in details, and you look like you don’t have any broad vision.

Unfortunately, the NPP is in the middle of a vision crisis. Half the party has defected, not because they think there is a problem with the details of the party’s public housing platform, but because they think there is a problem with the party’s grand vision. What does the NPP stand for? What position does it occupy within Taiwan’s political space? We didn’t get any answers to those big questions.

Grade: D+

 

Ultimately, this debate won’t matter very much. I doubt many people watched it, and most who did are probably political junkies who made up their minds a long time ago. However, if it does matter for anyone, it could be precisely the type of highly educated but somewhat ambivalent voter that the TPP, NPP, Green Party, and PFP are fighting over in the middle of the political spectrum. Of those, the Green Party was the least popular going in but (I think) did the most in the debate to improve its position.

3 Responses to “The party list debate”

  1. cassambito Says:

    Prof. Garlic, in case you’re curious to hear it again (and maybe practice Taiwanese :D), here’s a footage from Statebuilding Party’s exposition at the debate: https://youtu.be/PgypmfQFjrs?t=236

  2. Walnut Says:

    Man, you have to be REALLY red to be accused by President Ma of being a Chinese agent.

  3. James Says:

    I suspect even the New Party is smart enough to know that embracing unification with China in open public is political suicide these days, so it resorts to attacking the DPP only instead.

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