Campaign Trail: DPP event in Zhonghe

On Saturday evening, I went to Zhonghe for a DPP rally. This rally was located in Nanshijiao, which is the last stop on the orange MRT line. I briefly lived in this area, and when I saw the location, I wondered where in the world they were going to find a big empty space for a political rally. The listing said the rally would be right next to the MRT station, and I was pretty sure there were no huge, unused spaces there. It turned out that they blocked off a small street and held the rally there. It was a tiny space, with maaaybe 1000 stools. I was stunned by the lack of ambition for this event. They were holding a Saturday night event in a densely populated area with easy transportation, and they only expected 1000 people to show up? As the event went on, the space filled in completely, and then the space outside the security area filled up. Eventually there were more people (and more densely crowded) outside the security perimeter than inside it. It felt substantial because it was pretty packed (and the crowd was pretty enthusiastic); it’s always better to have a small space packed to the gills than a big space with lots of extra room. Still, the total crowd never got to be more than 2500. In one of my previous posts, I wondered whether Han Kuo-yu’s support was eroding since he was only drawing 7000-8000 people. This event was one-third the size of his events. As I said last time, crowd size isn’t necessarily a good indicator of anything, but I think it is useful to remember just how small this crowd is. I’m going to say a lot of nice things about this rally, so it’s probably a good idea to keep reminding yourself that it was a pretty small event.

 

Zhonghe is traditionally a blue stronghold. There was a lot of military housing and several other communities of traditional KMT voters. For example, lots of people originally from Kinmen have concentrated in Zhonghe. The Kinmen County government even built some public housing in Zhonghe for Kinmen expatriates. One of my friends from Kinmen told me that at one time, there were more Kinmen voters in Zhonghe than in Kinmen itself. That seems a bit unlikely, but I don’t doubt that Zhonghe had a large community of Kinmen residents. Zhonghe also has a fairly large community of people who originally came from the Golden Triangle area near the Thailand-Myanmar-Yunnan border. However, Zhonghe is slowly changing. As with all the other military villages, when the government embarked on a rebuilding program 20 years ago, lots of veterans and their families moved out and never moved back in. Further, the MRT has spurred lots of new urban housing. Nanshijiao has lots of high rises that didn’t exist as recently as a decade ago (when I lived there). The area out toward Banqiao has also grown quite a bit. Meanwhile, the traditional core city areas closer to Yonghe are stagnant or even losing population. The changes in total population are not as striking as in some other areas, but Zhonghe has a pretty high percentage of people moving in and out every year. Zhonghe is still bluer than average, but not quite to the extent it used to be.

 

Zhonghe has traditionally been dominated by KMT local factions. The past three elections have all been internal family affairs. The KMT was represented in all three by Chang Ching-chung 張慶忠. Chang married into one of the pre-eminent Zhonghe political families. One son from that family, Chao Yung-ching 趙永清, had been in the legislature since 1992, but he had recently defected from the KMT to the DPP. In 2008, Chang defeated Chao to win the seat for the KMT. In 2012, Chao’s protégé and cousin, Chiang Yung-chang 江永昌 represented the DPP and lost to Chang. In 2016, Chang and Chiang faced off once again. However, the 2016 election was different. In 2014, Chang Ching-chung played a key role in setting off the Sunflower Movement. Chang was the committee convener who controversially pushed the Services Trade Agreement through committee review by going off into a corner (during a chaotic brawl) and declaring the review complete. For this, he was given the nickname “Thirty Seconds” 半分忠 and repeatedly vilified by the demonstrators. After the Sunflower Movement, a group of students launched a recall drive against several of KMT figures, including Chang. The drive ultimately failed, but all of their targets lost in 2016. In 2016, Chiang beat Chang badly; he not only beat Chang by 25,000 votes, he ran nearly 5% ahead of Tsai Ing-wen in the district. This year, the Chang family planned to retake the seat by running Chang’s son. However, they failed to make it through the primary, losing to the son of another KMT local politician. This year, the KMT will be represented by Chiu Feng-yao 邱烽堯, a member of the city council whose father 邱垂益 was a two-term mayor of Zhonghe City. Of the ten seats the DPP currently holds in New Taipei, this one is by far the most likely to be retaken by the KMT, at least if one looks at the district’s partisan balance. However, given Chiang’s performance in office and the state of the presidential race, I’d rate this race as a toss-up.

 

Back to the rally. Well, almost back to the rally. There is one other tangent to take care of before we get to the rally. Early on in the rally, they announced that the theme of the night would be chiong, chiong, chiong. Back in 2001, when the current premier, Su Tseng-chang 蘇貞昌, was running for re-election as Taipei county magistrate, he used this phrase as his slogan. The last character in his name is chang in Mandarin. When you say it in Taiwanese, it is chiong, and it sounds just like another character 衝. I don’t know quite how to translate this character; it includes elements of “go for it,” “work hard,” and “do something difficult.” Maybe the best translation is the Nike slogan, Just Do It. Anyway, chiong, chiong, chiong is a perfect encapsulation of Su, who is a ball of positive energy, hard work, attention to detail, and charisma. To this day, his first line on stage is often, “I am Su Tseng-chang, chiong, chiong, chiong!” 我是蘇貞昌,衝衝衝!  So, why would the theme of the rally be chiong, chiong, chiong? Premier Su was coming to speak, and he is one chiong. The legislative candidate, Chiang Yung-chang, also has the character 昌 in his name, so he was the second chiong. The third chiong was Keelung mayor Lin You-chang 林右昌.

 

The two local DPP city councilors were the first speakers, but they weren’t very interesting so we’ll skip them. After them, Keelung mayor Lin You-chang took the stage. Lin’s main message was that Chiang had a reasonable chance to win, and supporters shouldn’t assume that just because Zhonghe is traditionally blue Chiang was doomed to lose. Lin pointed out that Keelung is also traditionally blue, maybe even more so than Zhonghe. However, voters could see the good record of achievements he had put together in office, and they rewarded him by re-electing him with a solid majority. He talked about his own record and how that had won him support even in mainlander-dominated neighborhoods. Then he talked a bit about Chiang’s record in office, stressing how good it was and how voters would certainly recognize this and similarly reward him. It was a solid speech, and it set the tone for the rest of the evening.

After a musical performance, Chiang Yung-chang went next. Chiang spoke mostly about his performance in office. He is very proud of the fact that Citizens’ Congress Watch has rated him an outstanding legislator all seven sessions of this term. However, he stressed that another group, Pocket Congress, has also rated him as outstanding.

[Aside: I don’t think the audience could tell the difference between these two; it just sounds as if lots of close observers think he’s doing a good job. In fact, being highly rated by two groups is more impressive. CCW is the most famous group and the most authoritative judge of legislator performance. CCW tries hard to be neutral, but most of its volunteers are green sympathizers and their results skew a little in the green direction. Pocket Congress is organized and staffed by people coming out of the blue camp. (The motivating force is former PFP legislator and Eric Chu’s brother-in-law Kao Si-po). Chiang’s positive evaluation from them can be taken as an indication that it isn’t just green sympathizers rating a green legislator highly.]

Chiang then talked in detail about all his accomplishments in office. It has been four days, and my lousy memory precludes me from providing a full recap. However, I do remember that he was quite proud of moving or burying several (16??) high-voltage electricity transmission towers from near residential neighborhoods. He also talked about the normal things for urban legislators: parks, parking garages, traffic, urban renewal, and so on. However, at the end of his speech, he shifted into more national topics, talking about cross-strait relations, economic development strategies, and things like that. I assume the audience was more concerned with the local topics, but I was impressed with his broader grasp of politics. Every time I watch a politician, I ask myself whether they are already at their personal ceiling or they have the potential to move up to a higher office. Chiang flashed some potential.

After another musical performance, the third chiong, Premier Su, took the stage. After they introduce someone, there is often a little lull between the noisy introduction and the speaker beginning to speak. During that lull, something a bit unusual happened. Just as Su was about to start speaking, people spontaneously started clapping. It spread through the audience, and then people stood up. Eventually, the entire crowd was giving him a standing ovation. There were no air horns or yelling, just people standing and quietly clapping. It was quite a moving demonstration of affection. As you probably know, Su was recently diagnosed with a virus that causes facial palsy. It isn’t a serious health issue, but one side of his face droops noticeably. Su thanked the crowd for their welcome, and talked about his experience with the virus. He contracted it on the day that Tsai opened her national campaign headquarters [note: I went to that event, and it was obvious on his face that day]. Tsai had personally told him to go to the doctor and get some rest. Su, who justifiably has a reputation for an incredible work ethic, took exactly one day off. Somehow, Su managed to slip in a comparison to Han Kuo-yu, who is not famous for his fantastic work ethic, without being too mean-spirited. From there, Su went on to talk about Chiang Yung-chang and hard work, repeating and reinforcing many of the same themes that Lin and Chiang had stressed earlier. Su is an incredibly talented public speaker, and he was on his game Saturday night. He had the audience on the edges of their seats, making them laugh repeatedly and eliciting responses at will. It was a substantive speech so they weren’t frothing with passion, but when he left the stage, they were all awake and engaged.

President Tsai was the final speaker. I’ve seen her several times this year, and this was her best speech. Even after a decade in the spotlight, she remains a work in progress when it comes to public speaking. She has spoken a lot more in Taiwanese this year, but this speech was almost entirely in Mandarin. When she is tired, her rhythm becomes monotonous. She has a laundry list of points she needs to get through, and she goes through them one by one, never breaking her (too fast) tempo and ending each phrase with the same call and response. It gets tedious very fast. On Saturday, she slowed down, varied her tempo, spoke with emotional peaks and troughs, and didn’t become overly reliant on the same old call and response phrases. Her delivery helped her to punctuate her points far more effectively, and she came off as much more likeable and trustworthy. Normally, her entrance is the emotional high point, and her actual speech is something of a letdown. On Saturday, her speech itself was the highlight, and the crowd was just as engaged and enthusiastic at the end of her speech as at the beginning. At one point, she looked to the side and exclaimed, “Oh, there are a lot of people over there! I thought it was only the people here in front. Why don’t you make more noise!” Of course, this prompted a big roar from them. I don’t know if it was a genuinely impromptu reaction from her, but it certainly looked great later that night on the TV news. If it was intentional, it was one of the most deft tricks I’ve ever seen her produce.

She spent quite a lot of time talking up Chiang Yung-chang and his list of achievements, such as the electricity transmission towers. At one point, she joked to the crowd that they seemed to like her more than him. Everywhere she goes, she has been asking voters to give one vote to her and one vote to the local candidate. However, since Chiang had done such a good job, was so popular, and she feared he might get more votes than her, she pointedly turned that appeal around, asking for one vote for Chiang and one vote for her. This is something she does in many deep blue districts as a way of communicating to voters that the race is not hopeless even though the DPP has not historically done well. This time, she was particularly convincing. In general, the rally was quite effective in conveying the message that Chiang has done a good job and has a reasonable chance of winning re-election.

There was one other notable thing about Tsai’s speech, but I think I’m going to write a separate post about her call to pass the Anti-Infiltration Bill before the end of the year.

I can’t remember anyone saying anything about the KMT candidate. He is a fairly anonymous and generic KMT candidate, and their focus was on everything else. They talked a lot about the DPP’s record in office, Chiang’s personal record in office, Han Kuo-yu, the KMT party list, Hong Kong, and China, but they didn’t feel any need to address the opposing legislative candidate.

Overall, this was both a small and unambitious event but also a crowded, substantive, and engaging event. In terms of messages and speeches, this was the best event I have seen all year. It was also one of the smallest events I have seen, certainly the smallest Saturday night event.

Keelung mayor Lin You-chang makes a point.

On the side of the rally in front of the overflow crowd, they had an extra screen. These screens usually just show a live show of what is going on onstage. However, most people in that section had a pretty clear view of the stage (which, since it was such a small event, wasn’t very far away), so sometimes they used this extra screen to show powerpoint slides of Tsai’s various accomplishments or to echo the points speakers were making onstage. I thought this was a nice little innovation.

Lin You-chang and Chiang Yung-chang. The little sun logo on Chiang’s vest has a long history. Chiang’s mentor, former legislator Chao Yung-ching, started using that logo way back in 1992, when he was a young KMT politician trying to impress voters with his good image.

Premier Su makes a point. You can see the that the right side of his face is drooping a little. It is much better now than it was a few weeks ago.

President Tsai enjoys her own joke.

Photo 2019-12-14, 8 43 35 PM.jpg

In the nearby night market, I came upon these two ads of the two main aspirants for the KMT nomination. Remember back when all the KMT people wanted to be associated with Han Kuo-yu?

Bonus event: On Sunday night, I went to a DPP event across the street from Taipei 101. This was a rap concert, aimed at the youth vote. The venue was pathetically small. There were perhaps 800 people when President Tsai gave a short speech. Also, they weren’t young. Her speech is usually the finale of an event, but she spoke early on in this one. After she finished, about 20% of the audience left, which was fewer than I expected. I stuck around for about a half-hour more, expecting a few songs and a few speeches. In fact, it was 90% music and very little politics. On the other hand, by the time I left, the crowd was filling in and was a little bigger than it had been when Tsai spoke.

Tsai explicitly said that she had only agreed to attend the event on the condition that she would not sing. This was a wise choice. Older readers will remember how Taipei mayor Chen Shui-bian dressed up as Michael Jackson and Superman to show how he was getting into the spirit of things. For the next decade, the blue side used those photos every time they wanted to show how terrible he was. In the age of internet memes, Tsai was smart to avoid doing anything that might go viral.

Again and again this year, I have been struck by the fact that the DPP is acting like the KMT used to and vice versa. This is mostly because the DPP is now the incumbent party and can run on its record in office rather than pointing to abstract ideals. This event was a variation on that theme. Back in the 1990s, I used to hate going to KMT events because they were mostly musical performances with almost no political substance. Years of graduate school spent reading about political psychology and campaign strategies gave me a new appreciation for these sorts of tactics, but I still don’t like them. I want politics in my politics. So it was a strange feeling for me to be at such an apolitical political rally for the DPP, not for the KMT.

One thing that hasn’t changed is that I still don’t particularly like the music. As we were leaving, some hip hop group from the USA was performing a totally inappropriate song for a Taiwanese nationalist political party’s rally. The song was about “my Asians” and “my Chinese,” which might make sense in Los Angeles, where “Asian” is an identity. However, here in Taiwan, the point is precisely that Taiwanese are not Chinese, and that all Asians are not alike. No one else seemed to notice the incongruity of this song.

This is an event to attract the youth vote. It’s clearly working.

The Statebuilding Party people showed up to ask for votes. They don’t usually show up at DPP events, so they must have specially targeted this youth  / cultural event.

President Tsai makes fun of Lin Fei-fan. From left to right, the “band” members are DPP deputy secretary general Lin Fei-fan, Taipei city councilor Chiu Wei-chieh, President Tsai, legislative candidate Hsu Shu-hua, and Taipei city councilor Lee Chien-chang. I think Lee might be the only one who actually plays guitar.

DJ iing scratching out a groove.

Sorry. I meant to write, this is a photo op of President Tsai pretending to be DJ iing scratching out a groove. That’s about as far as President Tsai will go.

 

6 Responses to “Campaign Trail: DPP event in Zhonghe”

  1. John Chung-En Liu Says:

    Thank you for such an excellent analysis. Now that former-KMT-now-PFP Li Zhenghao is in the race, too. He is one of the more visible candidates among blue-leaning young voters. This should be good news for Chiang.

  2. channamasala Says:

    She’ll be at the Freddy Lim/Chthonic metal concert on Saturday. I’m curious to see if she’ll headbang. (Probably not).

  3. cassambito Says:

    I love this series! You really have a way with storytelling.

  4. dave chen Says:

    Is there a schedule to find out when the rallies are so I can attend? Great reporting!

    • frozengarlic Says:

      It’s surprisingly hard to learn where the events are. There is no centralized source. One reason I go to so many Tsai and Han events and not so many NPP, TPP, or other small party event is that the big events are easier to learn about. The best way to learn about upcoming events is to join every politician’s Line group. Since I am a Luddite, I refuse to join any politician’s Line or Facebook groups. Tsai Ing-wen’s schedule is usually published on her website. For Han, I usually try to find events using google. The blue media often has news stories about his upcoming events.

  5. Ash Says:

    I’d prefer that Tsai just avoid rallies and all that stuff to save her energy and health to make it through the remaining 2 presidential debates. Let Han do that stuff, it probably makes no difference in vote outcome anyway.

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