Campaign Trail: DPP rally in Taoyuan 4

On Saturday, three weekends before the election, I went to two political rallies. This is the conventional one.

The DPP held a rally in Taoyuan City district 4, which covers most of Taoyuan District, which used to be called Taoyuan City back when Taoyuan City was called Taoyuan County. [Note: That’s too many things called Taoyuan. It almost makes me wish they would just call it one of those standard ROC names, like Minsheng District or Ziyou District.] Taoyuan District is one of the faster growing areas of Taoyuan City, which is itself the fastest growing area in Taiwan. Ten years ago in the 2009 county magistrate election, Taoyuan District had 287,699 eligible voters. In last year’s mayoral election, it had 345,100. That’s 20% growth in less than a decade for an area that was already quite densely populated. Our event was held in a vacant lot near a freeway exit which will soon become a gleaming high-rise. In fact, the whole area is in the midst of transforming from empty fields to dense urban housing. The KMT candidate’s campaign headquarters was a short walk away in a similar vacant lot.

The DPP candidate in Taoyuan 4 is Cheng Pao-ching, an old DPP war horse. Cheng has been prominent in local DPP politics since the early 1990s. He was elected to the legislature back in 1995 and lost the 2005 race for county magistrate (to Eric Chu). Four years ago, he made a dramatic comeback by challenging and defeating a very strong KMT incumbent, Yang Li-huan. Tsai Ing-wen won over 53% in this district in the presidential vote, but Yang had built up quite a strong personal vote over the years. Cheng won by 160 votes, less than 0.1%. This time Cheng is the incumbent and will have the advantage of four years of working the district. His opponent is a relatively young and unknown city councilor, Wan Mei-ling. If Tsai gets 53% in this district again this year, Cheng should win re-election comfortably.

This was a big event. The vacant lot was large, and the DPP filled most of it. I’d guess there were around 10,000 people. Almost all of them had been mobilized and were sitting in groups with a leader holding a sign indicating the group’s number. Before you scoff at mobilization, please understand that it was a misty day. The DPP got several thousand senior citizens to sit out in the rain wearing plastic raincoats to listen to political speeches for two and a half hours, which is no small feat. They weren’t particularly loud or energetic, but they were there. I saw a few signs indicating groups from outside Taoyuan 4, but the overwhelming majority were from Cheng’s district. Four years ago, he won 86,413 votes, and a good chunk of his voters were sitting in this crowd on a misty day for him.

The speakers were fairly typical and forgettable. Or maybe it was that, except for the last two, they spoke almost exclusively in Taiwanese and I failed to understand their brilliance. However, the none of them seemed to really connect with the crowd. It was all pretty standard boilerplate political rhetoric. I’d heard it all before, and so had the crowd.

The only speaker who stood out was Mayor Cheng Wen-tsan. Normally, speakers who aren’t running talk about the issues of the day or say nice things about candidates who are running. Cheng spent his time talking about what a great job he is doing as mayor. He told us how hard he works every day, and then he talked about all the local development projects he is pushing through. When he finally got around to selling Cheng Pao-ching, he did so through the lens of his own efforts. Mayor Cheng told the crowd that legislator Cheng had been an invaluable partner, pushing national bureaucrats to process all of the city government’s projects and requests quickly so that things didn’t languish in the central government. “I call him most mornings to tell him what the city government needs, and he usually has a response from the relevant ministry before lunch and always by the afternoon.” Mayor Cheng is currently one of the most popular politicians in Taiwan, and DPP legislative candidates are quite happy to be able to ride his coattails. Even the KMT doesn’t dispute his effectiveness. I saw a TVBS (read: blue media) report a few days ago interviewing local KMT politicians who repeatedly said things like, “Mayor Cheng is unique, but his popularity doesn’t automatically transfer to other DPP candidates.” They are right; not all of that support will transfer. However, local DPP candidates are sailing with the wind at their back this year, and the mayor’s popularity certainly can’t hurt them.

Oh, yeah. There was one tiny but perhaps revealing comment that Mayor Cheng made. Cheng recalled that Han Kuo-yu had attacked some DPP politicians, such as President Tsai, as “white and fat” in contrast to his own “dark and thin.” Cheng, who is somewhat portly, proclaimed that it doesn’t matter whether you are thin or fat, what matters is whether you get things done. Then he added, if you want to run for president, you have to prepare; you can’t just start making speeches. I wonder if he was talking about Han or himself.


One of the mobilization captains marshals her troops while VP candidate Lai Ching-te speaks in the background.

Legislative Yuan speaker Su Chia-chuan. I think he said, “You will not remember anything I am saying today.”

I miss having Taiwan being completely draped in these flags. In the USA, people put up Christmas lights. Taiwan used to put up Democracy Holiday decorations. Sigh.

Fan Yun, who is now Associate Professor of Sociology at National Taiwan University, spoke about how Cheng Pao-ching had helped her back when she was writing her MA thesis on local DPP organization. Um, was she trying to remind the crowd how old Cheng is?

I saw two musical performances on Saturday, this one and Freddy’s. They were, to put it mildly, a bit different. This one might be described as people who played saxophone back in high school and thought it might be fun to get the horns out again forty years later performing the music that plays between medicine ads on AM radio.

Grand old man of Tangwai/DPP Taoyuan politics Hsu Hsin-liang recommends this nice, young boy. I have a soft spot in my heart for Hsu. Some day I’ll have to write an opus about him.

I was bored, so I wandered over to the playground. Cheng’s people have set up a huge slide for children to play on when their parents or grandparents drink tea at the campaign office.

Cheng Pao-ching is one of those politicians who is completely sincere and serious. He doesn’t seem to have a sense of humor; he never even cracks a smile. Not my kind of cat.

A section for retired soldiers at a DPP rally??? I’m so disoriented.

Interior Minister Hsu Kuo-yung thinks he is too handsome and stylish to dress like an ordinary member of the team. Also, he gestures like a backup dancer. I think he went over time, because near the end of his speech it seemed like Cheng Pao-ching was trying to tell his staff to get Hsu off the stage. Maybe I was imagining it, but it sure seemed like the exit music started playing a little too soon and the emcee forcefully grabbed the microphone from Hsu’s hand.

New Taiwan Residents for Tsai and Cheng. I’m a New Resident (and a foreign bride) too, so I sat with them for a few minutes.

Mayor Cheng tells us how great he is.

President Tsai hands Cheng the campaign flag. He is now authorized to fight a military election campaign.

Tsai’s speech was pretty empty. She mostly did cheerleading, quizzing the crowd on candidate registration numbers and urging them to mobilize other voters. It’s about two weeks too early for this speech, and it’s really off-brand for Tsai to be so vacuous. Not her best day.

The KMT candidate’s headquarters are just a few blocks away; it looks like she is operating on a more modest budget. She is running as a social conservative. Her billboard reads, “education must not be chaotic, development can’t be slow.” In fine print, it says, “your vote determines children’s future. Chaotic (luan) education could refer to “improper” ideas of national identity, but I think most people will interpret as being about sex education and, by extension, same-sex marriage. It’s interesting that the first thing she wants you to know about her is her social conservatism, and economic development is merely the second theme.

2 Responses to “Campaign Trail: DPP rally in Taoyuan 4”

  1. Patrick Says:

    Will be interesting to see Cheng’s next moves – seems destined for a 2024 run, though I imagine Lai will run again as well.

  2. Frank Lee Says:

    this is good stuff. I didn’t know ppl, especially foreigners, pay enough attention to keep Taiwan’s election events posted online in blog format.

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