Election eve KMT madness

I thought I’d write this while waiting for them to start counting votes. By the time you see this, it will either be prescient or comically misguided.

I was unable to go to any referendum-eve events last night. I can’t remember the last time I was physically present in Taiwan and didn’t go to an event on the last night. Maybe 1992 or 1993? Some genius at the Election Study Center decided to schedule a conference (on a topic completely unrelated to the referendums) early Friday and Saturday mornings, so a late Friday night just wasn’t going to happen for me.

I did watch the KMT and DPP rallies on YouTube. The DPP rally on the street in front of the presidential office was pretty standard. They had a nice crowd, though I’ve seen bigger. They didn’t need to block off traffic on the circle around the gate, but the area in front of that was pretty full. It was probably 4000-8000 people. They had all the standard speakers who said all the standard things. It was pretty much exactly what I expected.

The KMT rally, though, was a different matter. This was perhaps one of the worst events I have ever seen. I wish I had been there in person so that I could be surer of this, but what I saw on YouTube was pretty disastrous.

They never turned the camera around, so I never saw the crowd. I have no idea how big it was or how enthusiastic it was. The event was at the CKS Memorial. I have been told that it wasn’t inside the plaza. Rather it was in the space in front of the main gate. That’s enough space for 2000-3000 people, but not much more. From there, they could probably see the DPP crowd, which had to be a little disheartening if my guesses about crowd size are correct.

At most rallies, there are five to ten speakers who each speak for 10-30 minutes. A this KMT rally, they didn’t do that at all. They had dozens of speakers, but each on only got 30-120 seconds. Everyone got up there, proclaimed their support for the four referendums, added one or two other ideas, and then they were done. There was no time at all for subtlety, nuance, or logical argument. Instead, they enthusiastically screamed their support as quickly as possible. It was exhausting. A good rally needs emotional peaks and valleys. You need to turn the volume up and down. At this rally, they kept the emotions at full blast the entire time.

This event had one goal: the KMT wanted to display party unity. They brought up every city councilor and every legislator (the only legislator I noticed as missing was Wu Szu-huai 吳斯懷), one-by-one, in an effort to show that the entire KMT is all on the same page. Apparently, they were pretty spooked by the impression that they are internally divided since they felt they needed to prove their unity. Unified parties don’t need to send this message; everyone just assumes they are all working together. However, a series of statements from several high-profile KMT mayors questioning the party’s actions and positions on the referendums might be having an effect on KMT supporters. So they paraded all their office-holders out to try to show a unified front.

One problem is that they don’t really have a unified message. The DPP keeps hammering the same reasons why you should vote against the four items. The KMT isn’t quite as sure why they are supporting them. For example, several of them screamed that they wanted to teach President Tsai a lesson. Then Wayne Chiang 蔣萬安 got up and told the audience that referendums should not be used to try to teach anyone a lesson.

Another problem was that they let the most extreme voices in the party speak more loudly. Legislator Yeh Yu-lan 葉毓蘭 got a bit more time than other legislators. Yeh is an unpopular ideologue, and the DPP has featured her in its ads as someone they want voters to think about when they are making their decisions. Former party chair Hung Hsiu-chu 洪秀柱 got a lot of time, and when her time was up, she told the crowd that she was just going to keep talking until she was finished. Her speech, in which she imagined talking to the ghosts of several deceased and still living DPP politicians, might have seemed playful to a KMT fanatic, but it would have struck more neutral voters as inappropriate and DPP supporters as downright offensive.

The biggest problem was that the display of unity actually highlighted party disunity. After going through all the city councilors and legislators they got to the mayors. Aah finally, the main event! Now is when you hammer home the message of unity! Since mayors need to stay in their home areas, they had a short video message from each one saying how they strongly supported a “yes” vote on all four referendums. The went through eleven nearly identical videos, teaching us what to expect from each one. Then suddenly, the next video didn’t show a mayor talking directly to the camera in a specially recorded message. Instead, Yilan mayor Lin Tzu-miao 林姿妙 was shown campaigning on the street in her sound truck. And then Taichung mayor Lu Hsiu-yan 盧秀燕 was shown responding to questions in the Taichung city council. Hou You-yi 侯友宜 was shown at an event sitting next to Eric Chu 朱立倫, and the TV news crawl said “Eric Chu says ‘agree with all four.’” The three of them were clearly talking about pork, though it is not clear whether this was recent footage. Lin Tzu-miao’s footage seemed to be from the 2018 election. More importantly, they had clearly not agreed to film a short video for this event, and they were clearly not supporting all four referendums. Why in the world was the KMT showing them actively not being team players? If you knew beforehand that they weren’t going to cooperate, why frame the entire event as a show of party unity? What were they thinking?

During the second half of the rally, the emcees started teasing us about a very special guest who was going to show up at 9:45, so be sure to stay right here! Again and again, they promised us someone really big. Former President Ma and party chair Chu both gave (forgettable) speeches, so it wasn’t them. I wondered whether they would bring out Hou You-yi, after all. Wouldn’t that be a surprise! Nah, that couldn’t be it. The only other person I could think of was presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu. Hey, where has he been? He has been completely absent from this campaign, hasn’t he. It would be silly to save him until the last 15 minutes of the campaign, but who else is there? After all, the theme is party unity, so they wouldn’t want to make me think of another prominent party leader who wasn’t on board, would they? Well, whoever it was, it was definitely a very important person.

At the end of Chu’s speech, he announced he was going to sing a song. Did you know that Chu can sing? No? That’s because it turns out he is a terrible singer. He didn’t know when to start the lyrics, he couldn’t remember the lyrics, and he could barely carry a tune. Someone tried to give him a sheet of paper with song lyrics, but he brushed them away. Other people started singing, and Chu spent the rest of the song looking at his phone. It was painful to watch. Again, if you aren’t a good singer, why are you choosing this moment to show off your ineptitude? Maybe he wanted to imitate Han Kuo-yu’s rallies. Han and his adoring fans always loved singing a few songs. Hey, maybe Han is going to come onstage next!

At 9:45, with 15 minutes left in the campaign, the KMT finally announced the last mystery guest. This is the last voice they wanted you to hear, the final message of the campaign. It was … a middle-aged pop star? I don’t know much about pop music so I had no idea who she was, though my wife knew Tsai Ching (?) right away. She made a few jokes about getting paid (or not getting paid?), barely said anything remotely political, and then sang two songs. The last one was Silent Night. It was a very weird way to end a political rally, much less an entire campaign.

4 Responses to “Election eve KMT madness”

  1. Sense Hofstede Says:

    In her 2008 book 目送, Lung Ying-tai writes about attending a concert by 蔡琴 attended by all these wonderful KMT elites, so I suppose a blast from the past.

  2. rustie Says:

    And prescient it is! What a disaster for the KMT, and your observation of last-minute KMT desperation forecasted it perfectly.

  3. Alan Says:

    I voted “DISAGREE” to 4 topics this morning. Up until now, about 2/3 of votes have been counted. For these 4 topics, there are more ‘DISAGREE” than “AGREE.” Most likely, the 4 topics will be denied by the people. I will be happy to see that happen : – )

  4. kezza Says:

    Is it a fair summary to say that basically the wheels came off the (KMT) central party machine back in 2019 and were never repaired? The lack of strategic and logistic oversight during this campaign is definitely jaw-dropping. I still haven’t figured out why they decided to up the ante to bankrolling all 4 motions, when initially R18 and R19 were the only two that got official blessings (anybody watching Taiwan politics in the last 30 years know 4NPP is toxic, so why get involved with R17 with zero upside and a massive downside risk?).

    The only explanation I could give is that the KMT top brass never displayed any leadership skills, never attempted to stay on top of the issue of the day, and instead behaving like adrenaline junkies looking for the next fix. Without preparing to do battle, did they expect DPP to just surrender without a fight? The only exception appears to be Hou+Lu+Lin mentioned, who mostly refused to play this game.

    Disclosure: I voted to reject all 4 motions. I voted for R16 back in 2018, not as an endorsement for current-gen NPP but for the remote hope when ITER or similar projects demonstrate viability.

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