Archive for the ‘1994 mayor/governor’ Category

The curious career of James Soong

August 13, 2015

James Soong has announced that, for the third time, he will run for president. Rather than speculating on how he will do, I thought this might be a good time to look back on the rather unusual career path that Soong has taken.

Soong is from an elite mainlander family, though it not in the top echelon of KMT royalty. Still, Soong had good enough connections that when he came back to Taiwan after getting his PhD, his first job was as Chiang Ching-kuo’s English secretary. Let’s just say that’s not a job that ordinary people could apply for. (Coincidentally, it was also Ma Ying-jeou’s entry-level job.) So Soong spent some time sitting near CCK, though he probably makes more of it than CCK would have. After all, kings have a lot of courtesans. During the late 1980s, Soong worked in the trenches of the KMT party machinery, sometimes doing the dirty jobs that an authoritarian state requires. As head of the Government Information Organization, he was in charge of cracking down on “local dialects.” That is, he was the point man ensuring that Mandarin was the language spoken in the media and in other public forums. During the late 1980s, as KMT deputy secretary general, he was involved in some of the earlier and lower level mainstream / non-mainstream infighting, pulling out Kuan Chung’s people from key positions and inserting people who would support Lee Teng-hui. LTH rewarded him, promoting him to secretary-general. In the 1992 legislative elections, which most people interpreted as a loss for the KMT, he would normally have been the person to resign to take responsibility. (Elections were far below the concerns of the lofty party chair in the authoritarian era.) Instead, the aftermath of the 1992 elections turned out to be LTH’s victorious moment. Even though the non-mainstream New KMT Alliance candidates had all won and election night looked like a big victory for the non-mainstream faction, with a fully elected legislature they suddenly discovered they did not have enough votes to support Premier Hau. Hau had to resign, and, with the help of the DPP, LTH was able to promote his protégé Lien Chan into the premier’s chair. Soong was appointed to take Lien’s former post, as head of the provincial government. Up to this point, Soong seemed to be a fairly run-of-the-mill party hack. He was involved exclusively in elite politics, and he did not seem destined to be anything much higher than another KMT technocrat.

However, as governor, Soong completely reinvented himself. He claims that he followed the example of his mentor, CCK, by getting out of his office and meeting with ordinary people. In fact, Soong did travel all over the island, meeting with regular people. Less obviously but more critically, he also met with lots of local politicians. In fact, this was the key to Soong’s governance model. Instead of sitting in an office, letting other people make financial decisions, and approving the paperwork, Soong went to township mayors, asked them what they wanted, and personally approved the funds. In doing so, he created an image of a compassionate leader who would do whatever was needed to solve problems. He also created a group of local politicians who were politically in debt to him personally. Township mayors are nothing to sneeze at. They control the local mobilization networks and distribute quite a bit of patronage. Back in those days, people who had descended from the central bureaucracy simply didn’t engage local people as an equal, but Soong actually wanted to listen to their problems and work with them to get things done.

When Soong took over as governor in early 1993, it was assumed that he would be a temporary place holder. The position was scheduled to transform from an appointed position to an elected position in December 1994, and it was understood that, as a mainlander, he had no chance of becoming the elected governor of Taiwan. Most people assumed the contest would be between two Taoyuan Hakkas, Wu Po-hsiung and Hsu Hsin-liang. However, as Soong traveled to all corners of Taiwan Province, his popularity skyrocketed and people began to rethink the assumption that he couldn’t win an election. When he announced that he wanted the KMT nomination, there was an intense competition with Wu. Wu famously proclaimed that he would run, even if all that was left in Taiwan was Alishan. However, Soong had the upper hand as he was supported by LTH, while Wu was allied with the minority non-mainstream faction (and had tacit support from the New Party). Eventually Wu yielded.

In the campaign, Soong pioneered a few things that we are all familiar with now. You know those ubiquitous vests that every politician, from legislator to neighborhood head candidate, wears telling you his name, position, and party affiliation? Soong started that by wearing a baseball cap that had “Taiwan Province Governor Soong Chu-yu” stitched on the side. It was different and kind of cool. He also turned the number 309 into his campaign slogan. Taiwan Province had 309 townships, and Soong had visited them all. For a few election cycles, the first thing every county magistrate candidate did was visit every township or even every village in the county. Before becoming governor, Soong didn’t speak anything but Mandarin. During the campaign, the DPP constantly tried to attack him for not being able to speak Taiwanese. However, Soong responded by starting to learn. He wasn’t very good, but he learned how to speak a bit, and he started every occasion by greeting everyone in Taiwanese. His implicit message was that he was trying hard to understand ordinary people. However, Soong took this one step further, and did something no one had done before. He also studied some basic Hakka, and he would throw out a few phrases of Hakka. And he learned a few phrases of Amis, which no one had ever bothered to do. Hakka and indigenous voters thoroughly embraced him, since he had shown respect in a way that no one else had thought to do. In response, Soong learned some Paiwan, Attayal, Bunon, Rukai, and other indigenous languages. The KMT has always done well in Hakka and indigenous areas, but Soong did even better than that.

Sometime soon after Soong’s triumphant re-election in 1994, something began to change. My guess is that Lien Chan began to see Soong as a threat to replace him as LTH’s successor. Lien had access to LTH’s ear, and he might have slowly poisoned LTH’s mind, reminding LTH that Soong was a mainlander and could not be trusted. Around this time, the term “Yeltsin Effect” also entered Taiwan’s political vocabulary. As the directly elected president of Russia, Boris Yeltsin had pushed aside Michael Gorbachev, who had been the indirectly chosen head of state of the USSR. Prior to the 1996 presidential election, the parallels between Russia and Taiwan Province may have alarmed LTH. Even after the presidential election, Soong could claim a stronger mandate since he had won a higher vote share in a largely overlapping electorate. Whatever happened behind the scenes, LTH turned against Soong.

LTH pushed for a deal with the DPP to abolish the provincial government. While the negotiations were underway, Soong struck back. He dramatically announced his resignation. He ended up serving out his term, but this move marked him as different from other KMT elites. Soong would not simply bow to the inevitable. He fought back. This caused LTH to try even harder to suppress Soong’s career. After Soong’s term as governor ended, the focus turned to the 2000 presidential election. All the polls showed that Soong was overwhelmingly the popular favorite. (In early 1999, typical polls were something like Soong 45, Chen 25, Lien 8.) However, there was no way LTH was going to nominate Soong. LTH was firmly in control of the party, and he used that control to give the nomination to Lien. Again, Soong refused to accept this result and announced an independent run for the presidency. The turning point in the campaign was when the KMT unleashed the Chung-hsing Bills Finance Scandal, accusing Soong of corruption. It damaged Soong, but it didn’t help Lien much. In the end, Chen Shui-bian won by less than 3%.

In the immediate aftermath of the election, returning to the KMT probably wasn’t a realistic option. Perhaps Soong could have waited for the fallout to settle, returned to the KMT in a year or two, and eventually risen to the top of the party. Perhaps he, not Ma Ying-jeou, would have become president in 2008. However, Soong opted to go his own way and form the People First Party. In doing so, Soong deepened a shift that had already started in the presidential election. In 1994, Soong was part of LTH’s mainstream KMT. He outmaneuvered Wu – who was favored by the non-mainstream – and then the New Party ran a candidate against him in the general election. By the 2000 election, he had started to shift to what would soon become labeled as the deep blue portion of the spectrum. Lien was seen as LTH’s puppet, and he was a Taiwanese defending LTH’s special state to state relationship position. The orthodox KMT swung behind the mainlander Soong, with the United Daily News decisively endorsing him a week before the election. When Soong formed the PFP, a lot of deep blue figures left the KMT to join him, as did most of the remnants of the disintegrating New Party. Of course, Soong still had his grassroots supporters, but he became increasingly identified with the unification slice of the political spectrum.

[This is where Typhoon Soudelor decided to take four days from my life. It’s ok with me if we don’t have another typhoon like that for the next few years.]

During the Chen Shui-bian era, Soong and the PFP were the reasonable hardline unification supporters. (The unreasonable hardline unification supporters were the New Party, of course.) However, as the KMT reformed itself under Lien and then under Ma, it also moved toward a clearer pro-unification position. This squeezed the political space open to the PFP. In the 2004 legislative election, the PFP lost a dozen seats and went from being a nearly co-equal partner to a clear junior partner in the Pan-Blue coalition. When electoral reform passed abolishing the old multimember districts in favor of single member districts, its disadvantageous position became even clearer. A number of PFP legislators switched parties, jumping to the KMT in order to try to save their careers. The PFP negotiated on behalf of the rest, eventually obtaining four spots on the KMT party list for PFP members, though they had to join the KMT. In effect, almost the entire PFP legislative caucus was swallowed whole by the KMT in 2007 and 2008. Rather than being a PFP faction within the KMT, these people simply became regular KMT politicians. Their former ties to the PFP were quickly forgotten.

The defection of all the hardline unification legislators back to the KMT turned out to be an opportunity for Soong and the PFP to return to their 1990s roots as defenders of the average person. Soong tended to ignore questions about China while at the same time harshly criticizing the Ma government for being out of touch with the economic pain that regular people were experiencing. Ma was pursuing grand schemes with an ideological fervor, and Soong responded by arguing that good governance requires thinking about how the details of policies will impact ordinary people rather than simply looking at the top-line economic growth statistics.

With this stance, Soong has often found himself on the same side as the DPP. Tsai Ing-wen has also stressed the importance of looking beyond aggregate GNP growth, and the DPP shares a desire to mitigate the pain that the losers of increased cross-straits trade incur.

As an opponent of Ma’s approach to governance and now freed of the hardline unification elements, Soong has also been able to go back to his allies in the nativist wing of the KMT. Most of the township mayors and other local politicians that Soong built such strong ties to in the 1990s are much more comfortable with Wang Jin-pyng’s style than with Ma’s or the defenders of KMT orthodoxy in the military system. Figuratively, Soong can speak their language effortlessly, even if he literally doesn’t speak their language (Taiwanese) very fluently.

The result is that Soong – once thought of as a classic mainlander and later thought of as the champion of pro-unification – is now trying to cultivate the light blue vote, made up primarily of native Taiwanese who increasingly no longer self-identify as Chinese. Once you think about who Governor Soong was, it doesn’t seem strange at all that he would be targeting this market. Maybe the deep blue Soong of the Chen Shui-bian era was the aberration.

Soong seems fated to be one of those figures who had the political talent and training but not the timing or luck to be president. He has kept himself relevant for three decades by thoroughly reinventing himself four times. However, he isn’t simply impressing people with a pretty picture frame. Soong’s appeal has always been grounded in substance. He was an effective party hack in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and he was effective as governor. Moreover, he has always tapped into people’s concerns and desires, whether it was for effective and compassionate governance or for Chinese nationalism and stronger economic connections to the Chinese market. Soong probably has a few scenes left in the last act of his remarkable career. He probably won’t win the 2016 presidential race, but he could do very well in the election and set the PFP up for a much more promising future. After the election is over, he will need to figure out how to position his party in the aftermath of the likely KMT debacle and find a successor to lead whatever emerges. After that, Soong will probably be too old to take the front stage, and he will probably evolve into one of those wise old sages who the frontline politicians rely on for timely political counsel.

Or maybe not. Perhaps the curious career of James Soong will take yet another unlikely turn.

evolution of the political map and money politics

November 25, 2014

In the last week before the election, all signs point to a good election night for the DPP. This should be their best local election since the 1997 landslide. Since that particular election is burned vividly into my memory, I thought I’d go back and look at a couple of things that have changed since then. In particular, I want to discuss (1) geography and how the political map has changed (2) the way that money politics is different today than a generation ago.


In 1997, the DPP’s victory was almost unbelievable in geographic scope. Taipei and Kaohsiung Cities were not up for election, but all the other cities and counties were. The DPP won nearly every major race. In the south, the DPP held power in Kaoshiung County and Tainan County, they took back power in Pingtung, won a messy four-way race in Tainan City, and their ally, Chang Po-ya 張博雅(now the head of the Control Yuan) won a fifth consecutive term for the Hsu family dynasty in Chiayi City. In the north, the DPP easily retained power in Yilan County, won a tough three-way race in Hsinchu County, somehow held Taoyuan County (where Annette Lu 呂秀蓮 had won the office in a by-election a year earlier), won an outright majority in Hsinchu City, and narrowly edged out the KMT in the biggest prize, Taipei County. The DPP even won in Taichung City and County. They didn’t win in Nantou, but former DPP legislator Peng Pai-hsien 彭百顯 edged out both the DPP and KMT nominees to take that race. It could have been even worse for the KMT. They barely squeezed out victories in Changhua and Yunlin, the two biggest districts they held onto. In terms of numbers of cities and counties that each party won, it didn’t look so bad since the KMT won all the little districts. However, the DPP ended up governing about 80% of Taiwan’s population.

Today, that looks a little strange. The KMT’s last redoubt was in Changhua, Yunlin, and Chiayi County. Today, Yunlin and Chiayi usually can be counted on to vote for the DPP, and Changhua is far from a reliable area for either party. Today it would be nearly unthinkable for the DPP to sweep Taoyuan, Hsinchu County, and Hsinchu City. It seemed far less impossible then. The DPP had held the Hsinchu County government since 1989, and it had been very strong in several elections in Hsinchu City during the 1980s.

Many of us don’t realize (or can easily forget) just how much the political map has changed. In the 1990s, we didn’t talk so much about the blue north and green south. Rather, the DPP had strength in the north and south, but central Taiwan was often thought of as a “democratic desert.” Perhaps the best way to see the changes is to look at the DPP’s vote in national elections over the years.

  national north mid-north central mid-south south E/F
1994 39.4 41.7 33.8 36.3 43.8 40.6 26.3
2000 39.3 37.4 30.0 37.4 49.5 46.2 20.5
2004 50.1 45.9 42.5 50.5 59.6 57.0 29.1
2008 41.6 38.4 32.9 40.5 51.0 49.7 21.8
2012 45.6 42.2 37.4 44.9 57.0 53.6 25.1
(12-94) 6.2 0.5 3.6 8.6 13.2 13.0 -1.2

North: Taipei City and County, Keelung City, Yilan County

Mid-north: Taoyuan County, Hsinchu City and County, Miaoli County

Central: Taichung City and County, Changhua County, Nantou County

Mid-south: Yunlin County, Chiayi City and County, Tainan City and County

South: Kaohsiung City and County, Pingtung County, Penghu County

East/Fujian: Taitung, Hualien, Kinmen, Lienchiang (1994: Taitung, Hualien only)


Ignore the East/Fujian category; it is much smaller than the other five regions. It is also geographically incoherent.

In 1994, look at how close the other five regions were to each other. From the weakest to the strongest, the difference was only 10%. Moreover, the north was actually a better region for the DPP than the south. Today that is unthinkable. By 2012, the difference between the weakest and strongest regions had grown to 20%, and the south was about 8% better than the north.

Now look at the difference between 1994 and 2012 for each region. The north has barely changed (+0.5%), the mid-north has slightly increased, the center somewhat more, and the mid-south and south have both increased by a whopping 13%. The DPP’s gains over the past generation have come almost entirely in the southern half of the island.

This is what we mean when we talk about the south turning green and the north turning blue. In an absolute sense, the north hasn’t really gotten bluer. However, relative to the national average, the north and mid-north look far bluer than they did a generation ago. The southern half of the island is, of course, much greener. The central region, rather than being a “democratic desert” halfway between DPP bastions in the north and south, has become the bellwether area. As goes the center, so goes Taiwan.


You will notice that the mid-south has always been the DPP’s best area in national elections. However, it has not always been the DPP’s best area in local elections. In 1997, when the DPP won nearly everything else, it could not win Yunlin or Chiayi Counties. Somehow the KMT managed to maintain control of local politics in what objectively should have been the DPP’s best area. In the past 20 years, however, the KMT has completely lost this control. This gets me to my second big change in the past generation: money.

Money is emerging as a defining issue in current politics, but it runs on a very different logic today than a generation ago. Now we are increasingly aware of the power of large, multinational conglomerates that have extended their reach through every facet of Taiwan’s society. The old picture of an economy dominated by small and medium businesses (with a lot of family businesses) and a large middle class seems less and less accurate as a description of today’s Taiwan. Moreover, almost all businesses have established extensive ties with China. They either do their manufacturing in China, or they want to access China’s enormous domestic market. Because of these ties, economic inequality is increasingly bound together with identity politics.

A generation ago, businesses were just starting the move to China, and China itself was far poorer, less powerful, and had a much less aggressive foreign policy. The KMT, headed by Lee Teng-hui, was encouraging a Go-Slow policy for businesses toward China. The USA was still by far Taiwan’s most important market and trading partner.

Nevertheless, money in politics was one of the defining issues in the 1997 election. More specifically, the election was all about what voters called black and gold politics. Black referred to organized crime, and during the 1990s organized crime increasingly penetrated local politics. Following the spectacular police crackdowns on organized crime in the late CCK era, crime figures started to run for elected office as a way of gaining legal protection. If a crime boss was in the county assembly and could threaten to cut the local county police budget, the police learned quickly to back off. Minor crime figures ran for township councils, more important ones ran for county assemblies, and the biggest ones ran for the legislature. The ever-increasing presence of organized crime in elected offices led to more and more violence in local politics, larger and more ostentatious brothels and gambling parlors (you couldn’t miss the garish neon lights), and more petty and violent crime.

Local KMT factions had always used local government budgets to feed their electoral machines, and this continued in the 1990s. If you needed to build a road or a school, your friendly local contractor would inflate the budget, skimp on materials, and kick back 10% to the politicians. This could then be recycled back into politics. Candidates amassed huge war chests to buy votes at ever-increasing prices. Organized crime turned out to be very good at vote-buying. On the one hand, they had lots of tough young men who could either buy votes or scare off the vote buyers for rival candidates. On the other hand, they could remind voters who took the money that their ballot box had better have a lot of votes for the right candidate or else…

Anger against black and gold politics came to a climax in the summer of 1997 when actress Bai Bing-bing’s 白冰冰 daughter was kidnapped by a gang. The whole country watched on TV as the police incompetently tried to raid their hideout completely unaware that the gang was listening in on the police radio. When the gang killed Bai’s daughter, the nation was outraged. There was a massive protest in Taipei calling only for President Lee to apologize and Premier Lien to resign. A week before the election, the case flared up again when the last gang member stormed the South African embassy and held the Ambassador and his family hostage. Frank Hsieh 謝長廷 emerged the hero by going in to negotiate the gang member’s surrender and coming out with the Ambassador’s baby. When people went to vote the next weekend, black and gold issues were at the front of their considerations.

Today, even in local politics, money operates in different ways. On the one hand, if you try to play the traditional game of recycling money through local construction projects, it doesn’t work as well. On the one hand, prosecutors have much better tools for sniffing out corruption and more leeway to pursue those cases in court. On the other hand, the presence of organized crime has diminished considerably. There is much less (visible) prostitution and gambling. Vote buying doesn’t work as well as it used to. Perhaps most importantly, administrative reform in 2010 eliminated local township governments in Taipei, Taichung, Tainan, and Kaohsiung Counties, removing a vital source of cash in many of the most prosperous areas of Taiwan.

Of course, building stuff in the old ways is still attractive, but the future might be in the John Wu 吳志揚 Taoyuan model. As Michael Cole has repeatedly reminded us over the past few years, the Taoyuan government is pursuing an enormous development plan around the airport. However, rather than handing off contracts to lots of small time local cronies, Wu has invited big Chinese investors to come in and fund the project. It is hard to know exactly how the money is then recycled, but it doesn’t take much imagination to speculate that these Chinese investors repay the favor with political influence for Wu’s (or allies’) business dealings in China.

This may be simplifying things too much, but it seems to me that the old factional politics that used to be the basis of KMT local power in central and southern Taiwan have simply become much less lucrative. As the money slowed down to a trickle, faction politics were squeezed out by party politics. Since the DPP had always had quite a bit of sympathy bubbling under the surface in the south, once the factions weakened, it was nearly impossible for the KMT to maintain its partisan hold on those local governments. What was left of the factions switched sides and transferred their remaining support to the DPP. In the center where the two parties are much more evenly balanced, the factions have not yet made the same move en masse, but a few people have switched sides. In the north, the DPP had much less support and the factions have not been tempted to change sides. Now in Taoyuan, Wu may have figured out how to marry the traditional construction development state model with the new integration into the Chinese market. This new source of money might allow him and the KMT to maintain and reinforce their coalition of ideological supporters (of whom Taoyuan has always had many) and the watermelon faction who go wherever their economic interests point them.


Remembering Mayor Chen

September 5, 2010

Over the past few weeks, I have seen a few comments about former President Chen that made me want to relive a little history.  Some people wonder how he could have ever been elected president, some wonder whether Taipei City changed during his term as mayor, some think that Su Zhenchang’s current campaign is roughly comparable to Chen’s 1998 campaign, and so on.  Besides, it doesn’t take much to set me off on a nostalgic rambling.

I was living in central Taiwan during the 1994 campaign.  I was able to make it up to Taipei for a few campaign events to catch some of the flavor.  I moved to Taipei in the summer of 1995 and lived there for the rest of the 1990s.  I didn’t live in Taipei prior to Chen’s administration, but every foreigner spends a bit of time in Taipei, so I had some familiarity with it.  As a result, I was in position to view the way the city changed during Chen’s term.

Instead of writing today about what Taipei was like then, I have gone back into the depths of my hard drive to find something I wrote in December 1997.  This is an excerpt of a longer piece, so it doesn’t start or finish very smoothly.  Except for correcting grammatical errors, I have not changed anything in the original essay.  All of my current comments are relegated to the footnotes.

From the time Chen and Hsieh[1] were in the Taipei City Council together, there were comparisons of the two.  As the two progressed in their careers at roughly the same pace, and entered the legislature together, increasingly these comparisons transformed into competition.  This intensified after the 1992 elections, when the two were seen as the leading candidates for the DPP‘s 1994 Taipei City mayoral nomination.  The two were often compared with the rivalry between the two leading strategists of the Three Kingdoms Period (around 220-260 AD), Chou Yu and Chuko Liang.  And as in that rivalry, where Chou Yu was a brilliant strategist who just happened to be going up against the only person more brilliant than him, Hsieh was clearly losing out in public opinion to Chen.  In Chinese, the newspapers often referred to 長扁之爭。  But as poll after poll showed Chen to be the top choice, Hsieh occasionally showed irritancy and hints that he didn’t believe and wouldn’t accept that result.  In the 1993 county magistrate elections, Chen campaigned heavily all over Taiwan and was warmly received everywhere (although nothing like what would happen four years later).  For a while, Chen considered running for governor of Taiwan Province instead of Taipei mayor.  Hsieh, needless to say, encouraged this.  However, Chen took a realistic look at the situation and made the right choice.  He had a reasonable choice of winning in Taipei City, but not much chance in Taiwan Province.  In Taipei City, the New Party would split the KMT‘s vote; in Taiwan Province this would not be the case.  Chen decided to stay in the Taipei City race, much to Hsieh’s disappointment.

The party primary finally took place in mid-1994.  To no one‘s surprise, Chen won by a good margin.  The question was how Hsieh would take the news.  At the time, there was still speculation that he might run anyway, or at the very least, force the primary into the second stage, a series of debates and then voting open to the public.  Party insiders feared that this would be a highly divisive process (as indeed it was when it finally occurred in the next year’s presidential primary).  However, Hsieh averted this by announcing that 長扁之爭 would now become 長扁之盟 (minus the poetry, this roughly means that the competition between Hsieh and Chen would be replaced by an alliance between the two.)  Officially, Hsieh would also serve as Chen‘s campaign chief.

In truth, Hsieh worked hard for Chen’s election, but the campaign was run by two political youths, Luo Wen-chia and Ma Yung-cheng.  Both under 30 at the time, these two had gained Chen‘s trust during their tenure as legislative assistants, and he delegated enormous amounts of power to them.  Together, they were tagged with the nickname 羅罵軍 or “The Roman Army” (the Chinese transliteration is luo-ma, exactly the same two characters as the surnames of Chen’s leading generals.)  They ran a brilliant campaign, and after they won, were both brought into the Taipei City government.

The 1994 Taipei City mayoral campaign is important not just because it brought about a change in political power and gave the DPP its first real chance to control resources, it also defined the New Party and brought about a realignment in the voting patterns of the capital city that persisted through the 1995 LY and 1996 NA elections.  While the 1996 presidential elections didn‘t follow this pattern, that should be no surprise — that election didn’t follow previous patterns anywhere.  The tone of the campaign was set early, in Taiwan‘s first TV debate.  In this debate, coming nearly two months before the election, the three candidates set out the positions from which their campaigns would be run.  Chen spoke of corruption in the city government, quality of life, and what he would do to improve the way the city was run.  Huang Ta-chou, the KMT incumbent, spoke of his incompetence.  Well, that wasn’t the content of what he said, but that is what came across very clearly.  Huang was incompetent.  He couldn’t express a thought, he couldn‘t defend himself when the other two accused him of incompetence or corruption, he couldn’t even use all the time allotted him.  It was the worst performance I have ever seen a politician turn in.[2] He took a thrashing from the other two candidates and gave the voters no reason to believe all the attacks weren‘t true.  The English newspaper was being kind to him the next day when it described the debate as what “must have been an incredibly difficult and embarrassing experience for Huang.”  The NP candidate, Chao Shao-kang, made the most enduring contribution to the debate.  He defined his campaign as a campaign to save the ROC.  His strategy was to turn the election into a referendum on independence and to define himself as the most pro-unification candidate.  Up to this point, the NP hadn’t defined itself to be so stringently anti-independence, but after this, the NP came to be seen as an increasingly extremist party.  It also got tagged with the label “mainlanders‘ party”.  Chao’s call to save the ROC effectively mobilized the mainlanders to support him and the NP.  Unfortunately, mainlanders make up less than 15% of the population in Taiwan, and maybe twice that in Taipei City.  Chao won the battle.  The NP beat the KMT and established a firm foothold in Taiwan politics.  Up to that point, it wasn‘t clear that the NP would be a viable party; after the 1994 campaign, it was clear that it would.  However, Chao may have lost the war.  By identifying his party so clearly with mainlanders, he may have alienated too many Taiwanese to ever win more than 15% of the total vote.  And as it becomes clear that the NP faces a very clear ceiling, its members play zero-sum infighting games and voters desert the party for candidates who might have better prospects.

It was an electric campaign.  DPP forces were highly mobilized behind Chen, and his rallies were all packed and noisy.  NP voters are notable for their participation.  They go to events, and they chant and cheer, though in a much more orderly fashion than DPP supporters.  The KMT had very little in this regard, but, hey, what‘s new?  As for the polls, Chen Shui-pien showed a consistent lead until a couple of weeks before the election when Shih Ming-teh[3] made his stupid comment about pulling troops out of Chinmen and Matsu.  Suddenly Chen’s numbers took a dive.  However, the polls showed Huang, not Chao, as taking over the lead.[4] The outcome of the voting was different.  Chen won easily with 43%.  Chao came in second with 30%.  And Huang Ta-chou, Lee Teng-hui‘s handpicked candidate, could only manage 25%.

Chen took office in an atmosphere I have seldom seen.  It was a genuine honeymoon.  Whatever Chen did, he could do no wrong.  Something like my impression of Camelot.  The first thing Chen did went right to the heart of public doubts about the DPP‘s ability to govern.  Chen used a lot of career public servants, academics, and KMT members.  Something like two thirds of the people he appointed were KMT members.  It was, in effect, an admission that all the critics were right, but that Chen intended to govern anyway.  However, none of these outsiders were actually given much political power.  Nearly all political power and responsibility for major decisions was restricted to a group of about five or so people.  This group roughly included Chen himself, the vice mayor Chen Shih-meng (borrowed from the NTU Dept of Economics), the two campaign generals Luo and Ma, head of the Department of Civil Affairs Chen Che-nan and head of the Department of Social Affairs Chen Chu.

In office, Chen has definitely governed, as opposed to merely occupying the position.  I rarely have any clue what local governments do (and if I have no clue, imagine what the average citizen who cares very little about politics knows); however, I can run off a list of things that Chen has done.  They can even be subdivided into various categories.

The first is traffic.  During the Huang administration, we often heard of “The Dark Ages of Taipei Traffic”.  No more.  Chen has taken several measures to improve the flow of traffic and has been astonishingly successful.  The first thing concerns the MRT line.  This in itself was enough to defeat Huang.  The MRT had massive costs overruns, massive corruption, massive delays, and massive disputes with the French contractor, Matra.  (A great campaign line referred to the cost of the line after all the budget overruns:  444,400,000,000 NT.  In Taiwanese, four sounds exactly like death, and Chen used this over and over: “death, death, death, death”.)  In addition, there was serious speculation that, after all this trouble, the system wasn‘t safe and might have to be buldozed.  When Chen took office, he appointed a committee to do a thorough review of the line, and they concluded that some supporting columns needed reinforcement.[5] The reinforcement was done and the line was opened one year after Chen took office.  Regardless of the actual needs (which I am in no position to judge), politically it was brilliant.  After all the focus on the problems, no one would have believed that nothing was wrong.  On the other hand, they couldn’t possibly bulldoze it after investing so much money.  This was a compromise which satisfied nearly everyone.  This was just the beginning of straightening up the MRT mess.  The line in question, the Mucha Line, is merely the first in a whole network.  But Chen has resolved many of the other questions as well.  Corruption, which was rampant, has disappeared.  During the Huang administration, two MRT chiefs were indicted for corruption.  The contrast could not be more evident.  This, by the way, is not only the case in the MRT bureau.  The entire Taipei City government has turned over a new leaf.  The MRT is merely the most notable case.  The MRT delays have also been greatly reduced.  A year after opening the Mucha Line, Chen opened the Tanshui Line, and set a goal of opening the next line on the same day in 1998.  The dispute with Matra was also resolved, although in a much less neat fashion.  Chen terminated their contract.  For a while, observers wondered whether Taipei could run its MRT without Matra, but it hasn‘t collapsed yet.  There have been frequent breakdowns (a flat tire, a stopped train), but these breakdowns have all been minor irritants rather than major incidents.  It might be that there is a time lag between Matra’s departure and the collapse of the Mucha Line, but the collapse hasn‘t happened yet.

While the MRT is the highest profile traffic project, in reality it only serves a small portion of Taipei‘s population.[6] The real improvements in traffic have been made elsewhere.  One of the first things Chen did upon taking office was to greatly increase the number of traffic police.  Now, there are policemen at every intersection which could remotely be described as “major” assuring that traffic flows smoothly during rush hour.  Chen also pioneered the “bus only” lanes to ensure that public transportation would not be bogged down along with the rest of the cars and trucks.  This program is very effective.  The busses can get to their destinations faster than private cars or even taxis, so more people take busses, which in turn reduces the total number of cars on the road, thus alleviating traffic congestion.  He has also undertaken an initiative against parking on the streets of Taipei.  The towtruck armies have been expanded and are much more active.  Chen has even repainted the legal parking spaces to make them smaller and thus less convenient for big cars.  (This particular action could be viewed skeptically, as a common image is the DPP voters ride scooters; KMT and NP voters drive cars.  However, I am not convinced by this argument.  Chen has his fair share of car owning supporters.)  These were not difficult or expensive actions, they required only a little imagination and the will to experiment.  This is also another good contrast between the current and previous city governments.  When faced with this type of problem, the approach of past administrations was to do something big and spend a lot of money.  So they planned a MRT system and lots of new roads.  Truth be told, the planning capability of the Huang administration was excellent,[7] their problem was that they were terrible at execution.  Chen‘s approach has been the opposite.  While he continues Huang’s large scale construction, he has not launched any of his own grandiose projects.  Rather he has focused on using what he has more effectively.  The result has been striking.  Not only is it cheaper, the effect is much more immediate.  He gets the political credit.[8]

A second major “good government” type of initiative has been to revamp the city government.  Before Chen took office, the common image of the city government was of a hulking, immobile bureaucracy.  Chen served notice almost immediately.  He took office at the end of December 1994.  Chen informed officials that the old custom of long New Years holidays was history.  Their job was to serve the people, and his city government would be open and functioning as soon as the holiday was over.  The first day after the Chinese New Year vacation ended (Jan-Feb 1995), Chen held an inspection of all government offices at 9:00am sharp.  He toured the city government with a TV camera crew in tow and bawled out unit after unit when he found that a large proportion of city officials were still on vacation.  This worked.  Chen hurt a lot of feelings, but the general opinion is that the Taipei City government has transformed from one of the least efficient government bodies in Taiwan to one of the most efficient.  (This may just be image.  I‘m not an expert on the actual workings of government.  However, for our purposes, image is what’s important.  Most citizens won‘t dispute the idea that Chen runs a much tighter ship than Huang or his predecessors ever did.)[9]

A third initiative involved what I would refer to as the morality campaigns.  This involves two separate campaigns striking directly at the heart of organized crime.  One was against video gambling; the other against the sex industry.  On both counts, Chen has been impossibly successful.  I used to believe that these were phenomena which could not easily be eradicated, and I still do to a certain degree.  But they have both been largely eradicated in Taipei City.  One day, Chen announced that he was closing down all unlicensed video gambling arcades (which means all of them).  I laughed.  In past experience, that meant the arcades would take a one week vacation and then continue normal operations, if they even deigned to do that much.  But not this time.  This time they really did close down, and they haven‘t reopened for the most part.  The crackdown on the sex industry was even more remarkable.  Chen has driven perhaps 95% of these businesses out of the city, or at least the ones that operated with huge neon fronts and barkers in the door front twisting the arms of every male passerby to come in and try out the wares.  These businesses have folded.  I am particularly impressed by the number of “for rent” signs on brothel storefronts.  They aren’t just waiting for this campaign to blow over before reopening.  They are closed for good.  (Of course, what has really happened is that many have moved across the river to Taipei County.  Should Su Chen-chang try to emulate Chen, he would probably face far stiffer resistance, as capitulation there would mean surrender of the entire greater Taipei marketplace.  Su, in addition, has far fewer resources with which to fight the organized crime industry.)  These two morality campaigns have to have earned Chen the respect of large amounts of middle class voters, especially female voters.

Chen has also been true to his opposition roots in many symbolic actions against the KMT.  One friend of mine described Chen as being like the first Irish mayor of Boston.  The KMT spends millions of dollars on a new party headquarters[10] facing the presidential palace to remind citizens that it is the premier (and perhaps only legitimate) political party, and then they run into Chen.  Chen finds numerous fire and building code violations and refuses to issue a license to open the building.  The KMT wanted to open it two or three years ago.  Today, the steel gate is still pulled down tight and is beginning to rust and there are no signs that it will open soon.  The road in front of the presidential palace used to be called “Jieshou Rd” which meant literally “long life to Chiang Kai-shek”.  Chen renamed the road Kaidagelan Boulevard, after the tribe of aborigines that lived in the Taipei Basin before Han settlers arrived.  This completely changed the tone of the road from symbolizing links with China to symbolizing Taiwan‘s own history.  Independence factions laughed with glee while old veterans tried not to vomit in disgust.  The same type of petty partisan politics was in evidence when Chen refused to renew a lease to provincial government owned Taiwan TV for a transmitter.  Chen instead chose to lease it to the upstart and DPP friendly Formosa TV.  Another example occurred when Chen ordered the demolition of Chiang Wei-kuo’s residence in Shihlin on the grounds that it was an illegal structure.  Chiang Wei-kuo was the adopted brother of Chiang Ching-kuo, a fact that probably contributed somewhat to the singling out of this particular building among Taipei‘s thousands of illegal structures.  It should be noted that Chen has been careful to keep these initiatives to the symbolic level where nobody but the hardliners on both sides give them much weight.  Chen consolidates his support among the independence faction (and so can afford to ignore them on more important issues), and was never going to get the unification votes anyway.  Chen changed the name of the road in front of the presidential palace, but this is a short road with about three or four actual addresses, most of which are government buildings.  He never even entertained the thought of changing more offensive road names which run through residential districts.  That kind of action would inconvenience thousands of voters.

The last major series of initiative involves popular activities.  At various times, the city government has held large scale activities to commemorate various occasions.  These activities have been mostly the responsibility of the Information Office, and its former head Luo Wen-chia.  The first of these activities was a large scale dance for students the night after the joint college entrance exam.  They closed off a major road and went the whole nine yards, with light shows, pop stars, of course, lots of teenagers.  (This is also the event where Chen dressed up as a mixture of Micheal Jackson and Superman, a picture which the KMT loves to circulate.)  There was a lot of controversy over whether the city government should be doing this type of thing, but I think overall it was a positive action.  If nothing else, it was a way for students to blow off steam.  Other large scale events included a Lantern Festival extravaganza, a Retrocession Day blast, and numerous other smaller activities on most holidays.  It was at one of these smaller activities that the tug-of-war incident took place.  (How did your political career end?  In a bizarre tug-of-war accident. [11] )  The incident cost Luo Wen-chia his job,[12] but the activity was representative of a larger strategy.  Unlike other local governments, this local government was active, always doing things for its people.

If it sounds like I am impressed by the Chen administration, that‘s because I AM impressed.  He has done an incredible job.  He ran on a promise of good government and has delivered far beyond what anyone expected.  It might be argued that Chen’s “accomplishments” are really a reflection of his media savvy.  He is in the capital and the media spotlight and he is an expert at spinning the news to his advantage.  This is true.  The tug-of-war incident is a case in point.  He turned that disaster into a positive by good crisis management practices.  However, this is not the whole story.  It‘s easy for him to spin the news because there is meat present.  He is not inventing stories about good government.  The efficient government exists; Chen merely finds ways to persuade the media to report it.  During the Huang administration, corruption was rampant, so the media reported that.  There is plenty of media hostile to Chen, and they would love a juicy corruption story, but they haven’t found one yet.  To write Chen off as a media creation would be naive.

To provide a balanced picture of Chen‘s short tenure (only three years at this point), I should also point out some of his setbacks.  The most constant source of conflict has been with the city council.  The city council is split between the three parties: the KMT has the most, the DPP has exactly one third, and the NP has the least number of seats.  However, no party has a majority, or to put it another way, an alliance of any two parties will produce a majority.  Unfortunately for Chen, the KMT and NP have formed a fairly solid alliance based on opposition to Chen and have badgered him mercilessly throughout his tenure.  At one point they even slashed the gasoline budget for Chen’s car.  This backfired when Chen started taking taxis to work, accompanied by camera crews (of course), thus exposing the tactic as petty and mean.  (This is, by the way, exactly the type of tactic DPP politicians, including Chen, had engaged in over and over in the past.  The KMT/NP coalition probably thought they would just give Chen a taste of his own medicine.  What they didn‘t consider was the fact that the DPP generally aimed its actions against unelected, unpopular, and unaccountable government figures who there was often no other way to attack, while this action was aimed at a popularly elected and media savvy opponent.)  A more crucial setback occurred when a DPP councilor broke ranks with Chen.  This particular councilor, Lin Rui-tu, is an expert on the MRT system.  He wanted to demolish the whole thing.  When Chen showed pragmatism by choosing to reinforce the structure, Lin bolted.[13] This is critical because without Lin, the DPP caucus no longer has the one-third necessary to uphold a mayoral veto.  Chen cannot impose his will on the council.  Fortunately for Chen, the council doesn’t have much power.  Like the Provincial Assembly, it passes the budget and interrogates ministers, and not much else.  However, these interpolation sessions are rarely civil, and violence has broken out.  Predictably, this has hurt the council‘s prestige more than the mayor’s.  The campaign against the mayor has been led by the speaker of the Taipei City Council, Chen Chien-chih.  Mayor Chen is lucky to have an antagonist of Speaker Chen‘s quality; most politicians have to face competent opponents.  For the most part, the mayor has been able to ignore the city council.  However, his party’s minority status there has probably necessitated his focus on small scale projects aimed at improving efficiency.  Any large scale projects would probably be doomed in attempts to get funding bills through the city council.

One of Chen‘s efforts to improve relations with the city council resulted in a setback for both the council and himself.  The issue was a very generous pension plan for councilors based on tenure in the council.  The proposal was rammed through by the speaker (who has the longest tenure in the council and would thus get the most money) via some very questionable legislative tactics.  It should be noted that it was generally supported by senior councilors (regardless of party) and opposed by more junior members.  This was not a partisan plan, though it was highly associated by the media with the KMT speaker.  The media immediately dubbed the plan the “self fattening bill” and gave it intense coverage.  The council backed down quickly, repealing the bill just days after it passed.  Then the blame game started.  The council tried to blame the mayor, who they said had initiated this bill.  (This always struck me as a stupid argument: We never wanted this pork; he forced us to put our snouts in the trough.)  The mayor‘s version was different, of course.  He claimed that a group of senior councilors demanded this bill.  He told them that he didn’t think they could digest it, but if they thought they would be able to swallow, they were welcome to take a bite.  Regardless, it was a media disaster for both the mayor and the city council.

Another setback occurred over the condemnation of some residences for the building of a park.  There is a prequel to this story that must be related.  During the Huang administration, the city government decided to build a huge park in the Da-an district.  They condemned the land and told the people to move out.  The people protested.  Politicians, especially DPP politicians, made a huge issue out of it.  They claimed to represent the people against an oppressive government, etc etc.  The result was (yet another) loss of political capital for the Huang administration.  When the bulldozers went in, the cameras were solidly focused on all the lives they were disrupting, and not a few people refused to leave.  (A footnote: this is now the best park in Taipei City.  As usual, the Huang administration did a great job of planning and a lousy job of execution.)  The park became a symbol of bad government, and both the Chen and Chao campaign headquarters were located across the street from it.

Time passes.  Chen takes office.  Another park[14] is to be built.  In this case, not only are there numerous residents in mostly illegal structures, they are almost all mainlanders.  This area was built up when the KMT was desperately trying to find housing space for all its new arrivals in the early 1950‘s.  So they built shanties.  The result was that Chen faced a potential political mess in addition to the potential social mess.  Any forcible evictions would almost certainly be interpreted as petty bullying of old soldiers.  For the most part, the Taipei City government convinced the residents to move out.  However, there was a small number who didn’t want to move, or didn‘t think the terms of compensation were fair.  The media focused on these.  Eventually, Shih Ming-teh turned up to “mediate”.  (The choice of Shih Ming-teh, arch enemy of the KMT and noted rabble rouser to represent old army veterans was, to say the least, strange.[15])  He ended up denouncing the city government.  (Relations between Chen and Shih were never good, but until then they at least kept their differences under the table.)  Chen’s reaction was swift and effective.  He used the DPP party machinery to silence Shih.  This all made for fertile media fodder.  Overall, this condemnation went much more smoothly than the earlier one, but there was plenty of coverage of Chen playing the role of bully.  I don‘t know if the public interpreted this case as an example of determination to build a better city, or as authoritarian tendencies on Chen’s part.  However, it was a major media event, and will probably be revived in the 1998 campaign. [16]

Overall, this is a very strong record.  If you asked me to say what Lien Chan or Song Chu-yu have done in office, I wouldn‘t be able to come up with anything nearly as comprehensive, and certainly not as favorable.  Chen has been under intense scrutiny for the past three years and has performed beyond expectations.

Chen is also riding high at the moment.  The KMT made a huge mistake in trying to attack him before the 1997 elections.  The move backfired and made Chen into a hero.  He has always been a big draw on the stump, but nothing like in this last campaign.  This time, he got crowds numbering in the tens of thousands nearly every night.  And where before, he could pick who he wanted to campaign for; now he is viewed almost as a resource to precious to not be used on everyone.  He had to make appearances for every candidate.  The official DPP campaign group led by the party chaiman didn‘t get nearly as much attention.  The campaign also elevated speculation about a run for the presidency into practically a done deal.  Where before there were lots of pundits saying Chen should wait until 2004, this opinion has just about disappeared.  And within the DPP, no one would dream of opposing a Chen presidential bid.  Recently there has been speculation as to whether Chen would run for party chairman as well.  (Currently, he seems to be leaning against it.)  It is instructive that the only people coming out against this were members of Chen’s own faction.  When Chang Chun-hung, a leader of the Formosa Faction, urged Chen to choose between the chairmanship and the mayorship, he was met by rebellion within his own ranks.  Very quickly, Chang was clarifying his remarks.  If Chen wanted to run for chairman, they would certainly support him, and Chang personally wasn‘t even considering running for chairman at that time (a patent lie).  DPP members see a chance to win power, and they don’t dare do anything which would damage that chance.  If Chen wants the chairmanship, they will give it to him.  Only his own faction can speak out without being accused of hurting the cause.  It‘s almost like Nixon in China.

Can Chen win?  Maybe.  But it‘s too early for that question.  He still has to win re-election in December and govern Taipei City for another two years.[17]

[1] Frank Hsieh (謝長廷 Xie Changting), later Kaohsiung City Mayor, Premier, and presidential candidate.

[2] 13 years later, I still haven’t seen any worse performance than Huang’s.

[3] Shih was DPP party chair at the time.

[4] I’ve tried to go back and verify this, but my quick and dirty search isn’t revealing clear patterns.  For the last month of the election, all three candidates were at about 20% in the polls, usually with Chen a couple points ahead of the other two.  This represented a boost in Huang’s fortunes, but Huang’s numbers seemed to have started rising about a week before Shih’s gaffe.  Prior to that, I can’t get a clear read on the state of the race, but it seems clear that Chen was closer to 30% and Huang lagged behind, often in the single digits.  Chao was anywhere from 10% to 25%.  Well, polling was not very accurate back then.  People didn’t always answer sincerely (martial law was still a clear memory), and the KMT often arranged for fake polls designed to confuse to be published.

[5] These are the steel jackets on the concrete pillars on Fuxing South Road.

[6] Wow.  I can’t believe I thought that.  The MRT has fundamentally transformed the way people live in Taipei.  Of course, the blue and orange lines still hadn’t opened yet.

[7] The Mucha line was not well planned.  The trains are too small, and it doesn’t go through the most populated areas of Mucha.  I have a vague impression that the awkward route was connected to some land speculation schemes.  The other lines were much better planned, as was Civic Blvd and Huangdong Expressway.

[8] Chen also managed the impossible by requiring motorcycle riders to wear helmets.  Through the early 1990s, almost no one wore a helmet anywhere in Taiwan.  The government would periodically announce that it was going to start enforcing helmet laws, but no one ever paid attention.  I think no one ever had the political will to hand out lots of tickets.  When Chen announced that he would enforce helmet laws, I expected the same thing to happen.  On February 28, no one wore helmets.  On March 1, everyone did.  It was astounding.  (There was no change across the river in Taipei County.)  This mayor was really different: when he announced a change, people not only expected that things would change, things really did change.

[9] Another aspect of this was the focus on customer service.  Chen tore out the old service windows, which forced people to look over a high counter and allowed the official to close the window.  He replaced them with low tables.  This allowed the citizen to sit down at an equal level with the official.  This was symbolic of the effort to make officials respond to the needs of citizens rather than to expect citizens to jump at the commands of imperious officials.  Regular citizens loved this initiative; public servants hated it.   They groused for years about the loss of prestige and respect.

[10] The building was finally allowed to open, and the KMT enjoyed its palatial headquarters for a few years.  The KMT later sold this building.  It is now the Chang Yung-fa Foundation.

[11] [Note: Unlike the body of this post, this footnote is produced entirely from my memory 13 years later.  Memories are famously unreliable, so this might not be exactly how everything happened.]

Taiwan was going through a strange tug-o-war fad at the time.  Several groups held contests all over the island, and the twist was that each contest tried to include more people than the previous ones.   So instead of having ten or twelve people on each side, they were getting hundreds of people on each side.  I think some of them were trying to get into the Guinness Book of World Records.  Now, you can’t just line up three hundred people on each side of a rope and start pulling; that would require a really long rope.  Instead, they used one main rope that had many smaller ropes attached to it.  So you might have a dozen or two people on each smaller rope, angled away from the main rope at 20 degrees.  Imagine 10-30 of these smaller ropes on each side, angling away from the main rope in pairs.  This produced tremendous amounts of tension, and as the contests got bigger and bigger, they didn’t realized just how much force was being produced.  In the ill-fated Taipei City tug-o-war, the main rope snapped.  Of course, everyone fell backward.  However, the real problem was that the ropes were also flung backward at tremendous speeds, and the smaller ropes were thin enough that they were like knives, cutting through anything they encountered.  Unfortunately, this included some of the participants.  Several were injured, and two people were seriously injured.  One of them had his arm completely severed.

The contest was sponsored by the Bureau of Information, headed by Luo Wenjia.  Luo and the rest of the city government  reacted as if this were a major disaster.  Luo instantly apologized and resigned, and Mayor Chen similarly publicly took full responsibility and allowed the criticism to be heaped on him.  There was no effort to talk about bad luck or spin the news as not so bad.  There was also no scapegoat; they didn’t blame some lower-level official.  Instead, the blame went right to the top, with Chen sacrificing his most trusted aide and facing the media himself. They also didn’t try to deflect the news by talking about something else.  Instead, Chen (and Luo)  spent quite a bit of time at the hospital with the injured people.  I remember the man with the severed arm, in particular.  The doctors were able to reattach the limb, and the guy regained use of it within a few days.  But what I remember most clearly was that he was a die-hard DPP supporter, and he kept telling Chen and Luo not to worry and the media what wonderful people they were.  I don’t care how much I liked a politician, if my arm had just been cut off, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be worrying about how he felt.

By about a week after the event, it had become clear that Chen and Luo had handled the accident quite well.  The people involved weren’t screaming for justice, and the media applauded Chen’s crisis management and refusal to duck responsibility.  The latter, in particular, contrasted sharply with what people had come to expect from the KMT government.  In retrospect, this also contrasts sharply with the way Chen mishandled the Bazhang Creek tragedy in the first few months of his presidency.

[12] Luo’s career did not end there, to say the least.

[13] Lin has been one of Chen’s most strident critics ever since.  He is still at it.  Lin was one of the people behind the recent accusations that Chen’s son hired prostitutes.

[14] These are the Number 14 and Number 15 parks, located at the corner of Linsen North Road and Nanjing East Road.

[15] Today, after Shih’s political reincarnation as leader of the Red Shirt Army, this seems less incongruous.  At the time, it seemed like poking a thumb in the old veterans’ eyes.

[16] The KMT’s 1998 campaign against Chen was centered on the idea that he was authoritarian and stubborn.  This theme resonated, probably because it was based in reality.

[17] Funny, but in late 1997 I seem not to have been aware that there might be a timing problem between the two elections.  That is, there were only 16 months between the December 1998 mayoral election and the March 2000 presidential election.  The thought that Chen was going to make a serious run in 2000 must have been so new that no one had yet raised this issue.