Archive for the ‘2020 legislative’ Category

A lecture on populism

January 15, 2021

This is the most important story in Taiwan electoral politics in recent years. It’s too bad it took me so long to realize what was going on.

The 2020 surge in youth turnout

January 1, 2021

It isn’t often that I am floored by a single chart, but a few months ago I saw a chart that made me question a lot of things I thought I understood about Taiwanese politics. It turns out that youth turnout was sky-high in the 2020 election. I know some people will say, “Well, of course it was. I could have told you that.” Let me caution you. It wasn’t obvious at all. I don’t care about your personal anecdotes. I heard them all in 2016, and youth turnout wasn’t sky-high then. 2020 was qualitatively different from 2016, and it isn’t obvious why.

Here is the chart that shocked me. In 2016 and 2018, turnout for people in their 20s was somewhere around 55-60%. As the age of voters increased so did turnout, peaking at over 70% among voters in their late 60s. There was a huge gap in turnout among young and old voters. 2020 doesn’t look like that at all. More than 70% of young voters turned out. Turnout increased with age, but not nearly as much as in the past. There is an enormous gap between the lines for young voters in 2016 and 2020, and only a small one among older voters.

Before I discuss these numbers in more depth, let me tell you where they come from. This is NOT an ordinary random sample public opinion survey. This is a study by my friend Chuang Wen-jong 莊文忠 and our intellectual godfather Hung Yung-tai 洪永泰 commissioned by the Central Election Commission, which has a legal mandate to investigate any potential gender disparities. It is normally strictly forbidden to look at actual voting records due to Taiwan’s strict privacy laws. However, for this special purpose, the CEC allowed them to look at some voter rolls. They took a sample of precincts, and then they took a sample of voters from each of those selected precincts. For each voter, they collected age, sex, and whether the voter had showed up to vote. (They did not record how each voter voted. That is not recorded on the voter rolls or anywhere else.) They eventually recorded data for over 137,000 eligible voters, and this should be a pretty darn good representative sample. It is reasonable to have doubts about telephone surveys. Some people don’t have telephones, some won’t answer unfamiliar numbers, some will hang up when they realize it is a survey, and some won’t give you honest or accurate responses. None of those are problems here; you will rarely find higher quality data than this. The full report was published on the CEC website. The CEC commissioned similar studies after the 2016 and 2018 elections. I really wish we could go back in time and see data from 2012, which (I think) was a fairly “normal” election, and 2014, immediately after the Sunflower movement. However, voter rolls are destroyed within a few months after each election, so that is impossible.

Since the official purpose of the report is to study gender differences, we should first look at the differences between men and women. Young women have somewhat higher turnout – roughly 5% higher – than young men. The gender gap shrinks with age, until turnout is roughly the same for voters in their late 60s. Among the very old, men vote at higher rates than women. Overall, turnout in the 2020 presidential election was 76.7% for women and 73.2% for men. We saw similar trends in 2016 and 2018.

I don’t have much to say about gender right now. Eventually I’m going to try to figure out if young women vote differently than older women. Newcomers to Taiwanese politics are always shocked that women are about 5% more pro-KMT than men since the much-publicized gender gap in the United States favors the more progressive party. My suspicion is that older women are much more conservative than younger women (ie: the age difference for voting behavior is much larger for women than men), but I don’t have any hard evidence of that right now. This topic will have to wait for another time.

On to youth turnout. Wen-jong has thoughtfully given us a chart comparing each 5-year cohort’s turnout rate in 2016 and 2020. There’s a big gap for voters under 35.

This chart forces me to rethink some basic assumptions about how Taiwanese politics works. For about a decade, lots of people (usually those who sympathize with smaller parties) have enthusiastically been talking about mobilizing young voters. I have generally dismissed such ideas. I have always assumed that trying to mobilize young voters is a fool’s errand. You can dump a lot of resources into these efforts and it will look productive because the politically motivated youth are highly visible. However, overall youth turnout was pretty miserable, so I’ve always thought that expending too much effort on youth votes was a was of resources. Besides, due to declining birth rates, there aren’t actually all that many youth votes to be gained. Much better to focus your energy on the more numerous older voters who might actually show up and vote.

However, it turns out that you CAN mobilize young voters. In fact, maybe I’ve gotten it backwards. Maybe the way to think about it is that older voters will reliably show up in all sorts of elections, whereas younger voters might vote or they might stay home. If that’s the case, the rational thing to do might be to focus a disproportional amount of energy on the youth vote where you might be able to produce a significant difference.

We know that there are more voters in the older age groups, so how much difference does this surge in youth turnout make? As a careful scholar with a narrow mandate, Wen-jong has wisely declined to tackle this topic. I’m a lot more irresponsible, especially here on my blog, so let’s give it a whirl.

The government publishes population data for every month. The number of citizens over 20 is not exactly the same as the number of eligible voters, but it’s close enough. So we have a pretty good estimate for the number of voters in each five-year age group in January 2020. Multiplying these numbers by Wen-jong’s turnout estimates, we can get an estimate of actual votes for each age group in 2016 and 2020. (Since this is a quick and dirty exercise, I didn’t bother to get 2016 estimates for eligible voters even though everyone was four years younger then. It shouldn’t change things too much.)

agepop2016 votes2020 votesgap
80歲 & up82270249608951501118922

According to this, there were about 1.6 million extra votes in 2020 because of higher turnout. These were highly concentrated among the younger voters. In 2016, people 39 and under only made up 29.9% of the electorate, but this group accounted for 56.6% (about 912,000) of the “extra” turnout. As a result, the share of the under 39 group increased to 32.8% of the electorate in 2020. Nearly a million extra young votes seems like a lot.

But let’s go further. We know from quite a bit of survey evidence that young people were much more likely to vote for President Tsai. Let’s try to estimate how all those extra youth votes affected the final election tallies.

I’m going to use some numbers from the Taiwan Election and Democratization post-election survey. Surveys always ask respondents who they voted for, and post-election surveys always find inflated numbers for winners. (This is true every year, regardless of the winner’s party.) This year was no different. In the actual election, Tsai beat Han 57.7% to 38.6%. In the survey data, Tsai’s victory was an enormous 67.2% to 27.9%. To account for this, I inflated Han’s support by a factor of 1.38, Tsai’s by 0.86, and Soong’s by 0.88. This yields estimates for each of the age groups as follows:

Age groupSoong%Han%Tsai%

Remember, these are fairly dirty estimates suitable only for blogging purposes. A serious methodologist writing a serious academic paper would massage them in several different ways, and they’d certainly all be different (but maybe not by all that much).

What does this imply about the final vote totals? If you take the 2020 votes and the “extra” votes from the previous table and multiply them by the vote shares in this table, you get the following:

Age groupAll votes TsaiAll votes HanAll votes gap“Extra” Tsai“Extra” Han“Extra” gap

Tsai won every age group, but she didn’t win older voters by very much. In this estimate, Tsai beat Han by 2.7m votes. More than three-fourths of this margin (2.1m) came from voters under 40. If we look at the “extra” votes, the gap is even more stunning. Compared to what would have happened if people had voted at 2016 levels, Tsai’s margin of victory was 464,000 larger. Of this margin, 88% (408,000) came from “extra” voters under 40.

If turnout had been the same in 2020 as it was in 2016, Tsai would still have won. All that extra youth turnout didn’t ultimately affect the outcome. However, the narrative might have been a bit different. Tsai got 56.1% in 2016 and surpassed that with 57.1% in 2020. Without that extra 400,000 votes from high youth turnout, some of the news coverage would have noted that her vote share had slipped a bit. “Tsai wins, but is less popular!” Han might have cracked the psychologically important 40% threshold. It wouldn’t have made THAT much of a difference, though. After all, it was a landslide either way.

However, there have been elections in which an extra 400,000 votes would have been crucial. Chen Shui-bian won the 2000 election by just over 300,000 votes and the 2004 election by under 30,000. Ma Ying-jeou won the 2012 election by a fairly comfortable 800,000 votes, though one can imagine the narrative would have been significantly different if that margin had been cut in half.

The extra youth turnout didn’t end up making that much of a difference in the presidential election, but what about the legislative election? I know there will be some readers who want to count all those extra 400,000 votes as mobilization triumphs for the New Power Party, Taiwan People’s Party, or some other small party. Let me remind you that there were plenty of small parties around in 2016. My guess is that a disproportionate number of these newly mobilized youth votes supported small parties, but it was probably less than half of the total. I suppose I could use the TEDS party vote estimates the same way I used the presidential estimates, but I’m not that brave. I can swallow a 3% error for an estimate of 55%; it’s a lot harder to feel good about a 3% error for an estimate of 6%.

Anyway, the election outcome wasn’t decided by the party list seats. Legislative outcomes turn on the 73 single seat districts. In this election, the DPP-led coalition won a legislative majority by winning 50 of the 73 SSDs. So how many of those did the green side win because of higher youth turnout?

It’s hard to tell, but let’s do some really shaky calculations. Dividing the “extra” gap by 73, higher turnout produced an advantage of just under 6000 votes for each legislative district. However, that is for the presidential election. It is reasonable to think that a fairly high number of young voters cast their legislative district vote for a small party rather than for one of the two main candidates. I’m going to assume that any green candidate in a normal sized district (ie: not tiny Penghu) who won by less than 4000 votes owes their seat to the surge in youth turnout. Here’s the list:

Lai Pin-yu (New Taipei 12, won by 2780 votes)

I was surprised to find that there weren’t more tight races; I had assumed there would be three or four of these districts. The blue side won a couple of tight races, but the green side didn’t have many squeakers this time. There were a few other districts in which the race might have been close enough if ALL the extra youth votes went to the green candidate.

Huang Hsiu-fang (Changhua 2, won by 4836 votes)

Chuang Ching-cheng (Taichung 5, won by 5272 votes)

Freddy Lim (Taipei 5, won by 5416 votes)

Chiang Yung-chang (New Taipei 8, won by 5597 votes)

Kao Chia-yu (Taipei 4, won by 6706 votes)

Of these, Chuang Ching-cheng and Kao Chia-yu might have been the most vulnerable. Both of them ran in very large districts, with almost 100,000 more valid votes than some of the smaller districts (such as Huang Hsiu-fang’s, Lai Pin-yu’s and Freddy Lim’s districts). There were presumably a higher number of “extra” youth votes in Chuang and Kao’s districts, and I think it is plausible that the surge in youth turnout changed the outcome in these two districts.

In the end, the surge in youth turnout probably didn’t fundamentally alter the election outcome. It was, after all, a landslide. However, in a different year with a much closer election, it absolutely could have been decisive. I will never again dismiss efforts to increase youth turnout.

(Caveat: The number of young voters is about to dramatically decrease. There were 1.51m people in the 20-24 age cohort. There were 1.25m in the 15-19 age cohort and 1.01m in the 10-14 age cohort.)

Reflections on the legislative election: regions, urbanization, and split-ticket voting

January 14, 2020

Everyone is focusing on the presidential results. Well, of course they are. The presidential results are important.

But just looking at the presidential results is deceptive in a few ways. First, Tsai won by 18%, which is a huge margin. As we’ll see, the DPP’s actual political foundation is not nearly that much bigger than the KMT’s. Second, the presidential vote gives the impression of stability. Tsai’s vote in 2020 was geographically very similar to that in 2016. She was a point better in some areas, a point worse in others, but overall it was pretty similar. The legislative results were a lot more turbulent. Third, Tsai’s vote looks like a solid block of 57.1% green voters. The legislative results make that coalition look much more fragmented and tenuous. There was a LOT of split-ticket voting this time. Fourth, the legislative results reveal just what a terrible candidate Han Kuo-yu was.


Let’s start by giving the official party results. This is the kind of data you might have seen in the newspapers. (Hint: This is not the right way to look at election results.) Note also: the nominal tier includes both the 73 single seat districts and the two indigenous districts.

Nominal Nominal List List Prez Prez
votes % votes % votes %
DPP 6383783 45.1% 4811241 34.0% 8170231 57.1%
KMT 5761995 40.7% 4723504 33.4% 5522119 38.6%
TPP 264478 1.9% 1588806 11.2%
NPP 141952 1.0% 1098100 7.8%
Statebuilding 141503 1.0% 447286 3.2%
Congress 81508 0.6% 40,331 0.3%
PFP 60614 0.4% 518921 3.7% 608590 4.3%
Green 39387 0.3% 341465 2.4%
other parties 190349 1.3% 590484 4.2%
independents 1086463 7.7% 4811241 34.0%
total 14152032 14160138 14300940


According to this, the DPP only beat the KMT by 4.4% in the nominal tier. It was close, but not that close. Remember, there were a few DPP candidates who ran as independents (like Su Chen-ching in Pingtung 2). The KMT had a couple as well. Also, if we are going to look at the broad balance of power, shouldn’t we think about all the minor parties as well? Here’s a second table looking at the big camps.

Nominal Nominal List List Prez Prez
votes % votes % votes %
All blue 6103580 43.1% 5422764 38.3% 6130709 42.9%
All green 7135019 50.4% 6921468 48.9% 8170231 57.1%
All white 325663 2.3% 1588806 11.2%
No camp 587770 4.2% 227100 1.6%

The blue camp includes the KMT, PFP, New, CUPP, and a couple independents (Li Weng Yueh-e [New Taipei 3], Lin Kuo-ching [Chiayi 2], Fu Kun-chi [Hualien], Kao Chin Su-mei [mountain indigenous]). The green camp includes the DPP, NPP, Statebuilding, Green, Taiwan Action, Formosa Alliance, and various independents (Freddy Lim [Taipei 5], Hung Tzu-yung [Taichung 3], Su Chen-ching [Pintung 2], Chao Cheng-yu [Taoyuan 6]). The white camp is the TPP plus two independents, Hsu Li-hsin [Taipei 5] and Lee Chin-ying [New Taipei 10]. I didn’t know what to do with Congress Party, since they come from the blue side but their leader endorsed Tsai, so I put them in the no camp bloc.

This grouping is not meant to imply that that these blocs are one team or that they will work together. Rather, the idea is that they draw from the same broad set of voters. For example, I’m not sure we will still consider the NPP as part of the green camp four years from now, but for right now, I think they best fit in that big pool of voters.

Looking at it this way, the green camp beats the blue camp by 7.3% in the nominal vote and 10.6% in the list vote. This is a much better indication of where the country is than the presidential results or the official party totals. The presidential results make the blue side look far too weak because (a) Han Kuo-yu was a disaster and drove every wavering voter away and (b) the white camp is absent.


Before moving on, let’s linger a bit on the TPP. This table says the white camp got 2.3% of the district vote, which looks pretty inconsequential. However, they didn’t run in many districts. Moreover, wherever they ran, they were not one of the two main candidates. It’s really hard to be the third candidate in a plurality race. Nevertheless, they did amazingly well. Look at this list of how white camp candidates performed.

district name votes %
Taipei 3 何景榮 5,730 2.6
Taitung 陳允萍 3,527 4.5
Tainan 1 顏耀星 8,793 4.9
Kaohsiung 3 莊貽量 12,099 5.2
Taichung 4 張渝江 13,434 5.7
Kaohsiung 8 敖博勝 14,043 6.0
Taipei 8 張幸松 12,111 6.3
Kaohsiung 1 羅鼎城 10,661 6.5
Taichung 5 謝文卿 18,768 7.3
Taichung 3 張睿倉 14,700 7.5
Kaohsiung 5 李佳玲 20,336 8.6
Taipei 7 蔡宜芳 17,435 9.5
Taoyuan 1 陳泓維 21,951 9.7
Hsinchu County 2 林碩彥 17,902 11.1
Miaoli 1 朱哲成 16,566 11.1
New Taipei 7 吳達偉 20,579 11.7
New Taipei 3 李旻蔚 35,843 18.2
Taipei 5 徐立信 22,208 12.2
New Taipei 10 李縉穎 38,977 18.8

Every one of them got votes. There was not a single white camp candidate who got completely marginalized. Third parties are not supposed to do this well. And remember, it isn’t the case that all of these are great politicians. Remember that guy I mocked in a previous post for his stance on stray dogs? That guy competed with two extremely famous people (Hung Tzu-yung and Yang Chiung-ying), got nearly 15000 votes, and almost certainly affected the outcome of the Taichung 3 race. There is a clear message here: Mayor Ko can transfer (a good deal of) his support to other people. The white camp is a serious force in Taiwan politics.


The New Power Party also had a very strong showing at the district level, though they didn’t nominate nearly as many candidates. Here is their list

district name votes %
New Taipei 10 賴嘉倫 13,563 7.3
New Taipei 1 張衞航 19,641 7.6
Kaohsiung 7 陳惠敏 17,466 7.8
Taoyuan 3 林佳瑋 17,512 8.3
Hsinchu City 高鈺婷 73,770 28.6

Again, their first four candidates did extremely well to get significant numbers of votes as the third candidate in a two-way race. It looks as though the NPP has solid support in society. However, since the NPP didn’t need to nominate ten people to qualify for the party list, it could concentrate on its best candidates. This list might look artificially impressive; it’s possible that the next five NPP candidates would have all been turkeys.

Now look at the fifth candidate. Kao Yu-ting was not a spoiler candidate. She was a major candidate in a true three-way race. This was absolutely shocking to me. I was mildly surprised by candidates like Lee Chin-ying in New Taipei 10 who got nearly 20%. However, Kao Yu-ting was on an entirely different level. The three main candidates in Hsinchu City got 95298, 82011, and 73770 votes. Those numbers are all within spitting distance of each other. When the NPP is that close, the DPP can no longer argue that a vote for the NPP is a wasted vote (or a de-facto vote for the KMT). It’s true that the green camp vote was split and the KMT won a seat that it didn’t deserve. However, it is not obvious that the NPP should have supported the DPP and not the other way around.


Compared to past years, there were a lot more significant third candidates in district elections. 15 districts had third candidates getting at least 10%, and 28 more candidates got between 5% and 10%. That is to say, most districts this year had a significant third- party presence. This is new.

The two big parties got 95.7% of the presidential vote, which makes it look as if they absolutely dominate Taiwanese politics. That is misleading. They only got 67.4% of the party list vote, which makes it look as if the party system is quite fragmented. That is also a bit misleading. The truth lies somewhere in between. The two big parties still sit atop the political structure, but their coalitions are a lot less solid than they might appear. This is especially true for the DPP, which succeeded in pulling together a massive presidential coalition from several forces who don’t really all want the same things.


Ok, let’s go back to the two big parties in the district elections. The best way to look at how they fared is not to look at either the party labels or the big camp blocs. Rather, the best way to look at them is by looking at who they asked people to vote for in each district. Each big party sponsored (officially or unofficially) one candidate in each seat. How did that go?

Note: I assume that Fu Kun-chi was the actual KMT candidate in Hualien. Someone else was the formal KMT nominee, but the party sent a pretty strong message through its VP candidate that Fu was the real KMT candidate. The only place without a major party candidate was the DPP in Kinmen. Chen Tsang-chiang dropped out of the DPP a few years ago, but I didn’t see any reference to the DPP encouraging people to vote for him this time. [Please comment if you know more about the DPP in Kinmen this time.]


So, how did the main green and main blue candidates do?

votes %
Main blue candidates 5987296 42.3%
Main green candidates 6892140 48.7%

The spread that really matters, the one that decided who would have power in the legislature, was 6.4%. That is not a small advantage, though it is nowhere near the 18% spread from the presidential election (or 14.2%, if you add Han’s and Soong’s votes together).

[Aside: The green side got 6.89 million votes. That number seems familiar…]

Unlike the gap in the presidential election, the gap between the two big blocs in the legislative races is a lot smaller than in 2016. Four years ago, the main green candidates got 12.3% more than the main blue candidates. This year, that gap was cut nearly in half.

2016 2020 2016 2020
Vote% Vote % seats Seats
Main Blue 39.7 42.3 25 27
Main Green 52.0 48.7 54 52

Four years ago, I assumed that things would never again be quite as perfect for the DPP. Even if Tsai was re-elected, it would inevitably be with a reduced margin and a reduced legislative majority, just as happened for President Ma in 2012. It didn’t work out that way in the presidential race because Han Kuo-yu was such a terrible candidate, but it did work out that way in the legislative election.

There is one hitch: the seat shares were nearly unaffected by the dramatically reduced gap in votes. The green side won 54 of the 79 seats with a 12.3% advantage in 2016 and 52 with only a 6.4% advantage in 2020. Why?

Before I answer that, let me editorialize. I kept telling people to stop focusing on the party lists, because the legislative majority would be decided by the districts. That is, in fact, exactly what happened. The DPP did terribly in the party list vote, but that did not cause it to lose its legislative majority. Because it is still the biggest party and the nominal tier is so majoritarian, it managed to win two-thirds of the nominal seats and hold an overall majority.

Geography mattered in this election. Based on polling data, I had speculated that Tsai was a bit better in the north, relative to past performance, and a little worse in most other areas. She was, but it wasn’t a very dramatic shift. The biggest change came in Taoyuan, where she was 3.8% higher than four years ago.

Tsai 2016 Tsai 2020 change
North 53.4% 55.1% 1.8%
North-central 49.0% 52.2% 3.3%
Central 55.1% 56.3% 1.2%
South-central 65.8% 65.3% -0.5%
South 63.4% 62.2% -1.2%
East & islands 47.1% 47.5% 0.4%
national 56.1% 57.1% 1.0%

What’s striking about this is not how much things have changed, but how much things have remained stable. It appears voters decided their presidential vote based on sovereignty, identity, and the other aspects of national-level politics.

However, once they cast their “responsible” vote for the presidency, many of them seem to have expressed somewhat different values with their legislative votes. In the legislative vote, as with the 2018 mayoral votes, people were free to register some unhappiness, try to restrain the DPP’s power, or vote on local or secondary issues.

If the geographic shifts in the presidential vote were mild, those in the legislative nominal tier were not. Again, this looks at the vote for the main green and main blue candidate in each district.

2020 main blue maingreen mb% mg%
north 1855480 2014050 43.8% 47.5%
north-central 968922 909486 45.1% 42.3%
central 1203565 1358526 44.5% 50.2%
south-central 741114 1143779 37.0% 57.1%
south 806146 1167737 36.6% 53.0%
East & islands 233322 246947 40.0% 42.4%
indigenous 178747 51615 67.0% 19.4%
national 5987296 6892140 42.3% 48.7%

Note: These are the traditional regional groupings. North: Taipei, New Taipei, Keelung. North-Central: Taoyuan, Hsinchu, Miaoli. Central: Taichung, Changhua, Nantou. South-central: Yunlin, Chiayi, Tainan. South: Kaohsiung, Pingtung. East & islands: everything else.

Compare this with the data for 2016:

2016 main blue maingreen mb% mg%
north 1537669 1808346 41.5% 48.8%
north-central 771873 774850 43.1% 43.3%
central 1046801 1160655 44.9% 49.8%
south-central 512981 1127577 29.7% 65.3%
south 645211 1149444 34.0% 60.6%
East & islands 174188 257415 35.5% 52.5%
indigenous 129300 33710 62.3% 16.2%
national 4818023 6311997 39.7% 52.0%

Let’s compare the change in the edge that the green camp holds over the blue camp in each area.

2016 (G-B) 2020 (G-B) change
north 7.3% 3.7% -3.6%
north-central 0.2% -2.8% -2.9%
central 4.9% 5.7% 0.8%
south-central 35.6% 20.1% -15.5%
south 26.6% 16.4% -10.1%
East & islands 17.0% 2.3% -14.6%
indigenous -46.1% -47.7% -1.6%
national 12.3% 6.4% -5.9%

Nationally, the green camp lost 5.9%, compared to 2016. However, they didn’t lose anything in central Taiwan, only had small losses in northern Taiwan, and they had massive losses in southern Taiwan.

Fortunately for the DPP, they suffered losses in areas that, because they had such a large cushion, they could afford to absorb some losses. Even with double digit losses throughout the south, the DPP still swept all 21 southern seats.

2016 2020 2016 2020
Blue seats Blue seats Green seats Green seats
north 7 7 14 14
north-central 5 8 5 3
central 6 5 8 9
south-central 0 0 10 11
south 0 0 12 10
East & islands 2 3 4 3
indigenous 5 4 1 2
national 25 27 54 52

You might notice that the green camp went from being even in North-central (+0.2%) to slightly worse than the blue camp (-2.8%). They were right at the tipping point, where they could not afford losses, and, not coincidentally, the north-central region was where the green camp lost the most ground in terms of seats. It’s also pretty remarkable that the green camp maintained a 14 to 7 advantage in the north, even though their lead was much smaller this time. Several races could have easily gone the other way.


In addition to the dramatic losses the DPP suffered in southern and eastern Taiwan, there was also an urban/rural pattern. The DPP lost a lot of ground in rural areas.

I divided Taiwan into three big categories, very urban, suburban, and rural. The urban category includes districts in the core areas of major cities, and most of them have population densities of over 10,000 people per km2. Some examples are New Taipei 6, Taichung 4, Chiayi City, and Kaohsiung 6. The suburban areas are usually thought of as part of the city, but they are just a little further out. Examples are New Taipei 10, Taichung 7, Taoyuan 1, Changhua 2, and Tainan 6. Rural areas generally only have smaller towns (such is the definition of rural in dense, dense Taiwan). Examples include Miaoli 1, Changhua 4, Tainan 1, Kaohsiung 2, and Yilan. This is a quick and dirty classification; there are no hard rules for these choices. It is entirely subjective. You’ll have to trust that it is mostly right. Anyway, the patterns that I’m going to show you probably don’t change much if you insist on moving Pingtung 1 from category 2 to category 3, for example.

In 2016, the green camp did very well in the most rural areas.

2016 main blue maingreen mb% mg%
most rural 1277007 1757475 38.8% 53.4%
suburban 1474932 1953120 39.6% 52.5%
most urban 2066084 2601402 40.2% 50.6%

In 2020, not so much.

2020 main blue maingreen mb% mg%
most rural 1636532 1724987 44.6% 47.0%
suburban 1909851 2324929 41.3% 50.3%
most urban 2440913 2842224 41.7% 48.5%

Here are the gaps and the change:

2016 (G-B) 2020 (G-B) change
most rural 14.6% 2.4% -12.2%
suburban 12.8% 9.0% -3.9%
most urban 10.4% 6.8% -3.6%


Of course, there is a lot of overlap between rural and south/south-central/east. I don’t have the energy right now to look into which factor is really the dominant one. I suspect they both matter.

Why did the DPP suffer such enormous losses in rural areas and in the south and east? I can think of several possibilities. First, this could be a protest about regional economic inequality. Second, this could be a backlash against same-sex marriage (and other progressive values) by the more conservative rural population. Third, it could have something to do with leadership styles, with Tsai being more of a Taipei personality and Han being a less suave, urbane type of guy.


There are two points that I want to close on. First, I want to reiterate the point I have been making throughout. The DPP coalition does not look nearly as solid this time as it did four years ago. This time, there are far more people who split their tickets, voting for Tsai but not the legislative candidates or parties endorsed by her.

Second, Han Kuo-yu severely underperformed. There were a lot more voters out there who were open to voting for the blue camp, but Han could not soak them up. To put it bluntly, Han was a drag on the ticket. He certainly did not pull any legislators to victory, and he probably dragged some down to defeat. He probably played a role in pushing some potential blue voters over to PFP or TPP legislative candidates. At any rate, he was demonstrably less popular than the rest of the party.

Quick reactions

January 11, 2020

Almost all the votes are counted, but I haven’t really started digging into things yet. These are very, very immediate reactions, so they are probably deeply flawed.


When Tsai and the DPP swept into office four years ago, I assumed that their tidal wave was a unique event. Everything had lined up just right, and they would never be able to match those conditions. Just as Ma couldn’t quite match the 2008 wave in 2012, even if Tsai were to win re-election, her vote would inevitably be lower.

Well, she increased her vote share. In perspective, that seems an enormous surprise. Moreover, she increased her vote total by over a million votes. Four years ago, turnout was low (67%), and many KMT figures groused that the KMT had simply failed to turn out all its supporters. That reasoning won’t work this time. Turnout was much higher. Not everything is final, but it is at least 74.1% plus a bit more for invalid votes. Probably the final figure will be about 74.5%. That is the highest turnout we have had in years. (I can’t check because the CEC elections database of historical results is down, but I think this might be the highest since 2004.)

This is a humiliating result for Han Kuo-yu. He ended up being a drag on the KMT, not an asset.

I can’t be sure yet, but it looks as if Han Kuo-yu ran quite a bit behind most KMT legislative candidates, while Tsai Ing-wen ran considerably ahead of most DPP candidates. In other words, Han was dragging his side down, while Tsai was dragging some to victory. I think the KMT district candidates might have gotten more votes than four years ago. Legislative victory margins for the DPP seemed quite a bit smaller this time throughout the south. Tsai’s margins over Han, in contrast, looked about the same in the south (but a bit larger in the north).



There were several surprising legislative results. Since I specifically wrote that Lai Pin-yu (New Taipei 12) had torpedoed her chances of victory by wearing a cosplay costume in a previous post, let me take this opportunity to publicly acknowledge that I don’t know anything about anything. Hsu Shu-hua (Nantou 2) also dressed up in a costume on election eve, and she also won. I guess now cosplay is a good electoral strategy?!?

Everyone is paying attention to races like Taipei 3 (The Wayne and Enoch Show) and Taichung 2 (Chen Po-wei!). Some results you might have paid less attention to include the DPP winning a mountain indigenous seat, a historical breakthrough for them. Bi-khim Hsiao lost her race in Hualien, which I expected. The significance of this is that she is now free to assume an important spot in the central government (Foreign Minister?) and take a prominent place in President Tsai’s “squad.” I told several people to keep their eyes on Changhua 3, since that was the most likely place (conservative, rural central coast) for a backlash against the same-sex marriage. The KMT did indeed win that race, though there were certainly unique local factors that might have also contributed. I did not expect the DPP to lose New Taipei 1, but the biggest shock was in Taichung 5. A few months ago, I watched the DPP candidate’s event for opening his campaign on YouTube. It looked like amateur hour and a sure loser.

Wayne Chiang’s Taipei mayoral campaign starts tomorrow. Newly elected DPP legislator Kao Chia-yu might think about taking a run at it too.


According to my unofficial count, 46 of the 113 legislators are women. For you those of you who don’t have a calculator app on your phone, that’s 40.7%. [edit: The CEC says it is 47 women (41.6%). I can’t count.] The standard source for women in parliaments doesn’t include Taiwan because … you can guess why. But if it did, Taiwan would slot in at number 15 worldwide. Of course, I’m inclined to ignore a few countries on this list, since Rwanda and Cuba aren’t exactly liberal democracies. I’d prefer to point out that Taiwan is basically at Finland’s level, with over 40% female legislators and a female chief executive. Finland is great!! (This comparison is dedicated to Bruce Jacobs.)


Finally, I’d like to point out that, in spite of everyone insisting that the polls must be wrong because they FELT wrong, the polls were basically right. In my final weighted average, Han trailed by 27%. However, Soong was polling at 7% and only got 4%, so strategic voting shifted about 3% from Soong to Han, which isn’t shocking. And those of us who insisted that we shouldn’t throw out all the polls just because Han asked us to estimated that the effect of Han’s attack on polls could be accounted for by subtracting 3% from Tsai and adding it to Han. That gets you to – viola!!! – an 18% gap. That might be too convenient, but the larger point was that the polls were in the right neighborhood. The race certainly hadn’t closed to within 5%, as some people decided in their alternate realities. For everyone who insisted on looking at the underground betting odds, and breathlessly reported that you had heard about a local bookie setting the odds at Han -500,000 votes, I hope you bet on Tsai. She covered all the spreads that supposedly existed. I wonder if all those people who were spouting off about the wisdom of underground bookies will be talking about why the odds were so wrong on tomorrow’s talk shows.


As you can probably tell, I’m a bit loopy from exhaustion, so I had best stop here. If your side won, go and celebrate a bit. If your side lost, feel free to curse a bit. Either way, isn’t it wonderful that this election was held peacefully and smoothly, that the losers displayed a commitment to democracy by graciously conceding, and that there are no election disputes this year. Democracy is more about the process than about the outcome, and today the process was flawless.

Campaign Trail: TPP rally in Taichung

January 8, 2020

On Saturday of the Golden Weekend, I drove down to Taichung to see the Taiwan People’s Party in action. Ke Wen-je’s new party is only putting on three big events this campaign, two on the Golden Weekend and one on Election Eve, so I wasn’t going to have many other chances to hear what they have to say. Since the Ko-P Party is widely expected to pass the 5% threshold and get a few party list seats, I wanted to hear if they had any sort of coherent theme. To cut to the conclusion: they don’t. This party is intellectually vacuous. The legislative candidates do not have particularly impressive qualifications, do not exude an air of competence, and are not very skilled at political communication. Ke Wen-je has a discourse, but the rest of the party doesn’t seem aware of it. They certainly do not echo or reinforce his talking points. The only common thread holding the party together is the idea of working hard, which they hardly have a monopoly on in Taiwanese politics. Beyond Ko, this simply isn’t a very impressive party.

The rally was in Beitun District, next to a big night market. There were a lot more people at the night market than at the rally. I estimate that around 2500-3000 people attended the rally. It was stunningly small, given the proximity of the night market, the fact that this was the TPP’s first major event, and the popularity of the TPP in polls. They clearly expected more people, as they had a long street reserved and only used about a third of the space. Also, at least 100 of the people in attendance were party workers. It might have been the highest ratio of workers to regular attendees that I have ever seen. Size aside, the other interesting thing about the crowd was its age. This crowd was a bit older than what you might see at a NPP event, but it was quite a bit younger than crowds at DPP or KMT events. The typical person was in the 35-50 age group, and there were lots of parents with small children in attendance.

I arrived just as Lai Hsiang-ling, the top person on the party list was finishing her speech. Since she is almost certainly going to get a seat in the legislature, I went back and listened to her on Youtube. She was, outside of Ko, the best speaker of the night, though that is a very low bar. Her main theme was that the TPP would bravely face the important questions. She listed a few of them, reiterated that the party would address them, but she never proposed any specific solutions. This would become a refrain throughout the night. Another speaker complained that both the KMT and DPP had failed to do anything about air quality and concluded that, it didn’t matter if you voted for blue or green, neither would make the air clean. That speaker pointedly did not propose any solution or even a general direction. This happened again and again. The speaker would complain about something, say that the two big parties weren’t doing anything about it, promise to work hard and sincerely, and never propose any ideas for what to do.

After Lai and a musical performance, the TPP’s three candidates in Taichung took turns speaking. One of them talked about working hard (“I visit ALL the traditional markets!”) and having small children, apparently unaware that almost all politicians campaign hard and have children. He was the best one. The worst one was running in Taichung 3, where the KMT has nominated a former legislator and current deputy mayor and the DPP is supporting incumbent Hung Tzu-yung, who dropped out of the NPP and is running for re-election as an independent. He started his speech by complaining how unfair it was that he was running against two very famous candidates, and he didn’t have enough resources to match their advertising budgets. Yes, telling the audience that your race is hopeless and they probably shouldn’t waste their votes on you seems like a wise strategy. He ended by saying that, if he got enough votes to qualify for public funding, he would donate the money to charity. Um, the purpose of the public funding system is to help smaller and poorer parties compete. You are supposed to take that money and pay off your campaign expenses or reinvest it in the party for the future. If you aren’t going to use the public money that has been set aside explicitly for party-building purposes to build your party, then [insert profanity here] don’t complain about how unfair it is that your opponents are more famous than you! In between those two very brilliant statements, he proposed two concrete policies. First, he wants to amend the constitution to ensure that a certain proportion of party list legislators are young (similar to how 50% must be female). I don’t think he has thought this through. Very few people under 30 have put together an impressive resume, so who does he think would get these seats? Perhaps he might do well to think about all the politicians in their 50s and 60s – at the height of their power and influence – who have (unremarkable) children in their 20s and 30s who they think highly of. Is it really a good idea to set up an affirmative action system for political dynasties?? Second, he wants to set up a new government bureaucracy to monitor pet dogs so that they do not become strays. Ok, dude. Thanks for addressing the tough issues. Stray dogs are definitely one of the top five problems facing Taiwan today, right after claw machines, confusing bus timetables, excessively sugary bubble tea drinks, and the lack of a 7-11 in my neighborhood.

After another musical performance, Tsai Pi-ju spoke. She is Ko’s most trusted administrative lieutenant, and she was the one who he charged with the responsibility of setting up this party. Since she is an important person in the Taipei city government, I expected she would be much more polished than the previous speakers. Nope. Tsai is an absolutely horrible public speaker. She can barely string together two sentences. Some people in the crowd started shouting encouragement, as if she were a shy schoolchild terrified of standing in front of a crowd. Except she wasn’t shy or eager to get off the stage; she kept going on and on. That might have been ok if she had anything substantial to say, but – you guessed it – she did not. Listening to her was a painful experience.

It might seem unfair of me to harp on poor public speaking, but communication is at the very core of democratic politics. Democracy is all about building consensus around certain ideas, and you do that mainly by talking. You have to identify and prioritize problems, call on (and shape) values, propose solutions, and reiterate and reinforce those ideas to the people who have already heard them. Tsai (and the rest of the TPP on stage Saturday night) failed this test.


Mayor Ko finally took the stage and injected some competence into the rally. Ko has a relatively coherent discourse, which goes roughly as follows:

It is pointless to talk about “ideology,” by which he means unification or independence. The United States will never allow Taiwan to either declare independence, because that might lead it into war with China, or to unify with China, because that would destroy the natural blockade formed by the first island chain. However, most of the population does not realize this, and the KMT and DPP have been able to win majorities by appealing to ideology. Since they can rely on ideology to deliver votes, the KMT and DPP do not have to take governing seriously. Instead, they are lazy in office, continually make bad choices, and produce bad outcomes, all while enjoying the spoils of power. Ko, in contrast, understands that ideology is irrelevant, and he has to govern effectively in order to appeal to the public. As a result, he is diligent and careful with his power and decisions. He sums this all with a pithy expression of his governing philosophy, “Do the right things; Don’t do the wrong things; and Do them diligently” 對的事情做,不對的事情不要做,認真做。 The two big parties repeatedly “Do the wrong things; Don’t do the right things; and They are lazy.”

In a previous post, I discussed Han Kuo-yu’s populist rhetoric. Ko’s rhetoric has many similar elements, but I don’t think Ko qualifies as a full-blown populist. Maybe we can label him as slightly “populish.”

Like Han, a central point of Ko’s discourse is that the elites have not worked for the best interests of the people. However, Ko’s attack is far less vitriolic. Han claims that the DPP is drinking the blood and eating the flesh of the common people in order to satisfy their own lust for power. The DPP elites are actively and intentionally harming the people. Ko, in contrast, suggests that the KMT and DPP elites are merely lazy. They are lulled into making bad decisions by the ease of winning elections through ideology. They are more inept than evil.

Also like Han, Ko suggests that governing is easy and that the correct policy choices are fairly obvious. There is no need to discuss exactly how to lower PMI 2.5 levels; the government should simply choose appropriate air quality policies and work hard to implement them. Ko simply sidesteps the entire nuclear vs wind debate (both of which use fossil fuels during the transition period) that the DPP and KMT are engaged in.

Ko presents politics in a moral frame. For him, diligence is the hallmark of morality. Working hard is the only consistent theme that the TPP communicates. They talked over and over about starting meetings at 7:30, as early starts guaranteed good results. Ko likes to repeat, 嗡嗡嗡, an onomatopoeia meaning something like work, work, work.

However, Ko’s discourse is missing the defining elements of populist rhetoric. He does not invoke the “real people” in a populist sense. He does not see the people as homogeneous; rather, he talks quite a bit about diversity and pluralism. He also does not define a general will on behalf of the real people. Ko says that administrative efficiency is the most important thing for effective government, but he doesn’t seem to think that the general public has, above all, a burning desire for administrative efficiency. This is more of an internal, technocratic instruction to his team: if you want to perform well in office, you have to have administrative efficiency.


Ko’s discourse might have a coherent internal logic, but it is, nonetheless, horribly flawed. Ko’s fundamental assumption – that Taiwan can’t and so shouldn’t do anything about its relationship with China – is clearly false. The United States has never issued a blank check to Taiwan; that relationship must be carefully managed and nurtured. More importantly, the relationship with China does not reduce simply to unification or independence. Taiwan has to make important decisions about day to day economic, cultural, and political interactions. Those decisions will have an enormous impact on how the relationship develops in future years and decades, and that relationship will in turn affect the choices around Taiwan’s future status. Ko simply doesn’t want to talk about how he would manage China policy. For now, the handful of TPP legislators might be able to sidestep this question, but if Ko runs for president in the future, this answer will not be sufficient. The TPP might also eventually have to face the problem that lots of politicians work hard; they do not have a monopoly on their central selling point. However, other than ignoring cross-strait relations and working hard, it is unclear what the TPP represents. In the end, maybe all they are left with is Ko Wen-je’s personal charisma.


This street was supposed to be full of TPP supporters. Oops.

Lots of TPP swag available. Ko’s supporters don’t buy quite as much as Han’s.

The TPP has invested heavily in these backpack balloons. They had at least 50 people wearing them. Who needs specific policies!

Now that I think about it, the balloons are my favorite thing about the TPP.

The two pillars on either side of the stage read, “push blue and green to the sides, put the people in the middle.”

Do you love your dog? I do too! Is that good enough?

All the party list nominees came on stage, and Tsai Pi-ju spoke for them. Maybe they should have chosen one of the others as the designated speaker.

I didn’t get any good pictures of Ko on stage, so this will have to do. This banner plays on Ko’s medical background: “treating pain is really simple.” I think this slogan might be more revealing than they intended. Treating pain is not the same as treating the underlying problem. Aspirin doesn’t do anything to stop cancer. By telling voters to ignore cross-straits issues, the TPP is essentially telling them not to bother treating the disease — the most important question facing society. They should just dull the pain by pretending the China question doesn’t exist.

The TPP’s core demographic.

Campaign Trail: KMT event in Xizhi

December 25, 2019

On Sunday evening, Mrs. Garlic and I went to a KMT rally in downtown Xizhi, which is part of New Taipei 12th District. Technically, my residence is in the next city over, so New Taipei 12 is not my home district. But actually, it is. We do most of our shopping in Xizhi, and we live close enough to this event that we could have walked there. For once, I was on home turf.

New Taipei 12 is really two separate territories. There is Xizhi, and there is everything else. Xizhi, which has about 70% of the voters, is an extension of Taipei City. Xizhi has grown rapidly over the past thirty years, and it has transformed from a discreet small town into the easternmost edge of the Taipei metropolis. The boundary between the two jurisdictions is almost invisible, so many people who technically live in Xizhi actually do most of their noodle-eating in the Nangang or Neihu districts of Taipei City. Almost all of Xizhi’s voters live in dense urban neighborhoods, and, while people are more likely to know their neighbors here than in Taipei, the social networks are not as thick as in more rural areas. The other 30% of New Taipei 12 is, by Taiwan standards, quite rural. There are six townships with fairly small core areas of only a few thousand people each. Politically, relationships matter a lot. Voters in these small towns will split their tickets if they know you personally, so establishing good relations with organizations such as the farmers associations is crucial.

Prior to 2016, New Taipei 12 was blue territory. The incumbent was KMT princeling Lee Ching-hua 李慶華, whose father, Lee Huan 李煥, was one of CCK’s closest proteges and a former premier. The younger Lee was elected in 1992, so by 2016 he was trying to win his ninth term in the legislature. Lee had started out as a KMT member, but he joined the New Party when it was founded in 1993 and was re-elected twice under that label. He had originally been elected in the southern half of Taipei City, but to make room for new people he agreed to relocate to Taipei County, where he concentrated on the military communities of Zhonghe. After the 2000 presidential election, he shifted his allegiance to the PFP and continued to mine the Zhonghe mainlander vote bank through the 2001 and 2004 elections. After electoral reform, he searched his heart and discovered that his true ideals were consistent with the KMT’s, so he returned back to his original party. He wanted to run for the Zhonghe seat, but he lost the KMT nomination for Taipei County 8 to the KMT local faction candidate Chang Ching-chung. As a compromise, the KMT arranged for Lee to take over the Taipei County 12 seat, centered on Xizhi. Under the old system, the areas that became New Taipei 12 had been in Lee’s old district, which covered a third of Taipei County. However, he had always spent most of his energy on Zhonghe. Suddenly, this staunch unification supporter and champion of mainlander interests found himself in an overwhelmingly Taiwanese district with a large rural population. It wasn’t an easy fit. In 2008, Ma Ying-jeou racked up 62.5% of the vote in the district, but Lee Ching-hua could only manage 52.0%. Likewise, in 2012 Ma collected 55.0%, but Lee squeaked by in a three-way race with a meagre 42.1%. There were plenty of blue votes, but Lee was consistently unable to soak them all up.

In 2016, the DPP designated New Taipei 12 as a “difficult” district. The 2012 candidate, city councilor Shen Fa-hui 沈發惠, wanted the DPP nomination, but Tsai Ing-wen eventually prevailed upon him to withdraw so that they could yield the district to Huang Kuo-chang 黃國昌 and thus cement their alliance with the newly established New Power Party. Huang defeated Lee (51.5-43.7%) in the general election, with both sides soaking up almost all of their camp’s presidential votes (53.1-46.9%). With historical perspective, Huang’s victory isn’t as impressive as many contemporary observers thought. Huang basically fought a very weak KMT candidate to a draw but was able to ride Tsai’s coattails to victory.

In that 2016 election, one of the minor candidates was from the Faith and Hope League, whose main demand was to stop the legalization of same-sex marriage. He didn’t get that many votes, just under 5,000, but his presence might have signaled the coming troubles for Huang. As the leader of the NPP, Huang did not bother doing a lot of constituency service. Sensing vulnerability and seeking to make a statement against the leader of the marriage equality movement, local anti-marriage activists put together a successful recall petition drive and forced Huang to face a recall vote. The turnout was not high enough to remove Huang from office, but significantly more people voted against him than for him.

It was never clear whether the 2016 alliance between the DPP and NPP would extend to the 2020 election. In the legislature, the NPP continually struggled with the question of how closely it wanted to work with the DPP and whether it should try to establish a separate identity or even announce a willingness to work with other parties. Huang Kuo-chang favored maximizing the NPP’s bargaining power by positioning the NPP as an unaligned party that could negotiate with any party willing to give it a better deal. Back in New Taipei 12, this position understandably caused a rift with the DPP. If the NPP wasn’t going to be a reliable partner, there was no need for the DPP to return the favor. Even though Huang was still publicly running for re-election, Shen Fa-hui announced that he would seek the DPP nomination. Shen even gave up his city council seat in order to concentrate on the legislative race. For the first half of 2019, both Shen and Huang were angling to represent the green side on the ballot, with no guarantee that one would yield. In late June, however, Shen announced he was abandoning his bid. The dominant media explanation was that forces inside the DPP – probably a reference to President Tsai – wanted to yield the seat to Huang again. However, even though the DPP decided it would cooperate with Huang, Huang wasn’t sure he wanted to cooperate with the DPP. In late August, Huang announce he would not seek re-election, and instead the NPP would be represented by Lai Chia-lun 賴嘉倫, who ran his Xizhi constituency service office. Some people speculate that Huang had decided he wanted to run for Taipei mayor, perhaps in alliance with Ko Wen-je. Perhaps he simply decided that he wasn’t going to win re-election. Either way, Huang’s announcement threw the green side of the race wide open. The DPP did not consider Lai Chia-lun to be a viable candidate, so it announced it would nominate its own person.

It was not until mid-September that the DPP drafted Lai Pin-yu 賴品妤, a 27 year-old former Sunflower leader. Lai’s father, Lai Chin-lin 賴勁麟, was a DPP legislator from 1998 to 2004. A member of the New Tide faction, he claimed to represent labor interests. Like Lee Ching-hua, he technically represented Xizhi. However, even more than Lee, the elder Lai ignored Xizhi votes. His support was almost entirely in the urban Zhonghe, Yonghe, and Xindian areas. If the DPP thought that Lai Pin-yu could simply reactivate her father’s dormant network in Xizhi, they were making a big mistake. Her father never had a network in Xizhi, so Lai Pin-yu would have to start from scratch.

Over on the blue side, the process was more orderly. After the 2018 triumph, New Taipei 12 was seen as an almost certain pickup. The only question was which KMT figure would win the seat. Three people registered for the KMT primary, a local lawyer and two candidates from Taipei. Of the three, Lee Yung-ping 李永萍 had by far the most impressive resume, having served as legislator and Taipei City deputy mayor. The local lawyer was supported by the local factions, and usually local candidates beat famous outsiders in polling primaries. You might think that, after putting up with the outsider Lee Ching-hua for over a decade, the local politicians might be desperate to grab control of this seat. However, for some reason, the local forces did not prevail. Lee Yung-ping won the May polling primary. The early resolution and the chaos over on the green side did give Lee one big advantage. While she may be an outsider, she has had a six-month head start over Lai Pin-yu in making local connections. Lee has been talking to local people since March or April, while Lai didn’t start until September. That head start might prove decisive, especially in appealing to the rural areas of the district.

One big question has nagged at me for the past several months. Why are the candidates so terrible? There are four perfectly competent former and current city councilors who have deep roots and high popularity in this district. Any one of those two KMT and two DPP politicians could have easily won their party’s nomination, and any one of them would have been favored to win this general election against the current field of candidates. Why did they all refuse to run? It’s almost as if the KMT, DPP, and NPP are actively trying to lose this district. Every time one of them shoots itself in the foot, the other compete to choose an even less appealing candidate.

At any rate, there are four candidates in the race. The KMT and DPP candidates will compete to win the race, while the number of votes siphoned away by the NPP and Stabilizing Force Party might swing the balance between the top two. Lee Yung-ping is stressing her experience and qualifications, while Lai Pin-yu stresses her youth and idealism. Lee says that Lai is too inexperience, while Lai retorts that Lee has extensive experience at doing the wrong things. Realistically, Lai’s only hope is to be dragged along to victory by Tsai Ing-wen. Lee, unlike some other KMT candidates, is not trying to distance herself from Han, which might be an unwise choice, given her advantage in candidate quality and in building relationships in the district. It should be a close race. If I had to bet, I might give Lee a small advantage.


This brings us to Sunday night’s rally. The rally was held in a big athletic field, surrounded by a running track. This was a fantastic event with a big crowd.

Because it was in such an open area it was fairly easy to see the entire crowd all at once. This makes gauging the size of the crowd quite a bit simpler. Moreover, the stools were laid out in a simple block, so you could cut the crowd in half or into quarters and estimate how many people were in smaller areas, an even easier task. The organizers had laid down mats to protect the grass and then put stools in that area. The stools were almost totally occupied, and I estimate they had seats for about 8,000 people. However, there were also people standing on the grassy periphery of the seating area, and there were people in the grandstand as well. By the end of the event, Mrs. Garlic and I agreed that 10,000 was a pretty good estimate, give or take a thousand people. Once again, let me say: 10,000 people is a LOT of people! This was a huge crowd. And if one gages by the number of stools they prepared, it was larger than they expected.

The crowd was somewhat different from other Han crowds I’ve seen this year. It wasn’t quite as raucous, there weren’t as many vendors selling ROC and Han paraphernalia, and the people weren’t wearing quite so many ROC flag shirts, hats, and other clothing. This should be seen as good news for Han. At some other events, I got the impression that a significant proportion of the crowd were serial rally attendees (like me). I know I’ve seen a few people more than once. However, I think the dedicated Han fans were probably all in Kaohsiung this weekend. The crowd at the Xizhi rally seemed much more local and much less cultish. In other words, this crowd had far more normal people and far fewer of the Church of Han choir. Again, that is a good sign for Han; he is once again showing an ability to reach out beyond his core supporters to a slightly wider audience.


It has been several days since the rally, and things are running together in my mind. Rather than discuss each speaker individually, I’m just going to make a couple of points about the event as a whole.

The speakers mentioned the crowd size several times. One early speaker proclaimed there were 30,000 people. The emcee must not have been paying attention, because soon after he congratulated the crowd on exceeding 10,000. Toward the end of the event, they decided on 20,000 as the number and repeated that several times. They also told us several times that this was now the largest political rally in Xizhi’s history. At the end of the event, just after Han finished speaking, someone repeated the 20,000 number, and then, within 30 seconds, someone else proclaimed that the crowd had reached 30,000. The speakers also talked quite a bit about the crowd sizes at the Kaohsiung marches, assuring the audience that the 350,000 people claimed by the Han side was an accurate number while the 500,000 claimed by the other side was a complete falsehood.

Now that the Han camp has proclaimed polls are meaningless, crowd sizes are particularly important to them. This is now the main way they publicly measure their popularity. As long as the crowds are large, they can reassure their supporters that Han is still competitive. If the crowds become too small, they risk seeing morale drop and turnout suffer.

However, there is a deeper meaning to the Han obsession with crowd size. These crowds are the concrete representation of what Han calls “ordinary people” (庶民, shumin). Han’s entire appeal is framed around these ordinary people, so it is vital that they continue to manifest their support for him. Without that support, he is delegitimized. For exactly the same reason that Donald Trump repeatedly insists his crowds are overflowing, Han needs us to believe that his crowds are massive. Fortunately for Han, his crowds are still very large, even if they aren’t quite as massive as he claims.


After the rally, I asked Mrs. Garlic what the KMT’s main points were. She succinctly and brilliantly summed up their entire discourse in a few bullet points:

  • Everything used to be good, but now it is bad. People now lead bitter lives.
  • The government is working for the DPP, not the people.
    • The DPP spends its energy doling out the spoils of office
    • The DPP corruptly abuses its power to further its own interests
  • Governing is simple. Just do the right things to help the people.


Everything the speakers at the rally fit neatly into that framework. They talked about how terrible the economy is, and how the DPP government makes up fake numbers to make it look better. They talked about how the ROC used to be widely respected around southeast Asia (everyone loved Teresa Teng’s music!) but now is looked down upon (new Thai tourist visa requirements). They continually hammered the idea that the DPP relies on distributing the spoils of office (酬庸政治), such as “bribing” Lin Fei-fan to join the party by making him deputy secretary general. They talked at length about the Yang Hui-ju case, which they see as an example of using government money to hire internet bullies to suppress their opponents. To them, this is clear-cut corruption. And finally, Han personally delivers the final point, explicitly saying that government is not complicated, you just do things for the people. Sometimes he likens government officials to Chinese gods, since all of them, from the Jade Emperor to the humblest local earth god, benevolently look after the humans in their realm.


In my next post, I hope to unpack Han’s discourse and entire appeal at length. Spoiler: It’s populism. Populism is the prism that brings the entire last year and a half into focus. It took me a year and a half to understand this, including three weeks staring blankly after being told exactly where to look and what to look for. It has been populism all along. So let me stop here and start working on that post, which I hope will be much more enlightening than this one.


Campaign Trail: Freddy Lim rally on Ketagalan Blvd.

December 24, 2019

On Saturday evening, I went to Freddy Lim’s rally on Ketagalan Boulevard, right in front of the presidential building. This was one of the most unique political rallies I have ever attended. I had just come from a very ordinary DPP rally, and the transition from that utterly conventional event to this very unconventional one was jarring, to say the least.

As I’m sure you all know, Freddy Lim, who became famous as a rock star and a human rights activist, was elected to the legislature four years ago in the Taipei City fifth district. In that race, he defeated longtime KMT legislator Lin Yu-fang. Think of an old-time, conservative, stern, orthodox, intellectual KMT politician, and the picture you have in your mind is pretty much Lin Yu-fang. He has a PhD in political science from University of Virginia and taught at Tamkang University and some military schools. In 1995, he ran for and won a seat to the legislature representing the New Party. The New Party self-destructed with a nasty civil war, and he lost his re-election bid in 1998. After the 2000 presidential election, Lin joined James Soong’s brand new People First Party, and he won legislative races in 2001 and 2004 under the PFP banner. After the electoral reform passed in 2005, Lin saw the writing on the wall and, along with most PFP legislators, defected to the KMT. He won two more terms for the KMT, pretty easily defeating the DPP nominees in Taipei 5.

Taipei 5 covers Wanhua and most of Zhongzheng Districts. These two are very different places. Wanhua is the oldest part of Taipei City. When the KMT came to Taiwan after the war, it brought large numbers of people from China. These mainlanders were settled disproportionately in whatever “empty” space they could find in the cities. In Taipei, that meant there were lots of communities of mainlanders everywhere except for the already densely populated areas along the Danshui River, modern Wanhua and Datong Districts. Later, these older areas of the city became the crucible of the Tangwai movement and, when Henry Kao Yu-shu ran for mayor against the KMT in the 1960s, they were his strongest areas. During the 1980s and 1990s, Wanhua and Datong were the only places that the DPP could expect to win half the seats in city council races; the KMT dominated everywhere else. However, Wanhua drifted noticeably blue during the Chen and Ma years. As real estate boomed, new people moved in, and Wanhua become more like the rest of Taipei. The DPP could still hope to break even in Wanhua, but it was no longer able to run up big surpluses. Since the DPP faced huge vote deficits in Zhongzheng, Taipei 5 became a reliably blue district. Zhongzheng is a very different place from Wanhua. The northern half has been the center of government for Taiwan since the Qing era. Lots of elite bureaucrats – ie: staunch KMT supporters – settled in this area after the war. Most of the southern part of Zhongzheng is also in Taipei 5, and this area also had plenty of mainlander communities, though they were not quite as elite. Over the past 70 years, as real estate prices went up, most parts of Zhongzheng became quite expensive, so the people who moved in tended to be on the wealthy and highly educated side.

In 2016, the fledgling New Power Party announced that Freddy Lim would represent it in Taipei 5. The DPP designated Taipei 5 as a “difficult district,” and eventually decided to support Lim rather than nominating its own candidate. The race pitted the very square Lin against the long-hair death metal rocker Lim. The incumbent seemed bewildered by the challenger, never seeming able to believe that the voters would actually take such a person seriously. Lim’s supporters on social media delighted in making fun of the KMT’s inability to comprehend the changing world around them. Lin must have felt humiliated on election night, when the rock star beat him by about 6,000 votes.

Many NPP supporters took this result and the two other NPP wins as evidence of NPP popularity. After all, they had won in “difficult districts” where the DPP had previously been unable to even come close. In fact, “difficult district” label was misguided. The label was based on whether the DPP legislative candidate had been able to get 42.5% in the 2012 election, so many districts were labeled as “difficult” because the previous DPP candidate had been weak rather than because the underlying partisan balance was unfavorable to the DPP. (For example, Taichung 3, which was eventually won by the NPP’s Hung Tzu-yung, was actually one of the DPP’s strongest areas in Taichung, if one looked at the presidential results.) 42.5% was also far too low a threshold. Since Tsai won 45.6% in the 2012 presidential election, a district less than 5% below the DPP’s national average could be labeled as “difficult.” If they were going to win the legislature, they would need to contest most of these districts and win some of them. In fact, Tsai won 56.1% in the 2016 election, and she ended up winning a majority in several of the “difficult” districts. That is, there were enough green votes in these districts; all the legislative candidate had to do was soak up all the DPP presidential voters. They did not have to reach over to the other side of the political divide. Taipei 5 was one of these. Tsai won 53.4%, or about 8,000 more votes than Chu and Soong combined. Far from being an electoral standout, Freddy actually underperformed a tiny bit.

I have recounted this electoral history in detail because the 2020 race is a rematch of the 2016 race. Lin Yu-fang is trying to retake his old seat. The only difference is that Freddy Lim has dropped out of the NPP and is running as an independent this time. This difference is superficial. Like last time, Freddy is effectively the DPP candidate, and his task is to soak up Tsai presidential voters. Freddy is the incumbent this time, but incumbency (probably) matters less in Taipei than in the rest of Taiwan. Taipei voters don’t expect the same level of intensive constituency service, and the more fluid nature of Taipei’s population (with people constantly moving in and out and fewer people knowing their neighbors) makes it harder for incumbents to build up networks based on favors. The biggest effect of incumbency might be that voters will not automatically dismiss Freddy as unqualified this time. He has proven to be a quite serious and respectable legislator. Still, just as with the 2016 race, this race will turn on the presidential outcome. If Tsai doesn’t break 50% in this district, Freddy will probably not win re-election. At this point, I’d probably bet on Freddy, but neither side should be very confident.


So much for the district and the race; let’s get to the event. The crowd was huge, though of course not nearly as cartoonishly large as the organizers claimed (and the media obediently parroted). A quick google search shows that the most common number thrown about was 50,000. Let me assure you, there were nowhere near 50,000 people there. I had just come from an event in which I could count heads, and I had a pretty good picture fresh in my mind of what 10,000 people look like. The venue for Freddy’s event was not all that large. By the standard of political events, Ketagalan Boulevard is fairly narrow. Unlike past events, the sidewalks were blocked off so people could only be in the street. Both sides were lined with tents and temporary toilets, making it even narrower. There was also a huge structure dividing the smaller front area from the larger back area. (People in the front half had to go through a security screen because President Tsai was coming.) Most people were standing rather than sitting on stools, and standing crowds are denser than sitting crowds. This crowd was pretty dense. I wormed my way halfway through the back part before I gave up and watched the event from there. I estimate there were about 12,000 people, though I’d believe any number between 10,000 and 15,000. It seems silly to have to say this, but since I know some readers will dispute my number I will. 12,000 people is a fantastic crowd. They completely filled the space that they set out to fill, and it was jammed to the gills. There were a LOT of people there.

I had just come from a traditional event, and I was one of the youngest people in that crowd. At Freddy’s event, I was one of the oldest. I spent a lot of the rally thinking about this age gap. The Sunflower generation confuses me and people my age. It’s not that they are apolitical; they are more politicized than any generation of youth since at least the Wild Lily era – and probably even more than that generation. However, they do not engage politics in the same ways as older citizens. They don’t do traditional rallies (They don’t seem to enjoy the Frozen Garlic cheer, but they do seem to think that sitting quietly on the ground is very powerful.), they aren’t closely attached to political parties, they don’t get their information from traditional media or political talk shows, and they care about different things (same-sex marriage!). They share a nearly universal identity of being Taiwanese and not Chinese, so, unlike older voters, very few of them consider the KMT a palatable option. However, also unlike older voters, they don’t think that requires them to vote for the DPP. The KMT has been totally unable to connect with them; the DPP has only done a bit better. Packed tightly in a thick crowd of people younger than me, I wondered what motivated these people to come out to this particular event? What was Freddy doing to unlock this grand puzzle of Taiwan politics? Progressive political ideals are certainly part of the answer, but I also wonder if this generation consciously wants to practice politics in different ways than their parents and grandparents. The current society isn’t providing the same economic opportunities that their parents enjoyed, so maybe they feel the need to do things differently. At any rate, this event was theirs in the same way the rally I had just come from was for their parents and grandparents.

I guess I have skipped one obvious attraction. The rally was actually a hybrid political rally / rock concert. I arrived after Fire EX finished performing. After them, four legislative candidates – Freddy’s squad, if you will – spoke. After them, Freddy’s band, Chthonic, performed for about an hour. After quickly changing costumes from death metal singer to serious politician, Freddy gave a speech. Finally, President Tsai spoke. I don’t think the young audience showed up just because there was a rock concert. While Chthonic played, I was curious to see how the crowd responded to the music. Maybe the hard-core fans all went up front, but back where I was, only about 5% of the audience seemed to be visibly getting into it. Some other people seemed satisfied to be there, though most were, like myself, politely waiting for it to be over. Some of the songs had political themes, and the crowd enthusiastically responded to that part. I think the overwhelming majority of the crowd was there for the politics, not the music.


Let me interrupt this post for a tangent on Chthonic’s music. This was the first time I had heard them, and they were fascinating. I wouldn’t call them good, musical, enjoyable, or even listenable, but they were definitely interesting. Chthonic plays death metal. I don’t mean heavy metal; compared to Chthonic, Metallica and Iron Maiden are for sissies. The drums, bass, and guitar are all laying down intense and heavy tracks, but none of them fit together in any conventional sense. It’s very discordant. You know how the lead singer for ACDC basically screams all his lyrics? Compared to Freddy, he sounds like an opera singer. How does Freddy “sing?” Imagine a lion roaring, but then scale that down to a smaller cat. Freddy sings like a lynx scowls. I honestly don’t know how he can do that for hours at a time; after a few minutes of listening, I wanted a throat lozenge.

Who cares whether I like them? Even I don’t care. After all, I’m not a music critic. What I found interesting was more the existence of this music rather than the music itself. To explain that, let me back up thirty years.

I first came to Taiwan in the summer of 1989, and one of the things I learned from listening to the radio, sitting in taxis, and from going with friends to KTVs was that Taiwanese listened to either sappy saxophone, accordion, and keyboard instrumental music or saccharine pop music. They loved Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Richard Marx, Air Supply, and a whole host of Taiwanese and Hong Kong pop stars who sang what Americans call Adult Contemporary. As an American teenager, something about this seemed wrong. There was something missing. It took me a while, but it finally dawned on me: there was no angry music! How could a society not have any angry music? Didn’t young people need to express their anger? Then again, all the young people seemed busy studying for university entrance exams and generally being very 乖 (guai: well behaved). There were blue collar workers and there were young thugs in the crime gangs, but even they seemed more interested in saving money than letting out some primal scream of rage against the world.

Granted, I am not the person to talk to for a comprehensive or even a cursory history of Taiwanese pop music. As a foreigner, you can’t learn everything about Taiwan, and years ago I decided that I wasn’t even going to try to keep up with pop culture. However, there were two points when I felt I could see Taiwan changing. The first was in 1994, when some friends dragged me away for a weekend in Kenting. I didn’t really know what I was getting into, so it was really an accident that I was present at the first Spring Scream festival. In later years, Spring Scream evolved into a polished event with famous stars and large crowds. In 1994, no one showered for three days, and the musicians were a bunch of nobodies, many of whom weren’t very good. They also weren’t playing the type of music we heard on the radio or in the KTVs. It was the first time I had ever heard Taiwanese people playing and enjoying real rock. Who knew that Taiwanese could tolerate something edgier than Wham! Years later, I read that first Spring Scream was a seminal moment in Taiwan’s music scene, as it was the first time many Taiwanese had met other Taiwanese with long hair and who liked loud music. The second thing happened a few years later, when I first heard Wu Bai and China Blue. Their music was the first time I had ever heard a mainstream musical act expressing, maybe not outright anger, but at least antisocial or counterculture themes. Instead of an air-brushed starlet singing about unrequited love (complete with a KTV video of a gorgeous person walking along a beach or staring forlornly into a brandy snifter), Wu Bai had a bad haircut, grimy jeans, and sang gritty songs about blue collar themes. [Unfortunately, Wu Bai later sold his soul and made a ton of money singing sappy love songs. Sigh.]

Even considering those changes, nothing prepared me for the existence of Chthonic. Chthonic is above and beyond anything I would have ever expected from Taiwan. Hell, it would startle me in America, too. This band simply could not exist if Taiwanese youth had not become far angrier and far more creative. They wear full makeup, and one of them wears a Silence of the Lambs-style mask. You can copy some of that from hair bands. However, the guy in the pig mask is something new. Freddy’s singing voice is something new. The extreme discordance of the music is new. The combination of it all with Taiwanese lyrics and themes is uniquely their own. Most surprising of all was the 5% of the audience that was absolutely jamming to their music; twenty or thirty years ago, there were no young people in Taiwan who could have understood, accepted, or embraced this type of music.

Oh, one more thing. One of their songs commemorated the great, recently deceased Taiwan historian, Su Beng. Everyone should hear a completely sincere death metal tribute to a Marxist historian and failed terrorist at least once in their lives.


Back to the political part of the rally.

I got there while Hung Tzu-yung was speaking. I can’t really remember anything specific that she said. My only impression was that she didn’t seem to make any emotional connection with the crowd, and that surprised me a little. I had expected that, after nearly four years as Freddy’s closest political ally, this young audience would know and like her. Instead, they seemed pretty indifferent to her. I’m not sure what to make of this. It probably doesn’t matter much for her re-election prospects; she will succeed or fail based on the normal considerations (the partisan balance in her district, constituency service, performance in the legislature, etc.) rather than on her street-cred with young, ultra-progressive voters. She’s probably in better shape than the three other legislative candidates on the stage that night. Still, she was the least popular of Freddy’s squad on Saturday.

The second person in Freddy’s squad was Lai Pin-yu, the Sunflower activist who is running in New Taipei 12. I went to a KMT rally in New Taipei 12 on Sunday night, so I’ll do a full write-up of that race in my next post. For now, let’s just talk about Lai Pin-yu’s outfit. She went full cosplay, decked out in a red leather Japanese cartoon cute girl and/or superhero costume. (Is Kawaii Manga Girl an appropriate look for a death metal concert??) Everyone laughed with surprise when she first appeared, but I could tell right away that people were questioning her judgment. In her speech, she railed against her opponent. Her opponent is telling voters that Lai is too young and unqualified, while Lai retorted that her opponent has lots of experience making bad choices and doing harmful things. However, Lai was basically presenting herself as a cute, immature girl, thus playing right into her opponent’s attacks. When she finished speaking, the emcee said something to the effect of, “Lai is very brave! You have to have a good figure to dare to wear something like that in public.” It struck me as the emcee trying to say something nice while thinking, “What the hell are you doing?” [Note: You should know that Lee Yan-jung, the emcee, is a young woman, so that comment didn’t sound creepy the way it would have if you are imagining the emcee as an old man.] Later, when President Tsai showed up, Lai came on stage still wearing her full costume. Tsai gave her one of those weary looks out of the side of her eyes that professors give students when they are making terrible personal choices that we can’t say anything about. Lai’s choice was cute, fun, energetic, and totally inappropriate for a person in her position. If her opponent fully exploits it, this outfit might end up costing Lai the New Taipei 12 seat.

Next up was Chen Po-wei, who is representing the Statebuilding Party in Taichung 2. This is a tough race. Taichung 2 is a bit less green than the other districts in the old Taichung County, but the partisan balance is not the primary obstacle. The problem is that the Yen family owns this seat. The current incumbent is the son, but the key figure is the father, Yen Ching-piao. Before the elder Yen entered politics in the 1990s, he had (allegedly) already established himself as the most important organized crime boss in central Taiwan. Taichung 2 is his personal turf, and other politicians are wary of challenging him. President Tsai made a joke about taking out a life insurance policy for Chen Po-wei, except it wasn’t really a joke. You need to be young, fearless, idealistic, and a little stupid to challenge the Yen family.

Chen Po-wei might just be that person. I’m more and more impressed with him every time I hear him speak. On Saturday night, got a rousing ovation from the crowd when he was introduced, far beyond anything that Hung or Lai received. Once he started, it got even better. Charisma is impossible to define, but Chen Po-wei has it. He had an instinctive feel for the audience. He was sarcastic, he sang a little, he hit a few talking points, and the crowd ate it all up. This guy oozes political talent, and I’ll be watching his career over the next few years.

Enoch Wu Yi-nung was the fourth and final member of Freddy’s squad. Wu is running against Wayne Chiang in Taipei 3, in what is unquestionably the most glamorous and most consequential legislative race this year.

If you went into the laboratory and tried to create the perfect candidate, you might create something like Wu. He’s smart (Yale degree), successful in business (lucrative job at Goldman Sachs), patriotic (quit Goldman to return to Taiwan), idealistic (took a low paying job), handsome (see picture), and has become an expert in a critical policy area (national security). And yet, Wu is somehow less than the sum of those parts. Onstage, he is painfully raw. He could barely get through two sentences without awkwardly stopping and repeating himself. He tried to do call and response with the audience, but his delivery was so confusing that the audience didn’t know what response they were supposed to give. I don’t like the way he has let the media frame his race either. Instead of framing it as a contest between someone who inherited everything and sacrificed nothing and someone who sacrificed everything to dedicate his life to Taiwan, Wu has watched passively as the media presents this race as a superficial contest between two handsome guys. During Wu’s halting and uncomfortable speech, I started to wonder if, even with his superstar resume, his future is really in electoral politics. Maybe this just isn’t what he is cut out for. If he does stay in electoral politics, he is going to need to get a lot smoother with a microphone in his hand.

I should note that back in Taipei 3, Wu might be making progress. Most pundits think that Chiang is a clear favorite to win re-election, but a new poll shows the race tied. That isn’t good news for Chiang. Chiang is the established brand who has spent the past four years doing constituency work and amassing favors. He is unlikely to win any new support at this late date. On the other hand, Wu is the new guy still introducing himself to voters. There are still lots of voters who don’t know about Wu’s fantastic resume, so Wu might still have room to expand his support. It’s just one poll, but if I were in Chiang’s camp, I’d be sweating nervously for the next couple weeks.

After Wu finished speaking, Chthonic performed for about an hour. During their last song, they were joined onstage by Yu Tien, who is chair of the DPP New Taipei branch, candidate in New Taipei 3, and also a pop star. Yu Tien’s music is about as far from Chthonic’s as you can get. He is an old-fashioned crooner, Taiwan’s version of Tony Bennett or Dean Martin. He’s always a big hit with the grandparents at traditional political rallies. Yu did not perform on this night. His job was to waste time while Freddy changed from his rock star costume to his serious politician costume. Yu didn’t really give a full speech either. Instead, he went into variety show host mode, making a series of bad jokes. Thankfully, it didn’t last too long before Freddy was ready to return.

Freddy’s speech was excellent, and the crowd was extremely involved. [This crowd halfheartedly recited the ritualistic Frozen Garlic cheers, but when Freddy and some of the other speakers engaged them in more spontaneous ways, they were as loud and energetic as any Han rally of the past two years.] Freddy was simultaneously charismatic and substantive. One thing that surprised me was the balance between progressive and sovereignty issues. He did the progressive agenda first, but he went through it fairly quickly, ticking off items that he had worked on in the legislature. It was a good list, and it painted him as a serious and effective legislator. However, he seemed to be trying to get through this list as quickly as possible, because he really wanted to talk about sovereignty. When he finally got to Hong Kong, he slowed down and started really hammering home points with the audience. Perhaps his emphasis on sovereignty reflected a need to justify his decision to leave the NPP. At any rate, my mental evaluation of Freddy ticked up another notch after Saturday night. His future political career is entirely fuzzy right now. It could be over three weeks from now, or he might still have a long and influential career ahead of him. However, I don’t think he has maxed out his potential in his current role as an ordinary backbencher in the legislature.

President Tsai showed up at the end of the event. Her speech was frivolous, reminding the crowd to vote and quizzing them on candidate numbers. I have seen her speak dozens of times, and this might be the first time that she was the least substantive person to hold a microphone. I mean that literally. Every single person who said anything, including Chthonic’s bassist, Doris, who only uttered about three sentences, said something more substantive than Tsai did. On a night that set my disoriented mind wandering in a thousand different directions, it somehow seemed appropriate that Tsai – the most serious, scholarly, wonky, thoughtful, visionary politician of this generation – would also do something totally unprecedented and speak entirely in fluff.


Lai Pin-yu torpedoes her own campaign.

Chen Po-wei dazzles the crowd.
These pictures aren’t very good. Since I couldn’t get to the front section, I had to take pictures of the video screen in the middle of the street rather than of the people on the stage.

My best picture of Enoch Wu Yi-nung is a bit out of focus, which seems fitting.

Freddy soars.

In between songs, Freddy suddenly shapeshifted and made cogent remarks about politics, melting my poor brain.

In purely technical terms, I think the drummer might be the best musician in the band.

This fellow haunts my dreams.

Taiwanese nationalism and progressive values proudly displayed at a rock concert / political rally. Freddy Lim, in a nutshell.

The whole crowd, taken by a drone and projected on the videoboard. The crowd did not extend out into the traffic circle, so it ends right at the bottom of this photo.

I like the symbolism of this picture, with the presidential building in the background. I think CKS, CCK, and all of the Japanese governor-generals would have puked at the thought of such an event in such a location. Today’s Taiwan, however, celebrates pluralism and diversity.

One more picture of Freddy in full glory.

Yu Tien gets into the spirit. He joked that he wasn’t wearing any makeup — he just has dark bags under his eyes from campaigning so hard.

The Tibetan flag. One of Freddy’s biggest cheers came when he talked about abolishing the Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Council, which surprised me since I don’t usually think of that as one of anyone’s top priorities. This generation has different ideas about how to engage with peripheral PRC areas. Older Taiwan nationalists are afraid to get too involved, since asserting the right to have an opinion about Tibet or Hong Kong could be seen as an admission that Taiwan is like them and part of China’s domestic politics. These kids, in contrast, don’t hesitate to express solidarity with democratic forces in those areas.

Wait, weren’t you just?? Actually, Freddy admits, it’s hard to clean up so quickly, and he is still wearing the same pants and shoes.

President Tsai looks bewildered by Lai Pin-yu. Like Freddy, Lai has also changed into a more appropriate costume for the president’s endorsement. She was originally cosplay manga kawaii girl, and now she is cosplay manga kawaii candidate girl. Yeah, that’s much better.

In a nearby alley, a banner for Freddy’s opponent, Lin Yu-fang. It reads, “protect the children: keep a distance from cigarettes, drugs, and bullying.” Two nearby banners with similar layouts read, “foreign affairs and national defense: let an expert do it” 外交國防: 讓專業的來 and “for the ROC: win this fight” 為中華民國: 打贏這一仗

Campaign Trail: DPP rally in Taoyuan 4

December 22, 2019

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.

Campaign Trail: DPP event in Zhonghe

December 17, 2019

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.


The party list debate

December 16, 2019

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

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



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

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

Grade: B-



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

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

Grade: D+


New Party

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

Grade: C+


Taiwan Statebuilding Party 台灣基進黨

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

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

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

Grade: B+



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

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

Grade: B-


Green Party

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

Grade: A-



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

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

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

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

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

Grade: C



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

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

Grade: D+


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