Archive for the ‘by-elections’ Category

Taipei 5 and Taichung 2 results

January 9, 2022

Today’s vote is now complete. In Taipei 5, Freddy Lim 林昶佐 has survived the recall attempt. In the Taichung 2 by-election, the DPP’s Minorta Lin 林靜怡 has defeated the KMT’s Yen Kuan-heng 顏寬恆.

The vote in Taipei 5 was tighter than I expected. From the earliest results, it was pretty clear that the yes votes would outstrip the no votes. Yes ended up with 55.8% of the valid votes. The only question was whether they would pass the threshold of 25% of eligible voters. The KMT needed at least 58,756 yes votes, and they ended up getting 54,813, or 23.3% of eligible voters. 4,000 votes isn’t a comfortable cushion, and for the 45 minutes I thought they might have enough votes.

Interestingly, the main reason the KMT lost is that it didn’t turn out enough votes in Zhongzheng, which was supposed to be their stronger part of the electoral district. Given 55.8% yes votes, 45% turnout would have been enough to pass the threshold. It almost reached that target in Wanhua (43.2%), but it was quite a distance away in Zhongzheng (39.6%). When the election is that close to the threshold, you can point to a million factors and say that each one was decisive. For example, Taiwan has had a few domestic transmissions of Covid in the past few days, so maybe a handful of people didn’t want to risk voting. Or maybe the Sunday election (rather than the normal Saturday) depressed turnout.[1] More probably, the KMT couldn’t quite muster enough anger against Freddy. It was close, though.

The fact that it was so close is another example of how ridiculous the current recall law is. Freddy was elected with 81,853 votes two years ago. There is no evidence that a significant number of those people have changed their minds. In fact, 54,813 is far smaller than the 100,392 who voted for other candidates in that election. That isn’t what I would consider the picture of universal outrage. It is ludicrously easy to overturn an election.

At any rate, Freddy has survived and will be able to finish his term in the legislature.


Turnout might also have been decisive in Taichung 2, but turnout there was sky high. By-elections usually see turnout in the 30s. 40% is high, though not unheard of. Turnout in Taichung 2 was a whopping 58.3%. That is unheard of. The 2008 legislative election had 58% turnout, and that was a national general election. 58% in a by-election is insane.

A low turnout in this by-election probably would have decisively favored the KMT. Tsai beat Han by 20% in this district in the presidential race, but that election had very high turnout. More specifically, it had extremely high turnout among young voters, who overwhelmingly voted against the KMT. However, young voters are famously inconsistent, and I did not expect many of those voters to show up in this by-election. In a low-turnout election, you expect the voters to be hard-core party supporters on both sides, people in the candidates’ mobilization networks, and only a few other people. The DPP probably has more partisans in this district, but Yen’s powerful local network should have given him a significant advantage. However, that third group was far bigger than could have been expected, and they might have swung the race.

Or maybe turnout wasn’t decisive. As I discussed in the previous post, perhaps the intense national media focus on Yen’s corruption had an impact on the effectiveness of his organizational network.

In 2020, Yen lost by a mere 2.3%. In this election, that margin doubled to 4.6%. That’s not a crushing victory for the DPP, but they were running an unfamiliar candidate with no previous electoral experience. (It seems she turned out to be pretty good at this game, though.) This wasn’t an indication of a KMT collapse, by any means. The KMT is still just about as strong as they were before. As with the recall vote a few months ago, it seems the electoral balance right now is just about the same as it was in January 2020. However, losing is more damaging to patronage-oriented politicians than to those who build their careers on ideas. The latter can shrug off losses and start preparing for the next fight. If you rely on money to motivate your machine, it helps to be in office to secure a steady source on income. Moreover, this campaign pointed out several places for the judicial system to attack the Yen family. The election is over, but the inquiries might continue. Now Yen will have to resist those inquiries as a private citizen, not as a national legislator.[2] Old-school factional politics have been on the decline for a couple decades, and the Yen family’s defeat is one more symbolic step in that process.


Today’s votes mark the end of the recalls and by-elections, at least for a while. The recall of Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu sparked a series of KMT-initiated “revenge” recalls.

  • Kaohsiung city councilor Huang Chieh: recall failed
  • Taoyuan city councilor Wang Hao-yu: recall succeeded
  • Taichung 2 legislator Chen Po-wei: recall succeeded but DPP won by-election
  • Taipei 5 legislator Freddy Lim: recall failed

At the end of this process, the KMT has one clear victory. They (barely) got Wang Hao-yu. Not coincidentally, his electoral district is the bluest of the four. This isn’t a huge reward for all that effort. The KMT has been pursuing a strategy of fighting like hell at the behest of the deep blue wing of their party. Chao Shao-kang has been calling on them to be “the fighting blue” 戰鬥藍, and the Johnny Chiang, Eric Chu, and the rest of the nominal party leaders have obediently followed him. This combative posturing didn’t win the referendums, and it hasn’t produced a great track record in the recalls. The KMT base likes it, but the base is small. The broad masses that the KMT needs to attract don’t seem energized by the KMT’s campaign of resistance.

Perhaps the main reason the “fighting blue” strategy isn’t working is that the general population isn’t as dissatisfied with the DPP’s performance in office as the deep blue believes. President Tsai had a 54.6% satisfaction rating in the December My-Formosa poll, and being 12.6 points above water is pretty darn good. It has been a long time since a sitting president has been this popular in the middle of a term. I was trying to remember the last time a president who wasn’t unpopular going into a round of local elections. It has been a long time.

  • 2018 Tsai: quite unpopular
  • 2014 Ma: extremely unpopular; massive protests
  • 2009-2010 Ma: mildly unpopular
  • 2005-2006 Chen: very unpopular; massive protests
  • 2001-2002 Chen: maybe mildly popular??
  • 1997-1998 Lee popularity was tarnishing; large protests
  • 1993-1994 Lee: popular!

Tsai is probably the most popular president going into local elections in nearly 30 years. We really don’t know what this will mean, since the last time this happened Taiwan was still in the early years of the democratic system. DPP chair Hsu Hsin-liang 許信良 went into the 1993 elections asking voters to give the DPP a mandate by surrounding the central government 以地方包圍中央; since Taiwan had never had a national election and polling was still developing, we didn’t know if that was a reasonable demand. Hsu was sorely disappointed; the KMT did really well in 1993 and 1994. But that was such a different world; it’s probably not a great precedent to understand what just happened or what will unfold over the next year.

Tsai’s popularity has almost certainly been the crucial factor in the recent referendums, recalls, and by-elections. The fightin’ KMT is behaving as an angry electorate wants to send her a message. That is usually a good assumption. In normal years, there probably would have been enough anger to pass the referendums, recall Freddy Lim and Chen Po-wei, and replace them with KMT members. This hasn’t been a normal year, though. Tsai’s resurgence in 2019 was one of the most astounding political reversals I have ever seen. Her ability to maintain that popularity over the past two years has been only slightly less impressive.

The KMT has a lot of advantages going into the local elections. They have lots of popular candidates, and the open seats are pretty favorable. If they can make this a calm election about individual candidates and local issues, they should do pretty well. The worst thing they could do is keep using the fightin’ blue strategy, screaming about how terrible the DPP is and the need to send President Tsai a message. Unless her popularity suddenly tanks, they might find once again that, if it is a choice between Tsai and the KMT, voters still prefer Tsai.

[1] If you want to make those arguments, you have to explain the high turnout in Taichung 2.

[2] His sister is still the deputy speaker of the Taichung city council, so the family isn’t entirely defenseless.

Taipei 5 recall and Taichung 2 by-election

January 7, 2022

On Sunday, Taiwanese voters in two legislative districts will go to the polls. In Taipei 5, they will vote on whether or not to recall Freddy Lim 林昶佐. In Taichung 2, they recalled their legislator Chen Po-wei 陳柏惟 a few months ago, so on Sunday they will vote to choose the replacement.

I don’t have any special insights or information about either of these votes, but I think it’s worth thinking about the two districts. In 2020, both of these districts elected a legislator who was associated with the green camp but who was not a DPP member. It takes a special kind of district for that to happen. In solid blue districts, the green politician can’t win. In solid green districts, the DPP has an entrenched incumbent or a gaggle of ambitious members eager to take over an empty seat. In swing districts, the DPP usually isn’t willing to step aside for another party. However, under Tsai, the DPP has been willing to leave a few less promising seats open for allied smaller parties. Tsai seems to have a strong belief that the DPP should not seek to ruthlessly squash all smaller competitors, as was the common KMT and DPP practice. Instead, she seems willing to let them develop their organizations with the assumption that they will end up in a larger DPP-led coalition. Small party supporters overwhelmingly voted vote Tsai and, to a lesser extent, DPP district legislative candidates in 2020, so maybe this is smart strategy.

Moreover, sometimes the smaller party wins one of those “less promising” seats. This is not usually because the smaller parties have fantastic candidates who can build bigger coalitions than a DPP candidate could have. Rather, the district usually wasn’t all that hopeless to begin with. In 2016, the DPP designated any district in which their 2012 legislative candidate had gotten less than 42.5% as “difficult,” and it yielded some of these to smaller parties. However, there are lots of reasons a DPP candidate might do badly: it could be a very blue district, it might have a very popular KMT incumbent, a small party might split the vote, or it might just be a lousy DPP candidate. It’s also important to remember that districts change. Developments go up, and people move in and out.

At first glance, Taipei 5 doesn’t look like a classic “difficult” DPP district. The DPP’s strongest areas in Taipei are along the Tamsui River, where the city first grew up back in the Qing and Japanese areas. When the KMT showed up and needed to find spaces for all of its followers, the areas to the east were much emptier. And over the next few decades, the development was all to the east, and the old neighborhoods slid into decay. Wanhua 萬華 is the oldest part of Taipei, and it has been one of the DPP’s best areas in Taipei since before there even was a DPP. However, Wanhua has changed in the last two decades. Developers realized that it had some of the lowest land prices remaining in the core urban area, and Wanhua has seen a fair amount of new, expensive housing go up. The people moving into Wanhua have been a bit bluer than the old residents. More importantly, Wanhua is only half of Taipei 5. The other half is Zhongzheng 中正. The Qing bureaucrats didn’t want to get involved with the rivalry between (modern) Wanhua to the south and (modern) Datong to the north, so they established the government center in (modern) Zhongzheng in between those two towns. The Presidential Building, the Legislative Yuan, the Executive Yuan, and most of the central government ministries are in Zhongzheng. When the KMT arrived, many of their most important followers established residency in Zhongzheng. Juancun 眷村 is usually translated as military village, but in Zhongzheng the juancun were mostly filled with high- and middle-ranking civil servants and their dependents. Today, most of the juancun are gone, but Zhongzheng is still disproportionately filled with civil servants. While this is changing, civil servants are still more likely to vote blue than green.

The upshot is that Taipei 5 hasn’t been as blue as most of the rest of Taipei, but during the Chen and Ma eras it was more blue than green. It was the type of place that the DPP might win every now and then if everything went right. In 2012, the DPP nominated a city councilor which a few problems who could only manage 42.4% of the vote. And that was how it came to be designated a “difficult” district and left open for the NPP and Freddy Lim. However, when the partisan lines shifted after Ma’s turbulent 2nd term, Taipei 5 shifted from slightly blue to slightly green. Lim won in 2016 and 2020 by soaking up Tsai Ing-wen voters. I suspect most of the DPP city councilors would have also narrowly won this district.

If you take all 73 legislative districts and arrange them in order of Tsai Ing-wen’s vote share in the 2020 presidential elections from worst to best, Taipei 5 is #26. That is to say, if the KMT is going to win a legislative majority, it needs to win Taipei 5. If the DPP can win Taipei 5, it’s probably going to have a solid legislative majority. That has been the case in the last two elections. In 2020, Tsai beat Han in Taipei 5 by 13.9% (54.8% to 40.9%). However, Tsai ran ahead of most of the DPP candidates, and most of the KMT candidates ran ahead of Han. On average, Tsai was 7.9% better than green legislative candidates while Han was 3.2% worse. If the candidates in Taipei 5 were average, Freddy should have won by a narrow 2.8%. In fact, he won by 3.0%, almost exactly that margin.

If you were a KMT strategist looking to target someone for a recall, Freddy was an obvious candidate. Most importantly, of course, he is not a DPP member. The KMT has concentrated its fire on small party politicians who don’t have a solid local network to support them rather than directly challenging the DPP. (It feels a bit like the Cold War, when the USA and USSR fought their battles in places like Angola and Nicaragua rather than directly facing off against each other.) He’s also Freddy Lim, and blue politicians and voters still can’t fathom how they have lost to THIS GUY – twice!! That aside, it helps that this is a marginal district for the green side. There are enough blue voters in Taipei 5 to give the recall reasonable hope of success.

Taichung 2 is a very different district. It’s part of the old Taichung County, stretching along the southwest part of the old Taichung City from the coast nearly to the foothills of the Central Mountain Range between the Dadu Mountain (between the city and county) and the Dadu River (between Taichung and Changhua). The five townships[1] are the kinds of places where people think of themselves as living in small towns even though the rest of the world would think of them as outright urban. When I lived in Nantou, I went through Wufeng 霧峰 every time I went to Taichung. It was the most rural part of my trip, but even Wufeng had a significant downtown area. Historically, it is the home of the Wufeng Lin clan, one of the four or five great clans of the Japanese era.[2] The three towns in the middle of Taichung 2, Lungching 龍井, Dadu 大肚, and Wuri 烏日, form a county assembly district and are often thought of as a single group.[3] Some of my earliest experiences in Taiwan were in Lungching, which includes the neighborhood right outside Tunghai Unversity. This area also includes Chenggongling 成功嶺, a military installation that was traditionally the first place for draftees in central Taiwan. Nowadays, the area is changing quickly due to the presence of the Taichung high speed rail station. Between 2008 and 2020, the number of eligible voters in Taichung 2 increased from just under 250,00 to just under 300,000.[4]

Taichung 2 has long been the stomping grounds of Yen Ching-piao 顏清標. Yen got into politics winning a seat in the county assembly in early 1994. Later that year, he moved up to the provincial assembly. At the time, the media often referred to him as a leader of the Zongguanxian 縱貫線 Gang. In the 1990s, Taichung was littered with brightly lit “barber shops” (ie: brothels), and it was evident to anyone paying attention that organized crime was pretty profitable. This was the heyday of organized crime in KMT local politics, but Yen usually ran as an independent. Evidently, he was too toxic even for the KMT. After a stint back in the county assembly (where he was elected speaker), he moved to the legislature, where he served four terms. He was stripped of his seat for illegally using public money to visit hostess bars, but his son Yen Kuan-heng 顏寬恆won the by-election.  Yen’s daughter is now the city council vice speaker. Yen has an extensive network on the ground. I don’t know if he can still do widespread vote buying, as was common back when he broke into politics, but the rest of his operation feels like a throwback to the glory days of “black and gold politics.”

Nonetheless, Taichung 2 is changing. With the population group, new people are moving in who aren’t part of the old mobilization networks. Moreover, as with the rest of Taichung County, this is no longer a desert for the DPP. In 2020, Tsai Ing-wen won Taichung 2 by 20.4% (57.5% to 37.1%). In the ranking of the 73 districts by her vote share, Taichung 2 came in at #37, which makes it exactly the national median district. Since the DPP won a clear majority, you would expect this to be solidly in the DPP column. However, all things are not equal. The Yen family runs Taichung 2, and you can see the impact in the votes. The average KMT candidate ran 3.2% ahead of Han; Yen ran a whopping 11.7% ahead. He didn’t win, but he only lost by 2.2% rather than the 9.3% you would expect with generic candidates.

In a recall, fewer voters turn out, and Yen’s local organizational advantage should be magnified. Again, this was a logical place to try a recall vote, both because the incumbent was not a DPP member and because the special local circumstances gave them hopes of winning.

All this said, if I had to bet, I’d probably bet against the KMT in both races. In Taipei 5, there just doesn’t seem to be much enthusiasm around the recall. The media coverage is pretty sparse, and it doesn’t feel like many people are furious at Freddy. I’m expecting that that yes and no votes will be close and that neither will hit the 25% turnout threshold. Taichung 2, which has no legal threshold, is much more intense. As Donovan Smith has pointed out, the grand break with the past in this by-election is that the media has suddenly overcome its collective fear of accusing the Yen family of corruption. Suddenly, the Yen family is facing a multitude of accusations. I suspect that the weight of all these charges will have an impact. Candidates like Yen are best when they can slip under the radar. However, this race has been the focus of most media coverage for the last two months. Even during the last days of the referendum campaign, the talk shows were more eager to talk about Yen and corruption than the imminent referendums. The Yen family has never been under such a harsh spotlight. Organizational votes involve a vote broker telling the voter that the candidate is one of us, a good guy who we can trust to look out for us. Suddenly, voters have a lot of competing information telling them that actually he isn’t such a good guy. I expect that this vote will be close, but I think I’d rather be in the DPP candidate’s shoes.

[1] Yes, I know they have technically been “districts” for a decade. I’m stuck in the past.

[2] We Nantou people have never forgiven the dastardly Lin clan for stealing so much land from the noble and honorable Hung clan of Tsaotun. Ironically, one of my wife’s aunts married into the Lin clan, and I never miss an opportunity remind them of their rapacious perfidy!

[3] Together, they are often referred to as dawulong 大烏龍, which can also loosely be translated as a “big fucking mess.” Sometimes Taiwan gives us strange and wonderful gifts.

[4] It was actually over 250,000 in 2008, but that includes nearly 10,000 voters from Dali who have since been shifted into Taichung 7.  

Kaohsiung mayoral by-election

August 15, 2020

Kaohsiung City held its by-election today, and the DPP won a smashing victory. Chen Chi-mai got 70.0% of the valid votes, leaving the KMT’s Jane Lee and TPP’s Wu Yi-cheng far behind, with 25.1% and 4.1%, respectively. Chen’s 70.0% was the highest vote share the DPP has ever gotten in Kaohsiung, beating the 68.1% Chen Chu got in her re-election campaign in 2014. Contrary to what the talking head on my TV kept saying tonight, Lee’s 25.1% was not quite the worst result the KMT has ever seen in Kaohsiung. For that, we must go back to 2000 and the juggernaut that was the Lien Chan presidential campaign. Lien got 24.0% in the old Kaohsiung City and 24.0% the old Kaohsiung County (I’ll let you do the math to figure out his overall vote share). But if this election wasn’t technically the KMT’s worst ever performance, it was substantively (since there was no James Soong taking most of the KMT vote).

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised that Chen did so well. If we start with the January presidential results as our baseline, the DPP won Kaohsiung 62.2% to 34.6%. That election took place in the before times, back when almost no one (outside the presidential office) had an inkling of the coming pandemic. During the first half of this year, all the polling numbers for President Tsai and the DPP have improved, while all the polling numbers for the KMT have been miserable. In retrospect, the recall election at the beginning of June was just about the apex of DPP fortunes. The turnout to recall Han Kuo-yu was spectacular, but it was probably the worst possible time (from his perspective) to hold that vote. If it had been a few weeks or months earlier or later the recall would probably have passed but not with quite such a spectacular number. At any rate, the last two months in Taiwanese politics have been something of a reversion to normality. Rather than talking about the pandemic every day, we have been talking about normal political issues such as judicial reform, nominations to the Control Yuan, and ho to deal with China.

Some of the polling numbers have regressed toward the mean. Looking at the monthly My-Formosa polls, satisfaction with President Tsai’s performance was around 70% in the March, April, and May polls, but it fell to around 63% in the June and July polls. However, the numbers for party ID haven’t rebounded quite as much. The blue camp is still mired in the high teens, while the green camp is holding steady in the low 40s. Overall, there is good reason to believe that the DPP is more popular now and the KMT is less popular now than in January.

When looking at the candidates, we also shouldn’t be surprised that Chen did so well. Chen is clearly qualified, and he spent the first half of the year at the center of the DPP’s pandemic response team. Moreover, given all that has happened in the last 21 months, there is probably a feeling in the electorate that they made the wrong choice in 2018. It’s not unrealistic to expect him to get a sympathy vote to make up for that wrong. Meanwhile, the KMT’s candidate had a terrible campaign, continually reinforcing the notion that she was not terribly qualified for this job.

Nonetheless, I did not expect Chen to get 70% of the vote. It is very hard to add votes, and even harder when you are starting from a high baseline. I thought that there would be a number of voters who wanted to vote against whoever was in power, and, since Chen was almost sure to win, they would feel free to vote for someone else. In my head, I was picturing something like a 65-25-10 result (with the TPP candidate soaking up a lot of protest votes). 70% is impressive, any way you cut it.

Quick note about the TPP. This was a terrible result for them. This election was almost a best-case scenario for the TPP. The KMT candidate was clearly incompetent, which might have encouraged anti-DPP voters to look for another option. In addition, there has been a corruption scandal in recent weeks, featuring DPP legislators, KMT legislators, and the NPP party chair. The TPP was the only party not tarnished, which plays right into their main discourse that the other parties are all corrupt. I thought they might get double digits with an outside chance that they might get nearly as many votes as the KMT. Instead, they got a meager 4.1%. We don’t know who unhappy and disgruntled voters turned to, but, given the results, it seems most likely that they supported Chen. They certainly didn’t support the TPP. The fact that the TPP did so badly is just about the only good news of the night for the KMT.


As to what this all means, I have two big questions in my head. First, how will the KMT react to this result? 26% is not good. Remember, Han got nearly 35% in January, and that was considered a humiliating result. If 35% in Kaohsiung is not sustainable for the KMT, 26% is a disaster. For the KMT to feel good tonight, they really needed to get back to that 35% mark. With that, they could have told themselves that they weren’t losing ground even after this miserable year. To feel great, they needed 40%. 26% should tell them that Han’s result wasn’t necessarily the low-water mark. It can get worse.

The immediate question for the KMT concerns the party chair. I don’t think Johnny Chiang will resign, but he seems like a lame duck to me. During his tenure, the KMT has lost the recall (badly), lost the by-election (badly), been rolled in the legislature several times, lost ground in the polls, and Chiang seems utterly unable to persuade the KMT to adopt any of his reforms. Most pointedly, the party seems completely uninterested in revising its stance toward China. Barring more big changes, it seems nearly inevitable to me that Eric Chu will return as party chair. It also seems highly unlikely that he will push for any meaningful reforms, and so the best-case scenario for his leadership is for the KMT to peak somewhere around 45% of the national vote. If the KMT decides that the lesson of this election is to double down with ideologues and put Han in charge of the party, they could be looking at falling to the low 30s. At some point, one might expect the KMT to decide it is tired of losing and think about revising some of its cherished positions. However, Johnny Chiang is the person best positioned to lead that charge, and he is now crippled. The only other hope is for Hou You-yi to decide he wants to dip his toe into national politics.

My other question concerns Chen Chi-mai. Chen now holds one of the springboard positions to the presidency. There aren’t many such positions (vice president, premier, six municipal mayors, two party chairs, and perhaps one or two billionaires). Chen has the intellectual capacity to move up. I’ve interviewed him, and I was quite impressed with his grasp of both policy details and the bigger picture. Of the next generation, he is perhaps closest to the Tsai Ing-wen model. He isn’t dynamic or charismatic, but he oozes competence. However, 2018 might be a millstone that is difficult to escape from. What we learned in 2018 is that he is not charismatic enough to turn around a disadvantageous environment. He should have won that election, but he could not figure out how to force the election back to regular partisan ruts. Until he shows that was an aberration, I’m not sure DPP loyalists will trust him with a presidential nomination. One of the things that stood out to me in this campaign was that when he was attacked, he hit back. He seemed to have decided that the 2018 campaign should be positive, so he never went all-out negative against Han. That’s great if you’re winning, but not so smart if you are losing. In this campaign, he was far enough ahead that he could have stayed positive. Instead, when the other candidates brought up his father’s corruption history, he hit back by talking about Lee’s plagiarism. To me, that decision shows a growing understanding of what it takes to play at the highest level of electoral campaigns.

To be sure, Chen isn’t a legitimate contestant for the 2024 presidential nomination. He needs to have a successful tenure as mayor before he tries to move up. This must include a decisive re-election victory in 2022; another underwhelming result would be devastating to his career. Realistically, he might the cabinet (perhaps as premier) in 2027 and then try to obtain the VP nomination in 2028. Or, if the DPP loses the 2024 election, he might be a viable contender for the 2028 presidential nomination. With his performance as vice-premier and now this impressive electoral victory, I think Chen has mostly put his career back on track. However, there are still some lingering doubts in the back of my head.

four by-elections

March 17, 2019

Four legislative by-elections were held yesterday, in New Taipei 3, Tainan 2, Changhua 1, and Kinmen. The former two seats were originally held by the DPP, while the latter two were originally held by the KMT. The by-elections didn’t really change that. The DPP held its two seats, and the KMT won the Changhua seat. An independent won the Kinmen seat against the official KMT candidate, but she is a former KMT member who immediately announced her intention to try to return to the KMT.

The biggest headline today is that the DPP avoided a disaster by holding its two seats. I think this is basically right. You wouldn’t call these results good news for the DPP, though you also wouldn’t call them terrible news. From the KMT’s point of view, this is a missed opportunity. Other headlines suggest that the Han Kuo-yu Wave™ is receding. I think this is probably wrong. More on that later.

Here are the results.

New Taipei 3  






Cheng KMT






Turnout: 42.1      
Tainan 2      



Hsieh KMT



Chen IND (from DPP)












Turnout: 44.5      
Changhua 1      



Huang DPP






Turnout: 36.6      



Chen TC IND (former DPP)






Tsai IND






Hung CH Kaoliang Party



Turnout: 21.2      


The first thing we can do to sort out these results is to ask about the partisan lean of each district. In my previous post, I rated each district by comparing Tsai Ing-wen’s presidential vote in each district to her national total. This gives two indicators: a ranked ordering of the 73 districts from the DPP’s strongest to weakest and a number showing how many points above or below the national average the DPP is in this district. The data for these four districts is:


2012 Tsai

2012 rank

2016 Tsai

2016 rank


New Taipei 3






Tainan 2






Changhua 1












Recall that overall Tsai received 45.6% in 2012 and 56.1% in 2016.

New Taipei 3 covers most of the Sanchong District. This is traditionally considered deep green territory, though it is not actually as green as most people think. I think population mobility has regressed it toward the mean. In recent elections it has been about 5% better for the DPP than the national average, which makes it one of those districts that the DPP needs to win. It has in fact won all four elections (counting this by-election) since 2008, though the KMT has been competitive in three of the four. This was a contest with two high quality candidates. The DPP ran Yu Tien, the New Taipei party chair and the former legislator who managed to win this seat in 2008 in the face of a national KMT landslide. Yu is actually less famous as a politician than as a singer. He isn’t exactly an intellectual powerhouse, but he is a proven campaigner. His KMT opponent is a newcomer, but he is the nephew of Lee Chien-lung, the KMT legislative candidate in 2012 and 2016 and a longtime stalwart in local Sanchong politics. Yu won this race by a 52-47 margin, which was a solid victory for the DPP.

Next, let’s skip over to Changhua. Changhua 1 is a classic bellwether district. Tsai was about 2% better than average in 2012 and about 1% better than average in 2016. This should be a median district, meaning that the KMT should have won it narrowly in 2012 and the DPP should have won it fairly easily in 2016. In fact, Changhua 1 has not followed national trends at all. Instead, it has been a horror show for the DPP. In 2012, the KMT vote was split two ways, but the DPP candidate (himself a defector from the pan-blue camp) couldn’t even manage a third of the vote. In 2016, the DPP nominated a documentary film director, and got totally wiped out. Hey, any time you can nominate an intellectual who wants to talk about class conflict to a rural district, you’ve got to do it! (Just to make sure he was incompetent, that same guy ran for mayor of Homei Township in 2018 and got destroyed again.) I think most observers were expecting more DPP incompetence in this race. Instead, it turned out to be fairly close, with the KMT winning 52-46.

There was an interesting geographical split in this district. The legislative district covers six townships and two county council districts. Each county council district has one big town (Lugang and Homei) and two smaller towns. Huang, the DPP candidate, is the former mayor of Lugang and a former county councilor from county council district 2 (CC2). Ko, the KMT candidate, is presented in the media as being a technocrat – the bureaucrat with a legal background who rose to deputy county magistrate. Don’t be fooled. Technocrats with shiny degrees are a dime a dozen. His most important credential is that he is a from a political family. His uncle 柯明謀 was a longtime county councilor and faction leader who was eventually appointed to the Control Yuan and as senior presidential advisor. The Ko family is from Shengang, in CC3. As you might expect, Huang did quite a bit better in CC2, winning that half of the district by three thousand votes (51.8%-45.6%). However, Ko dominated the other half, winning CC3 by nine thousand votes (60.3%-37.9%). Let’s just say that there was quite a thick layer of local politics spread on top of the national political structure.

Given the partisan lean of this district, this result is quite similar to the result in New Taipei 3. Both imply that the DPP’s national vote is roughly 45-47%, or similar to the 2012 presidential election. This looks quite a bit better for the DPP than the 2018 local elections or the two January by-elections, though it is still a far cry from the 2016 results.


Next, let’s visit the charming island of Kinmen. From a partisan standpoint, Kinmen is a D-38 district. The DPP is basically irrelevant here. Everyone is some shade of pan-blue, so voters are free to choose their favorite candidate without worrying about national considerations. The official KMT usually does well, but not always. This was one of those other times. This turned out to be a true four-way race, with four candidates getting between 20-30%. Geographically, all four of the candidates had a home base in one of the five townships (ignoring the barely populated sixth town), and they all competed in Jincheng, the biggest town. The winner, Chen Yu-chen, won by winning Jincheng and her hometown, and by coming in second in two of the other towns. The official KMT nominee, Hung Li-ping, came in third. She had the misfortune to be based in the smaller Lieyu Township, and she didn’t do very well in the other townships.

Chen Yu-chen is a county councilor and the daughter of Chen Shui-tsai. Chen Shui-tsai is perhaps the most important elected official in Kinmen’s history. He was the first elected county magistrate. (Remember that, unlike Taiwan, Kinmen was not allowed to hold local elections until 1994.) During his term in office, Kinmen underwent a fundamental transformation. On the one hand, the military started withdrawing its enormous garrison, necessitating a wholesale transformation of the local economy and fundamentally transforming everyday life. On the other hand, Chen transformed the kaoliang distillery from a small military operation into what would eventually become the main source of funds for the county government. The decisions made under Chen’s administration reverberate in every corner of the county today. I don’t know if he still has political influence or to what extent those political ties contributed to his daughter’s victory, but I’m sure they at least helped to start her political career.

One thing that did surprise me about this election was the performance of Chen Tsang-chiang, who finished second. Above I said that the DPP is basically irrelevant in Kinmen. Chen is the caveat to that statement. Chen is a former county councilor and the only person ever elected to public office in Kinmen under the DPP label. However, because he was dissatisfied with the Tsai government’s performance, Chen withdrew from the DPP and did not run for re-election to the county council in 2018. Chen ran as an independent this time, but I did not expect that it would be so easy for him to shed the stench of the DPP label. I assumed that his former association with the DPP would have been toxic in Kinmen. That proved not to be the case, as he came shockingly close to winning.

The Kinmen election was probably a fascinating story. However, this is the kind of race that you need to have detailed local knowledge to fully understand. I’m sure there was all kinds of intrigue and interesting coalitions, but only the people on the ground involved in the campaigns will ever know the whole story. Without strong party lines to structure political conflict, the possibilities (and chaos) are limitless. From my perch at 30,000 feet, I can only sense that I am missing out on a fantastic soap opera.


Finally, there is Tainan 2. Tainan 2 is a D+16 district, and it is either the DPP’s best or second-best district in the entire country. (Neighboring Tainan 1 is the other; no other district is within four points of them.) This is a district that not only should the DPP never lose, it should never even come close to losing. The KMT just came very, very close to winning Tainan 2.

For the KMT to come so close to winning here, it needs a perfect storm. I see at least three important ingredients. First, the DPP is undergoing nasty factional infighting in Tainan between the New Tide faction (led locally by former mayor and premier William Lai) and the Chen Shui-bian/Independence faction. In the recent mayoral election, Huang Wei-che (the former legislator from this district) and Chen Ting-fei were more or less the representatives of the two sides, though it was a little messier than that. At any rate, it is safe to say that the eventual nominee and winner (Huang) has not yet managed to unify the local party. In this by-election, the DPP candidate was from the New Tide faction. I think it is safe to speculate that probably not all of the CSB/independence faction was working 100% for Kuo. Second (and related), there was a splinter candidate. Chen Hsiao-yu lost the DPP nomination fight and then ran as an independent. She is from a local political family. Her mother 郭秀柱 is a longtime city council member who has sometimes been inside and sometimes outside the DPP but has always claimed to be a strong supporter of CSB. During the mayoral primary, one minor DPP aspirant accused Huang Wei-che of cooperating with organized crime, by which he meant Chen Hsiao-yu’s mother. (Note the illogical factional alliances. Local politics don’t always make sense.) In the last few days of the campaign, CSB made a video endorsing Kuo. This probably saved the election for the DPP.

Third, even if you ignore the split in the green camp, the KMT overperformed in this election. Hsieh got 44.3%. For reference, when Ma Ying-jeou won re-election in 2012 (with 51% of the national vote), he only got 34.8% in Tainan 2. To put it another way, Hsieh’s 59,194 votes this time were more than the KMT mayoral candidate in 2018 won (58201), even though the turnout was 20% lower this year than last. In 2016, the KMT collapsed in this district, losing the legislative race by a comical 76-19% margin. It seemed like the KMT might never be competitive here again. Yet, they lost yesterday by less than 3%.

After 2016 I said that the KMT had to figure out some way to appeal to voters in the south if they wanted to win a future presidential election. When Han Kuo-yu ran for party chair with a distinctly different discourse than everyone else, I suggested that they might want to test that message in a general election to see if it could be the solution. It certainly worked in the Kaohsiung mayoral election, and I think the KMT’s excellent performance in Tainan 2 has a lot of elements of that same general approach.

Hsieh Long-chieh is, like Han, an outsider who parachuted into a strange new district. Hsieh is from the southern urban part of Tainan, not the rural north. He has some experience talking to farmers in small towns (he was chair of the KMT city branch), but most of his experience is in talking with urbanites. Like Han, he made a few outlandish claims related to agriculture. Hsieh railed about the pomelo industry, exaggerating how badly it was doing and making wild promises about how wonderful he would make it if only he were elected. Finally, Hsieh is TV personality. He is nowhere near the cult hero that Han is. Han gets 24-hour blanket coverage on some stations and merely excessive coverage on the others. No one can match that. However, Hsieh is a regular talk show guest, and he gets more than his fair share of media coverage. I suspect that the combination of extensive media exposure and being an outsider is critical to the recipe. People with long local associations might be better known and have more established reputations. The outlandish promises might be more “credible” or easily swallowed if you don’t have direct evidence from years of experience that this fellow is not actually superman.

At any rate, I expect we will see a wave of Han Kuo-yu imitators in the upcoming legislative general election. Not all of them will be able to pull it off. Some won’t have the personality. Not everyone is comfortable with blowing smoke or promising outlandishly wonderful and immediate results. Very few will be able to match the media exposure. There is only so much exposure to go around, and not everyone can be a media superstar. If the KMT nominates Han at the top of the ticket, he might be able to drag a lot of local candidates along, but I don’t think they can follow his recipe individually. Finally, most of the KMT candidates will be locally established politicians. If being an outsider is important, most will fail that test. However, this might be Ko Wen-che’s opportunity. If he tries to run a slate of legislative candidates, he won’t get the A-List politicians on his team. He will be forced to choose from the D-List politicians (remember: two years ago everyone would have considered Han Kuo-yu a D-List politician), and that might work to his advantage in this climate.

To sum up, if we ignore Tainan, the DPP didn’t do too badly. However, you can’t ignore Tainan. Following the Kaohsiung mayoral race, the KMT has once again made dramatic inroads in the south. The Han Kuo-yu recipe seems to be working, and that should terrify the DPP. I don’t know if this recipe is scalable, but I suspect we will find out next January.

Taipei 2 and Taichung 5 by-elections

January 28, 2019

There were by-elections for the legislative seats in Taipei 2 and Taichung 5 districts today. These fill the seats vacated when Yao Wen-chih and Lu Hsiu-yen resigned prior to the mayoral elections two months ago. (Another three seats that were vacated after the election by winners in Tainan, Changhua, and Kinmen will be filled in by-elections on March 24.)

Taipei 2      






Chen SY (Ko)






Chen YC  



Turnout: 30.4%      


Taichung 5      
Shen KMT



Wang DPP



Chiu (PFP)






Turnout: 25.3%      


The result of today’s election was that the DPP held the seat in Taipei while the KMT held the seat in Taichung. In short, nothing changed hands, so there is nothing to see here. #analysis. That banal conclusion is probably, in fact, the best headline. However, we can always add a bit of color.

I’ll start with a bit of context. Taipei 2 is a green district. If you take Tsai Ing-wen’s vote share in the 2012 and 2016 elections and sort all 73 legislative districts from her best to her worst districts, Taipei 2 was her 25th best district in 2012 and her 20th best district in 2016. In other words, this is a district that the DPP needs to win. To put it another way, she won 61.6% of the vote in 2016, 5.5% more than her 56.1% national vote share. Similarly, she was 4.6% higher in Taipei 2 than nationally in 2012. So let’s drop the decimal places and call Taipei 2 a D+5 district.*

(*For people familiar with the American jargon, my D+5 is not equivalent to a standard American R+5. In the USA, R+5 means that a Republican is expected to beat the Democrat by five points. Here, I mean that the DPP vote should be five points higher locally than nationally.)

Taichung 5 is nearly a mirror image of Taipei 2. Taichung 5 was Tsai’s 51st strongest district in 2012 and 52nd strongest district in 2016. In the two elections, she was 4.6% and 4.7% worse locally than nationally. So let’s call Taichung 5 a D-5 district. This is the kind of district that the KMT needs to win if it is planning on winning a majority in the legislature.

Of course, needing to win and actually winning are different matters. When a party is having a bad year, it won’t win lots of places that it “needs” to win. The DPP lost Taipei 2 in 2008 and barely won it in 2012. The KMT has never come close to winning Taichung 5, but it did lose seven districts in 2016 where Tsai got a lower vote share than in Taichung 5. The expectations are that this is a bad time for the DPP, so the KMT should probably have easily won the race in Taichung 5 and we might expect a tighter race in Taipei 2. Historically, the lower turnouts in by-elections tend to produce extreme results, probably due to the enthusiastic side being able to turn out a higher percentage of its potential support. Back when the DPP had the energy, it won by-elections in deep blue territory such as Taoyuan 3 and Hsinchu County. Given the results from two months ago, it wouldn’t have been a shock at all for the KMT to win a green (but not deep green) district like Taipei 2.


The simplistic way to look at this election result is purely through the D+5 and D-5 lens. The DPP candidates got 47.8% in Taipei 2 and 38.6% in Taichung 5. That implies that a national DPP vote should be roughly 43%. This is a bit higher than the 39% they received in the mayoral races two months ago. So, relative to that stepping in dog poop, this result was good news. Maybe it was like having a bird poop on your car windshield. After all, 43% isn’t great, but it’s easier to clean poop off your windshield than off your shoe.


Of course, these two races aren’t quite comparable. The third candidate in Taipei was far stronger than the third candidate in Taichung. In fact, I think all the candidates in Taipei were probably stronger than all the candidates in Taichung.

The Taichung race was a contest between Shen Chih-hui and Wang Yi-chuan. Shen is an old KMT warhorse. She was elected to the legislature for the first time way back in 1989. She was one of several young, attractive, female, mainlander politicians sponsored by the KMT’s Huang Fu-hsing branch (which was comprised mostly of military veterans). Hung Hsiu-chu is the most notable of this cohort. The others (people like Hsiao Chin-lan, Wang Su-yun, Chu Feng-chih, and Pan Wei-kang) are (mostly) gone from the political scene, and I thought Shen Chih-hui was pretty much gone as well. When the legislature was cut in half in 2008, she was the KMT Taichung legislator left with no seat. She wanted to run in (what is now) Taichung 5, which was always her best area in Taichung. Beitun District has the largest concentration of military veterans and mainlanders in Taichung. However, this group was also Lu Hsiu-yen’s political base, and Lu won the nomination. Shen tried to get back into the legislature in 2016, but she ran in Taichung 6 and got wiped out. Legislators who have been out for over a decade rarely get back in. In my imaginary candidate quality coding scheme, I don’t generally consider candidates like her as particularly strong. On the other hand, in that same rubric, the DPP candidate might be even worse. Wang Yi-chuan has no electoral experience at all. He comes out of the Taichung city government, where he was part of Lin’s mini-cabinet. Historically, candidates with this type of background are dismal at winning votes. The third candidate is even worse. Chiu Yu-shan just ran for the city council. Two months ago, running as a PFP candidate, she managed to get a measly 3293 votes. We are guessing about the other two, but I had hard evidence that Chiu was not an electoral juggernaut. Somebody had to win, but it didn’t have to be pretty. Most by-elections get 35-40% turnout. This one got 25%. Yuck.


On paper, the candidates in Taipei 2 all looked pretty good. The KMT and DPP candidates have both spent two terms in the city council, so both are at the perfect spot in their careers to move up. The third candidate was sponsored by Mayor Ko, who just won an impressive victory in an intense three-way race two months ago. Ko supported a few city council candidates, but this was really the first time he was going to test his strength in a single-seat race against the two major parties. He had a pretty good representative. Chen Si-yu is a young and bright member in Ko’s inner circle. Beyond that, she has a local network to draw on. Her father is a prominent politician, having spent the past twenty years in the city council and legislature as an independent (and previously as a TSU member). (In fact, all three of the main candidates come from political families.) I was curious to see how much support Chen would command, and whether it looked like that support was primarily drawn from the KMT or DPP side.

In fact, Chen did terribly. She only got 12%. This is a terrible result for Ko. Think about all the politicians considering whether they should jump from the KMT or DPP into Ko’s camp. He was unable to throw any support to a credible candidate with an established local network in his home city. How much will the Ko label be worth for a random politician in Changhua or Taoyuan? Maybe it is best to try to win a nomination inside the KMT or DPP, since we know those party labels reliably bring votes. This election will make it harder for Ko to build a network for a 2020 run. Does he really want to depend on an organization like the neo-MKT? Ick.

I do wonder if Chen’s candidacy helped the DPP in this race. In many ways, the outcomes of these two by-elections resembled a theme we saw in November. In one-on-one races, it looked like swing voters mostly supported the KMT. When they had another viable option, those voters seemed to turn to third candidates. In both scenarios, the DPP is left with not much more than their base vote. I’m not sure how much I believe this story, but it seems plausible. If it is correct, if Chen had not been in the race, her 12% would have mostly turned to the KMT or stayed home.

[This is a note that I’m not sure how to fit in. Ho’s victory speech tonight was interesting. He thanked his supporters and his volunteers, and then he thanked the KMT candidate for running an honorable and respectable race. And then he absolutely lit into Chen Si-yu, accusing her of running a dirty, underhanded, nasty, ugly, shameful, not-nice campaign. He went on to extend his attacks to Ko Wen-je, telling his crowd (and TV audience) that we were seeing Ko’s true nature. He clearly had some pent-up anger that he wanted to get off his chest. Victory speeches are usually magnanimous, but Ho was in the mood to kick Chen and Ko a few times while they were down on the ground. There are not many good feelings between Taipei city DPP politicians and Ko Wen-je’s people right now.]

I might be tempted to call tonight’s results moderately good news for the DPP. By winning Taipei 2, they held serve and stopped the bleeding. However, when turnout is 25% and 30%, there are no winners. Every winner should feel embarrassed at their low winning tally, and every loser should be appalled that they couldn’t meet such a low threshold. No one was able to inspire voters to go out to the polls. Ho and Shen probably feel happy tonight, but they really shouldn’t. Everyone else involved might want to question their career choices. Blecch.

The Recall: Is 48,693 a lot?

December 20, 2017

As readers of this blog likely already know, the recall vote for NPP legislator Huang Kuo-chang 黃國昌 was held last Saturday. The measure failed, and I keep reminding myself that the top-line result is important in and of itself. Because it failed, Huang probably won’t run for mayor (or if he does, he’ll drop out as soon as he extracts a few concessions from the DPP) and marriage equality won’t suddenly be recast as a toxic issue. Also, Huang will continue to be a legislator, which some people might see as kinda important.

Nevertheless, the top line result isn’t everything. 48,693 people cast votes to recall Huang, while 21,748 cast votes to oppose recalling him. I keep asking myself, are those numbers big or small? To be honest, I’m not really sure.

Maybe a good place to start is by examining the election night reactions. As the vote-counting wound down and the result became clear, the leader of the recall effort and Huang both gave interviews to the TV cameras. Huang spoke like he had been shocked and disappointed. He was contrite and promised to listen to the message that voters had sent. He did not act like a victor. However, Sun Chi-cheng 孫繼正, the leader of the recall effort, didn’t seem that much happier. His body language and mannerisms also struck me as coming from someone who was deeply disappointed with the result. He repeatedly pointed to the cold and rainy weather as an important factor in depressing turnout.* What was most interesting to me was that he never mentioned marriage in his remarks. From his voting night comments, you would have thought that the whole recall was an intellectual exercise in establishing the right of social movements to exercise oversight over elected officials. He made no attempt to claim a popular mandate against marriage equality, even though that was the driving force behind the recall effort. For that matter, Huang did not mention marriage either. To me, this omission suggests that both sides expected to do better and did not want to tarnish their cause by linking it with a poor election result. For what it’s worth, Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je also cast shade on the results, implying that Huang had not done very well.

(* The fragile citizens in the rest of the country might be persuaded by the weather argument. As a next-door neighbor of New Taipei 12, I’m not so impressed. It rains all the time in this area. If people stayed indoors every time it rains here, no one would ever go to the market and we’d all starve.)

So the recall side probably expected more than 48,000 yes votes. I’m not sure if Huang and the NPP were more surprised by how many people cast yes votes or how few people cast no votes. It seems clear to me that they were disappointed with at least one of those numbers. Again, I have to ask, should they have been disappointed? Are 48,000 and 21,000 more or less than we should have expected?

One thing to remember is that the main actors in this recall might not have had realistic expectations about how easy or hard it is to produce votes. The NPP is a brand-new party, and unlike the previous three significant small parties (New Party, People First Party, and Taiwan Solidarity Union), the New Power Party is not a splinter party. It isn’t composed of several established politicians with years of electoral experience. NPP members have fought exactly one campaign. In 2016, they won a lot of party votes, but those didn’t really require a lot of grassroots organization and most voters were already turning out to vote for the president. The three district legislators who won, including Huang Kuo-chang, probably overestimated their own efforts (as most people do) and underestimated how much support they “borrowed” from the DPP. The recall election is arguably much more like the 2018 city council elections will be, in which the NPP has to mobilize voters to support it, not simply rely on an alliance with the DPP. The point is, the NPP has yet to contest one of those elections, and they might not yet realize how hard elections are. (Go back and check the optimistic expectations and dismal record of the NP, PFP, and TSU in local elections. Ick.) And if the NPP perhaps had unrealistic expectations, the recall organizers were probably even worse. The Stability Power Alliance 安定力量 is a social group with conservative Christian churches at its core. Its members have even less electoral experience than the NPP. Moreover, social movements always overestimate their support in society and think that their support can translate directly into votes. In short, both sides were disappointed, but I suspect both sides had somewhat unreasonable expectations. I have not made any headway at all in answering my question: Should I be impressed with 48,000 yes votes?


Let’s turn to the electoral record. Unfortunately, this was the first recall vote under the new rules, so there isn’t any recall election history to look to.

(There was a recall vote against Alex Tsai 蔡正元 in February 2015, but that that was under a different set of rules in a highly charged atmosphere and there was no chance that the recall would pass because it needed 50% turnout. I’ll come back to this recall below, but let’s just ignore that vote for the time being.)

I think the closest thing to this recall vote is a legislative by-election. By-elections typically get modest news coverage, as did this recall election. If you think of the partisan vote in a general election as full turnout, both sides typically have enough potential votes to win in a by-election. The problem is turning all those votes out. Even for professional politicians who have dedicated their careers to building connections in society, mobilization is hard. In these elections, rather than looking at the share of valid votes, it is perhaps more illuminating to look at the share major candidates get of the eligible voters. There have been nineteen by-elections since the 2008 election. I’m going to ignore the 2009 Nantou 1 by-election since that was held on the same day as the county magistrate general election and had a turnout of 66.3%, far out of line with the eighteen other by-elections. There are 37 major party candidates in the other eighteen by-elections. (In 2009 Miaoli 1, the DPP did not run a candidate and instead cooperated with the eventual winner, independent Kang Shi-ju 康世儒.) These 37 major party candidates won an average of 18.0% of eligible voters. I think that is a pretty good baseline for how much we might expect a competent partisan campaign to turn out.

By-election eligible KMT% DPP% turnout
2010 Taoyuan 3 233116 0.183 0.195 0.414
2010 Taoyuan 2 241609 0.153 0.222 0.384
2010 Hsinchu Cnty 358854 0.157 0.200 0.360
2015 Miaoli 2 231684 0.203 0.142 0.351
2009 Miaoli 1 253375 0.158 0.327
2010 Taichung 3 257460 0.201 0.246 0.451
2015 Changhua 4 259816 0.134 0.200 0.376
2015 Nantou 2 205390 0.188 0.170 0.371
2009 Nantou 1 (185818) (0.355) (0.287) (0.663)
2009 Yunlin 2 279854 0.105 0.265 0.456
2010 Chiayi 2 221816 0.122 0.259 0.384
2015 Pingtung 3 202129 0.102 0.213 0.324
2010 Taitung 119762 0.177 0.194 0.394
2010 Hualien 197426 0.199 0.168 0.416
2009 Taipei 6 241498 0.191 0.151 0.391
2015 Taichung 6 255203 0.129 0.177 0.308
2013 Taichung 2 275086 0.242 0.237 0.489
2011 Tainan 4 291588 0.105 0.168 0.276
2011 Kaohsiung 4 228805 0.102 0.235 0.340
Ave: 18 elections 0.158 0.202 0.378
Ave: 37 cands


The recall vote against Huang did a hair better than this baseline. The 48,693 yes votes represent 19.1% of all eligible voters in New Taipei 12. That is mildly impressive.

Of course, we now have to ask whether it is reasonable to compare a partisan election with a recall vote. The argument for doing so is that, while the social group was the public face of the recall, we might suspect that the actual muscle behind it was old-fashioned partisanship. There were two KMT city councilors salivating at the prospect of taking Huang’s place in the legislature, and KMT deputy chair Hau Lung-pin campaigned on behalf of the recall. I am reminded of a chat I had with a second-generation KMT politician back in the 1990s, who told me that his father told him to run his first campaign his own way, with lots of idealistic young people putting out lots of policy papers. Then, in the last week, Dad mobilized his own network, bought a ton of votes, and won the election the old-fashioned way. In a similar way, the Christian activists may have just been window dressing distracting us from the low-profile professionals who actually turned out the voters. If this is what happened, then this recall election is a big yawn. In a swing district like New Taipei 12, we should have expected the KMT pro-recall side to produce about 46,000 votes, and they did.


What about the 21,000 no votes? Is that a lot? Let’s remember that there was a lot less motivation to vote no than yes. Most observers expected the recall to fail because the yes side would not reach the 25% threshold, and that is what happened. The no votes did not really affect the outcome. Voting no was more of an expression of support for Huang than a mechanism to determine his fate. Lots of mild supporters may have decided to just sit this one out. Therefore, we shouldn’t really be surprised that there were fewer no votes than yes votes.

I suggested above that this recall vote may have just been a partisan vote in disguise. If that is correct, Huang was probably missing a lot of his 2016 coalition. Let’s not forget that Huang is a NPP member, not a DPP member. The NPP has been vocally and publicly drawing lines between itself and the DPP in recent weeks over the Labor Standards Law, and quite a few DPP politicians and supporters probably aren’t feeling as supportive of Huang and the NPP today as they were 22 months ago. One of the two DPP city councilors (Shen Fa-hui) asked his followers to vote no, but I have no idea if that plea was matched by active efforts. If Huang loses his seat, the two city councilors are first in line, and they will presumably want support from Huang’s sympathizers.

I don’t have a standard to judge the 21,000 no votes. I wouldn’t expect a regular by-election turnout for the no side, and Huang probably didn’t have a “full” partisan effort supporting him. Maybe in the future after a few more recall votes, we will be able to look back and see that this result was fantastic or dismal. Right now, I just don’t know.


I guess my tentative conclusion is that this election was … about normal??


Assuming that by-elections are at all useful in thinking about recalls, can we see any indicators that will tell us about future recalls?

This recall did not come close to passing. The yes side needed 25% of eligible voters, but it only got 19.1%. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen in the future. Of the 37 major party candidates, two have actually broken the 25% barrier. Both were DPP candidates running in deep green districts (Chiayi County 2 and Yunlin 2), and both got over twice as many votes as their opponents. So if a candidate won a three-way race in the other side’s territory, that might be a prime candidate for a recall vote. There aren’t any really obvious examples right now, but in 2012 Chen Shui-bian’s son ran against the DPP incumbent in Kaohsiung 9 and threw the district to the KMT. Under the current law, that KMT legislator would have to worry about a recall.

There are several other candidates who came very close to 25%, including some in competitive races. In Taichung 2 in 2013, Yen Ching-piao’s son (who probably has a name) and the DPP candidate both broke 23%. In 2010 in Taichung 3 (now Taichung 7), both candidates broke 20%. 25% is hard, but it isn’t impossible, even in a competitive district. The more the district leans to one side or the other, the easier it becomes for the dominant side to recall a “mismatched” legislator.

Oh, and remember that recall against Alex Tsai in 2015? 76,737 people voted yes, accounting for 24.2% of eligible voters. Against that figure, the 19.1% voting to recall Huang doesn’t seem so impressive. I think the difference in the two results probably has more to do with the supercharged political atmosphere in early 2015 than the individual candidates, but Tsai is nonetheless one of the few legislators who I consider to be more controversial and disliked by the other side than Huang. Under the current rules, the recall would have needed 79,359 yes votes to pass. I’m fairly sure if they could have gotten the extra 3,000 votes if recall had been a realistic possibility. (In fact, the people who rewrote the recall law might have been thinking along these same exact lines.) However, that doesn’t mean that Tsai or Huang should have been recalled. Tsai was elected as a KMT legislator (with 111,260 votes) and did a lot of KMT things. The district was so furious with him that they … elected another KMT legislator in 2016. Would it really have been appropriate for 80,000 unhappy voters to overturn the decision of 111,260 voters? I don’t have any evidence, but I’m betting that almost all of the 76,359 people who voted to recall Tsai were among the 78,097 people who voted for the DPP candidate or the 39,593 people who voted for the PFP candidate in 2012. They couldn’t coordinate to support one candidate and defeat Tsai in 2012, and when they did cooperate in 2016 they still couldn’t defeat the KMT candidate. It might be easier to agree on who they didn’t want, but eventually the voters have to choose someone as a representative. The recall is seductive as an easy way to get a negative result (removing someone you don’t like), but it doesn’t solve the problem of producing a positive result (agreeing on someone to put in office).

The recall is clearly a mechanism with the potential to be used and abused. Even beyond the potential to remove a legislator, recall can severely damage an incumbent. They have to divert energy away from their normal activities to deal with the harassment, and the result will almost always look bad to most observers. In Huang’s case, the recall may have damaged him by focusing attention on his (supposed) neglect of constituency service, especially in the more outlying areas. It almost certainly makes his 2020 re-election campaign harder. Remember, the post-sunflower recall efforts targeted four legislators. All of them failed, but none of the four legislators was re-elected in 2016. I suspect Huang might be the fifth to survive a recall only to find that he sustained a severe wound.


Who is next? This depends on how the major parties react. As of now, all the recalls have been spearheaded by a social group, and the major parties have (quietly) lent background support. It might be necessary to have some idealistic social movement take the lead. If that is the case, they might not pick their targets so strategically. For example, if the social group’s members are mostly in Taipei, they might have to pick a Taipei legislator even if there is a better target in Chiayi. If the two major parties decide to weaponize the recall mechanism and go after each other’s weaker members, they should target based strictly on vulnerability. We’ll see how this unfolds. Right now, there aren’t a lot of obvious mismatches between the legislator and the district, so I’d expect the two big parties to stay in the shadows. Anyway, here are a few people that could be on a watch list.


  1. Taipei 5, Freddy Lim 林昶佐 (NPP). Freddy is far and away the most obvious target. There is already a social group ready to go, and they have already practiced once. Taipei 5 is not a particularly green district, though there is more support for gay marriage in Taipei City than in the rest of the country. Nonetheless, social conservatives will probably relish the idea of trying to recall a death metal rocker.
  2. Taichung 3, Hung Tzu-yung 洪慈傭 (NPP). Yep, the three NPP district legislators are the top three. Hung’s district is greener than the other two, so it is probably less fertile soil for a recall. However, there is almost certainly less support for gay marriage in Hung’s district than in Taipei City. If they go after Hung before Freddy, that will be a good indicator that the activists –not the partisan politicians – are setting the agenda.
  3. Taoyuan 6, Chao Cheng-yu 趙正宇 (IND). Chao is an independent cooperating with the DPP in a district that had always been heavily blue before 2016. Because he is an independent, attacking him wouldn’t send the same partisan message as attacking a DPP or NPP member. However, he looks more vulnerable to me than any DPP members.
  4. New Taipei 10, Chiang Yung-chang 江永昌 (DPP). Chiang won his seat by beating Chang Ching-chung, who (in)famously tried to ram the Services Trade Agreement through committee hearings and touched off the sunflower movement. Chang was severely damaged by the sunflower movement and the subsequent recall effort, so it isn’t yet apparent that Chiang won (as opposed to Chang being tossed out). Zhonghe District is traditionally a very blue area, so Chiang has to be considered as highly vulnerable.
  5. Hsinchu City, Ker Chien-ming 柯建銘 (DPP). The DPP floor leader won his 2016 election fairly convincingly, but Hsinchu City is historically blue territory. Moreover, the NPP and their supporters detest Ker. A recall against him would drive open the divisions between the DPP and NPP and perhaps create some opportunities for the KMT to exploit in the legislature.
  6. Hualien, Hsiao Bi-khim 蕭美琴 (DPP). Hsiao won her seat by beating a lackluster KMT incumbent in a district that voted for the KMT in the presidential race. I have no reason to think that she has done a bad job in office or is unpopular in her district, but there is an obvious partisan mismatch in Hualien.
  7. Changhua 1, Wang Hui-mei 王惠美 (KMT). If the DPP wants to fight back and attack the KMT, there aren’t a whole lot of obvious opportunities. Most of the vulnerable KMT legislators lost in 2016, so the remaining ones are generally in safe seats. Wang is one of the few KMT legislators in a green district. However, she is personally very popular, and it is highly unlikely that a recall effort would get very far. The logic here is harassment. Wang is running for county magistrate in 2018, and a recall effort might undercut that campaign by sapping some of her energy while also giving the impression that she is not a great legislator.
  8. Taichung 8, Chiang Chi-chen 江啟臣 (KMT). Basically the same logic as with Wang, except that Chiang is still contesting the mayoral nomination. Nonetheless, this is one of the greener districts in central Taiwan, so this is prime territory for an attack by the green side.
  9. Taichung 2, Yen Ching-piao’s son 顏清標之子 (KMT). Unlike nearly everyone else on this list, Yen consistently gets terrible ratings from the Citizen’s Congress Watch (as did his father before him). Add in the Yen family association with organized crime, and we finally have someone who might deserve to be recalled. However, Yen has deep local roots, the district is less green than Changhua 1 or Taichung 8, and I personally wouldn’t want to go around his district on a petition drive asking for signatures to recall him.
  10. Kaohsiung 1, Chiu Yi-ying 邱議瑩 (DPP). Chiu is emerging as the most strident DPP voice. When you need a hardline opinion embodying the DPP position or someone to storm the podium, Chiu is your woman. Of course, this recall wouldn’t have a chance in hell. Kaohsiung 1 is deep green territory, and Chiu’s antics probably play fairly well with her constituents. This would be a quixotic move, akin to the recall of Alex Tsai in 2015.


I hope everyone sees a few people on this list who they like. If you think it would be a democratic travesty if that person were recalled, I agree. Recalls should not be part of the normal process. They should be reserved for extraordinary cases in which a legislator has done something to lose support from the people who originally voted for him or her. A NPP/KMT/DPP legislator who does NPP/KMT/DPP things should not be recalled; s/he has not broken the contract with his/her original supporters. The best outcome would be to revise the recall law to increase the threshold. The current system makes recall too easy.

Should Chu resign as mayor?

October 16, 2015

Now that Eric Chu is going to run for president, the chattering class has turned to the question of his present job. Should he resign as New Taipei City mayor?

Let’s start with the calendar. The election law requires that a by-election be held within three months of a resignation. A few days ago in the legislature, the head of the electoral commission stated that they would need at least two months of preparation time after the resignation to hold a by-election. In other words, if Chu were to resign between October 16 and November 19, the by-election would almost certainly be held on January 16, concurrent with the presidential and legislative elections. If Chu wants the by-election to be held after the presidential election, he has to wait until at least November 20. Elections are always on a Saturday, and it is highly unlikely the CEC would schedule such a large-scale by-election on Jan 23 or 30, the two Saturdays immediately after the general election. Feb 6 and 14 fall during the lunar new year holiday, so the earliest reasonable date for a by-election is Feb 20. (February 27 is also out of bounds due to the national holiday for Feb 28.)

What about the politics? New Taipei City is extremely important, and Chu and the KMT cannot afford to treat it cavalierly. Because of their electoral debacle last November and their impending defeat in the presidential election, New Taipei City will be the only large territory the KMT has jurisdiction over for the next three years. A lot of KMT operatives will be trying to land jobs over the next few months, and New Taipei is by far the most desirable landing spot.

If there is a by-election, the KMT could easily lose. In fact, I think it is likely that the KMT would lose. They barely won in 2014 with a popular candidate against a ho-hum challenger. In the by-election, they will either be running a ho-hum second tier candidate or a decidedly tarnished Eric Chu coming off a year of disastrous KMT leadership and probably a thrashing (both nationally and in New Taipei) in the presidential election.

The cold-blooded choice would be for Chu to simply decline to resign. He should tell the public that he can manage the task of juggling the presidential campaign, the party chairmanship, and his duties as mayor. After all, he has a team of trusted subordinates to take care of the technical details while he is away.

The problem is that the previous two sentences sound terrible. Chu cannot say those things without admitting that he won’t be paying attention to the small (but often important) details. Moreover, his public reason (in the spring) for not running for president was precisely that he felt an obligation to the citizens of New Taipei to focus on his mayoral duties. He even tried to absent himself from an important KMT central standing committee because he was scheduled to appear at the city council. In other words, he was already having a hard time juggling duties as the party chair and mayor, and now he is going to add an even more demanding job. The New Taipei DPP politicians are going to have a field day asking why their mayor is not at work and pointing out problems that he is neglecting.

From the other side of the spectrum, there will also be some pressure from within the KMT for Chu to resign. Some campaign people will grumble that he is spending too much time on his mayoral duties rather than on their campaign events. This will be one way for them to avoid blame for the impending defeat: “Don’t blame me. There was nothing wrong with my strategy. It would have worked if the candidate had bothered to show up.” Other people will grumble that by refusing to resign, Chu is running a defeatist campaign. By holding on to the mayor’s position, Chu will effectively be publicly admitting that his presidential campaign is hopeless.

If Chu does not resign, he will have to answer a question about resigning every day for the rest of the campaign. It will wear on him, sucking the energy out of his campaign much as the questions toward Hung about being replaced on the KMT ticket wore on her campaign.

Is Chu really mentally tough enough to resist the enormous pressure he will face to resign? I have no idea. He was tough enough to resist running for president all spring and summer, and then he suddenly caved in a few weeks ago.

The recent speculation about the electoral calendar seems to imply that he will wait until late November or early December to resign so that he can run in the by-election. This is a bad strategy. If he waits until then to announce his decision, he will still have to answer questions for a full month. In other words, he will have a month of telling the public that it isn’t a problem, and then he will backtrack and admit that he needs to resign. He could also announce today that he will resign, but he won’t officially submit his resignation until late November because of the calendar. In that case, he will be open to attacks that he is playing politics with the mayor’s office. In order to maximize KMT interests, he will be leaving New Taipei City effectively rudderless for four full months. Moreover, if he resigns but then runs in the by-election, he will still be open to these same charges. What is the difference between having a lame-duck interim mayor appointed by the central government and delegating most of the power to his deputy mayor while he is away? Either way, the city government is leaderless for several months.

Chu doesn’t really have any good options. I think the least bad is for him to doggedly hang on to his office. That way, he (and the KMT) will still be holding one important office on Jan 17. Moreover, on Jan 17 he can immediately revert to full-time leadership of the city, so he will minimize any damage caused by an absence of leadership. However, if he is going to resign, he should probably do it immediately. Holding out for another month will simply suck energy out of his campaign. The KMT does have a somewhat higher chance of winning the by-election on Feb 20 than on Jan 16. They will almost certainly lose on Jan 16, since it would likely be swept along in the national DPP victory tide. On Feb 20, they could plead with voters to restrain the new majority party’s absolute power by reminding it that it can still lose elections. Historically, this “balancing” appeal has been a fairly effective campaign appeal. However, I doubt this would be enough to propel the KMT to victory in what will be an uphill race. If there is a by-election, they shouldn’t count on winning it.

by elections

February 8, 2015

The votes are now in from the five legislative by-elections. The DPP held its three seats, and the KMT held on to its three seats. While no seats changed hands, this was a slightly better day for the DPP than for the KMT.

We had some reason to expect that it might be a great day for the DPP. In the previous election cycle, the DPP smashed the KMT in the by-elections in early 2010 and 2011, with landslides in all of the green and tossup districts, victories in several solid blue districts, and fairly close defeats in some of the deepest blue races. In this cycle, the DPP did much better in the local general elections and the KMT government suffers from significantly lower levels of satisfaction. However, the KMT managed to stave off the worst-case scenario this time.

One difference may have been mobilization. Four years ago, the turnouts were generally in the low 40s. This year, Changhua 4 and Nantou 2 were the highest at 37%. My highly unscientific impression is that the DPP didn’t campaign quite as effectively or energetically this cycle as last cycle. Last time, I thought that Tsai Ing-wen did a better job of nationalizing the fight and keeping the campaigns in the national media eye. This time, they seemed to get buried in the back pages. It is hard to tell what the effect of turnout is. I’m pretty sure that blanket statements (eg: low turnout favors the DPP; if turnout is over 70% the KMT will win; etc.) are useless. My hunch is that the KMT did a similarly lousy job of turning out its potential voters both times, but the DPP did an ok job last time and maybe a poor job this time. (By the way, the highest turnout of any of the bye-elections happened last year in Taichung 2, when Yen Ching-piao’s son edged out the local DPP politician. 48% of the electorate voted, and Yen probably won because he was much better at mobilization than other KMT politicians.)

The reason that I think the DPP won a small victory has to do with the results in Taichung and Changhua. Both of these wins came by a wide margin – roughly 25% in Taichung and 18% in Changhua. While the DPP won both of these seats in 2012, these have hardly been solid DPP territory. The KMT held both prior to 2012, and Ma Ying-jeou won more votes than Tsai Ing-wen in both districts. On election night 2012, it was fairly easy to argue that the DPP had won the seats due to the popularity of the individual candidates rather than to general support for the entire party. Today’s result changes that picture. Now it appears that the DPP might really have a clear edge over the KMT in both districts. Further, it now has two new people sitting in those seats who have a year to consolidate their support before the next general election. The KMT will certainly run competent candidates in 2016, but there aren’t any looming heavyweights preparing to challenge either of the two new legislators. From today’s vantage point, it looks as if these two seats, which were marginal for the DPP in 2012, are quickly turning into safe DPP seats.

This result bodes well for the DPP’s drive to win a majority of seats in 2016. The DPP needs to win another 13 nominal seats. The next 15 seats it could win probably include the 5 KMT seats in the south, New Taipei 4, 5, and 6, Taoyuan 2, the three Changhua seats, and Taichung 3, 4, and 8. The fact that the DPP has now followed up the December landslides with similarly easy victories in central Taiwan should scare the pants off the remaining KMT incumbents in Taichung and Changhua. It is looking increasingly likely that most of them will be in the unfamiliar position of needing to rely on personal popularity to offset the KMT’s deficit in presidential and party list votes.

Nantou 2 might be #16 on the list of DPP targets. Winning this seat today was a tremendous relief for the KMT. It is also exactly the type of race the KMT needs to have if they are to hold their majority next year. Nantou 2 is not as blue as most people think. Most of the KMT’s advantage in Nantou County comes from the other legislative district. With a strong DPP candidate and a ho-hum KMT candidate, this district could easily swing to the green side. In a bye-election, if the two sides had had generic candidates, I would have expected the DPP to win. However, the KMT had a clear advantage in candidate quality this time. The DPP desperately needs to transition to a new generation of politicians in Nantou. They keep running old warhorses from a decade ago. Unfortunately, they don’t have an ample stable in Nantou the way they do in Taichung and Changhua. The DPP is much weaker at the county assembly and township mayor level in Nantou, which is probably the reason they had to turn to a guy who hasn’t won anything in a decade in the first place. This narrow victory certainly doesn’t indicate that Nantou 2 is beyond reach for the DPP, but it does give the KMT an important head start going into 2016.

There isn’t much to learn from the DPP landslide in Pingtung. The most significant result of that race is simply that Chuang Jui-hsiung 莊瑞雄 will be entering the legislature. I expect him to be one of the more high-profile members of the DPP caucus over the next decade. (Huang Kuo-shu 黃國書 is the other person elected today with potential as a future political star.  Hsu Shu-hua 許淑華 has some promise, but she seems to be aiming toward county magistrate rather than any national role.)

The DPP never had any real chance in Miaoli 2. This is a deep, deep blue district, and the KMT united behind a perfectly good local politician. Moreover, the DPP ran an incumbent party list legislator. This gave the KMT a lethal argument: If you elect her, she will lose her list seat to a person from somewhere else. If you elect the KMT candidate, the DPP candidate will keep her party list seat and Miaoli will get a second local legislator! Even so, the DPP managed to win 40% of the vote. Remember, this is a district in which the DPP has historically had trouble breaking 30%. The KMT won this seat, but the DPP can’t be too upset about this result.

One thing that I would not take from this election result is any judgment of Eric Chu’s leadership of the KMT. He hasn’t been in office long enough to affect public appraisals of the KMT, and, frankly, he is no more than the fourth most important factor, behind overall party images, the local candidates, and attitudes toward President Ma. I simply don’t believe that this election result sheds any useful light on how people are reacting to Chairman Chu.

By-elections in Taichung

December 19, 2012

After nearly a year in hibernation, Frozen Garlic has awoken!  Apparently, an election has broken out!

At the end of November, the Taiwan court system finally rendered a verdict in one of the myriad corruption cases.  Most of these cases seem to disappear into the file cabinets, but in this one, the court found legislator Yen Ching-piao 顏清標 and Taichung City Council Speaker Chang Ching-tang 張清堂 guilty of corruption.  Both have been stripped of their seats.

(By the way, the corruption in question involved spending public funds to visit KTVs and other places where singing may not have been the main entertainment attraction.  Supposedly, they spent several million NT.  In the grand scheme of things, this is probably one of the more innocuous incidents of corruption they have been involved in.  It isn’t very much money, and their defense, which I do not doubt, is that everyone got reimbursed for these sorts of “public expenses.”  Both are deeply embedded in the systemic corruption of local factions and have almost certainly been involved in far grander abuses of the public purse.  Moreover, A-piao is no run-of-the-mill faction politician — he came to prominence as one of the top organized crime leaders in central Taiwan.  So I find it slightly amusing that these guys have seen their political careers end for a fairly trivial offense.)

There are two interesting stories.  Most of the attention will be on the contest to fill the empty Taichung 2 seat, so let’s start with that one.  The Taichung 2 district boundaries were drawn specifically for Yen Ching-piao.  His best town, Shalu, was put into Taichung 2 with the rest of his base instead of Taichung 1.  This created a bit of a population imbalance as well as a political imbalance, since the blue camp is quite a bit stronger in Taichung 2 than Taichung 1 and Shalu, where the KMT is particularly strong, exacerbates the difference.[1]  In fact, Taichung 2 is easily the blue camp’s strongest district in the old Taichung County.

Back in 2006 or so when Yen was settling into the new district, the alternative for the KMT was to put another incumbent Black faction legislator, Chi Kuo-tung 紀國棟, into the district.  Eventually, the KMT resolved the roadblock by putting Chi on the party list.  Now that Yen is out, the KMT would prefer for Chi to take the seat.  This would free up a spot on the party list for someone else, keep the seat for the KMT and the Black faction, and put a less controversial person into the seat.  However, that is not going to happen.  The KMT learned (or should have learned) a lesson a couple of years ago when it ran a list legislator for in a by-election in Tainan City.  The DPP candidate had an easy argument.  “If you vote for her, she will still be in the legislature and the empty seat will effectively be filled by some other KMT party list person who doesn’t represent you.  If you elect me, this district will have two local legislators.”  Chi might want to take over the seat in 2016, but he probably doesn’t want to run an expensive and risky campaign right now, especially if he has to tell people that a vote for him is equivalent to a vote for an outsider.

Anyway, someone else wants the seat.  Yen Ching-piao’s son, Yen Kuan-hen 顏寬恒, is planning to run.  I don’t know much about the younger Yen except that he had considered running for Shalu Township mayor in the past, and he looks a lot like his father.  The father was not a formal member of the KMT.  Probably both sides found it convenient to maintain the fiction that Yen was an independent, given his controversial background.  The younger Yen is a KMT member, and he is the only person to register for the KMT’s nomination.  So he’ll probably be the KMT candidate.  Running a family member to appeal directly to the voters for justice for a disgraced or convicted politician is a time-honored tradition in Taiwanese politics.  It makes a lot of sense when you can claim some sort of unfair suppression.  Former President Chen’s son has run twice in the last three years making precisely this sort of appeal.  I’ve never understood why it should work in cases like Yen’s, when he can’t really claim innocence or political persecution.  However, it often seems to be effective, so it might work for Yen as well.

The DPP has drafted a city council member, Chen Shih-kai 陳世凱.  I don’t know a lot about Chen except that he is more of an image politician than a grassroots-type politician.  He is in his first term in the city council, and he isn’t very closely associated with any particular locale the way that Yen is based in Shalu.

How will this unfold?  The KMT hopes to ride Yen Ching-piao’s extensive local organization and connections to victory.  The DPP wants to turn this into a referendum on President Ma.  As I said before, this is a strong KMT district, so it might be strange that the KMT wants to talk about local things and the DPP wants to talk about party politics.  However, both parties are right.  President Ma’s satisfaction ratings are dismal right now, and voters might be eager to send the KMT a message.  Moreover, if the by-elections from 3-4 years ago are any indication, the DPP is quite capable of winning this sort of race.  Turnout is typically around 40% in by-elections, and it might be that without a high-profile mayoral or presidential candidate, KMT supporters just don’t turn out.  The DPP won several by-elections 3-4 years ago in territory even more hostile than Taichung 2, and Ma’s satisfaction ratings are even worse now than they were then.  If Chen turns out to be a competent candidate, he has a good chance of winning this seat for the DPP.

The second, less obvious, story is the more interesting one to me.  This story is about the KMT’s local factions and their fight to adapt to the new Taichung City.  Unlike the first story which will be resolved by the end of January (and probably rendered irrelevant when Chi Kuo-tung takes the seat from the winner in 2016), the story of factional evolution will be unfolding over the next few years.

Before the merger of Taichung City and Taichung County, the two had completely separated local political environments.  City politicians didn’t have much to do with county politics or vice versa.  In Taichung County, KMT politics were dominated by the Red faction and the Black faction.  Taichung County has the most institutionalized factions of any city or county in the country.  The Red and Black factions fought out every electoral contest, from legislator to town council, in the county.  In a way, this made Taichung County much easier to understand since you could just ask who was Red and who was Black.  The factions can trace their roots all the way back to the first county executive election in the early 1950s, when Lin He-nian 林鶴年 handed out red name cards and Chen Shui-tan 陳水潭 handed out black cards.  Those two dominated local politics in the 1950s and then passed their support down to the next generation.  Indeed, the two factions are still sometimes called the Lin and Chen factions.  Over the past half-century, the Red faction has been the more successful of the two, producing a speaker of the Provincial Assembly in the 1970s and a speaker of the legislature in the 1990s.  As in most counties, the KMT tried to ensure that neither faction became too powerful by balancing them against one another.  This meant that when one faction controlled the county executive, the other controlled the county assembly.  Prior to the merger in 2010, the Black faction held the executive, while the speaker, Chang Ching-tang, was from the Red faction.

KMT factions in Taichung City were less stable.  Traditionally, people would talk of the Chang and Lai factions.  However, the Lai faction hadn’t really been powerful since the 1980s.  The Chang faction was named for Chang Chi-chung 張啟仲, who was mayor in the 1970s, and was sustained by his protégé, longtime legislator Hung Chao-nan 洪昭男.  However, Hung retired a few elections ago.  The current leader of the Chang faction is Chang Hung-nien 張宏年, who was speaker of the Taichung City Council before the merger.  Chang Hung-nien’s Chang faction still retains the Chang faction name, but it is not really the same thing as Chang Chi-chung’s Chang faction.  In fact, in today’s Taichung City, you are as likely to hear people talk of the Hu-Lu faction (named for mayor Jason Hu 胡志強 and legislator Lu Hsiu-yen 盧秀燕) as of the Chang or Lai factions.  The Hu-Lu faction, however, is more of a coalition of two people than a full-fledged faction.

So the merger of Taichung City and County in 2010 brought about a merger of these two very different factional systems.  It didn’t go well for any of the factions.  In Taichung County, the two factions lost most of their institutional power.  They had alternated control of the county executive and dominated most lower-level elections.  The Black faction’s power base was arguably in the 21 township mayors, but both had faction members scattered throughout the township councils as well.  With the merger, these offices were abolished.  The Red faction may have survived the merger in better shape, since its power base was in the Farmers Associations, which continued to exist, but both lost a lot of institutional power.  Moreover, the two factions did poorly in the one arena left to them, the new city assembly.  With too many incumbents running for a limited number or seats, the 2010 election was particularly bloody for the two county factions.

The city factions did not lose as much institutional power in the merger, since there were no townships in the city.  However, since the smaller city merged with the more populous county, the city factions found themselves at a numerical disadvantage.  In the end, the county factions struck a deal, and the Red and Black factions took the speaker and vice-speaker seats, leaving the city factions in the cold.

Now, two years later, Red faction speaker Chang Ching-tang has been stripped of his seat, and this might give us some insight on how the various local factions are reorganizing in the new Taichung City.  One might expect the losers of the last elections to try to form a new coalition.  The most obvious loser was former city council speaker, Chang Hung-nien, who wanted to remain speaker (or at least vice-speaker) but was completely shut out.  The lesson of the last election should have been that, as long as the battle was county vs city, he could never win.  I would expect that he has spent the past two years trying to build ties with county politicians to construct a new faction that crossed the old administrative district borders.

In fact, events unfolded without much hubbub (which is quite interesting to me).  As might be expected, the KMT tabbed (Black faction member) vice-speaker Lin Shih-chang 林士昌 to take over as speaker.  However, instead of nominating a Red faction member for vice-speaker, the KMT chose Chang Hung-nien.  Lin and Chang won the election with minimal fanfare.

Now, I don’t know whether Chang has tried to merge his faction with the Red faction or whether the old factional systems have completely collapsed and are undergoing a fundamental reorganization or whether this is an isolated case and nothing significant has happened.  I haven’t seen much in the media about factional politics.  However, something has to be happening.  The merger upset the basic environment, and the various factions have to be doing something to adapt to their new challenges.  We will have a much clearer idea of what is happening after the 2014 elections, but I think we are starting to see the first clues that the old systems are evolving.

Whether they are able to survive could be critical for Taiwan’s future.  Taichung is the tipping point between the green south and the blue north, and the KMT has managed to hold it on the blue side thus far.  If the local factions disintegrate or one of them defects to the DPP (as happened in Chiayi), the national balance of power could swing to the DPP.  We’ll all pay more attention to the upcoming legislative by-election, but the evolution of the KMT’s local factions will eventually be far more consequential.

[1] The DPP won Taichung 1 in 2012.  Maybe they should thank Yen for insisting that Shalu be in Taichung 2.

a few thoughts on the by-election

March 7, 2011

As expected, the DPP won both seats rather easily.  This wasn’t a surprise.  The KMT couldn’t win either one of them in 2008 in the midst of a huge KMT wave and with incumbents in both races.  Popular opinion has since shifted dramatically away from the KMT, they had clearly inferior candidates running this time, and by-elections (at least in these couple of years) seem to play overwhelmingly to the DPP’s strengths.  But I still have a few thoughts rolling around my head.


The KMT didn’t even seem to try.  Their best candidates didn’t run.  We all know about how their top two choices declined to run in Tainan.  In Kaohsiung, they couldn’t even find a serious KMT member to run.  Instead they went for a former DPP member’s son who brought very little to the table.  The top party leaders also didn’t seem interested in sticking their necks out.  One of the big papers had photos of the last night’s events on its front page.  All five of the DPP’s top leaders were out on the hustings.  The KMT was represented by Vice President Siew 蕭萬長 and Vice Speaker Tseng 曾永權.  Ma 馬英九 and Wu 吳敦義 made a few perfunctory appearances, but for the most part it appeared as if they did not want to be associated with the impending debacle.  After the election, the KMT seemed shocked that the turnout had been so low.  More and more, I am convinced that turnout is a function of excitement, not grassroots organization.  The KMT seems to think the opposite is true.  The KMT is replacing its local party chairs for failing to mobilize voters.  I think the fault lies with the top leadership who effectively told their supporters not to bother since there was no chance of winning.


Given the KMT’s miserable performance, I wonder if the biggest loser isn’t actually Hsu Tain-tsair 許添財.  Hsu won the Tainan seat with 61% of the vote.  I wonder if that isn’t, in fact, underwhelming.  (Yes, the other half of me thinks it is a bit ridiculous to call a 60% victory a sign of weakness.)  A DPP city council member associated with Mayor Lai 賴清德 has already announce that he will challenge Hsu in the primary.  Actually, he announced this before the voting was held.  Hsu really could have used a crushing victory to convince his rivals that any fight was hopeless.  He didn’t get it.  In fact, compared to Lin Tai-hua’s 林岱華 70% landslide, Hsu’s victory makes him look surprisingly vulnerable.


My nominee for the biggest winner of this whole thing might also be something of a surprise: KMT legislator Chiang Ling-chun 江玲君.  Chiang represents the Fengshan City district.  In 2008, she barely beat Lin Tai-hua.  She hasn’t been the most visible member of the legislature over the past three years, and I wouldn’t be too optimistic about her chances in a rematch with Lin.  However, Lin is now out of the picture, safely ensconced in another district.  Chiang will face a stiff challenge from someone, but her opponent will probably be significantly less intimidating than Lin would have been.