Archive for the ‘infrastructure’ Category

evolution of the political map and money politics

November 25, 2014

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Kaohsiung MRT bleeds cash

September 15, 2010

I’ve been wondering if we would hear anything about the Kaohsiung MRT system during this election cycle, and here it is.

The Control Yuan is investigating the finances of the Kaohsiung MRT, and it has found that the KMRT is hemorrhaging money.  In the year that it has been open, the KMRT has lost NT 7b, and it is quickly running out of cash.

KMRT is officially a private business, but it is, of course, closely tied to the city government.  If the private business goes bankrupt, the city government will be left to bail out the mess.  So if the KMRT runs out of cash, fails to pay bondholders, or something else, the taxpayers can’t just ignore it as if it were a bank. [1]

The Control Yuan doesn’t seem to be accusing anyone of wrongdoing.  The basic problem is simply that not enough people are riding the KMRT so revenues are too low.  (The KMRT is a beautiful system, with gorgeous architecture, nice, shiny trains, and lots of elbow room.  But while having the whole train to yourself can be enjoyable, it makes for a financial disaster.)  I’m not sure whether the population density is too low, the lines were built on the wrong routes, people don’t habitually take mass transportation in Kaohsiung, or people simply haven’t adjusted their lives and transportation habits around the KMRT yet.  It might be something else, too.  However, the Kaohsiung MRT is clearly not part of the everyday lives of Kaohsiung residents the way the Taipei MRT is.

Anyway, one thing I have learned from Taipei politics is that the MRT has political consequences.   On the positive side, you get to spread around lots of contracts worth trainloads of money constructing the system.  On the negative side, once it is built, only negative political credit is possible.  If the system operates perfectly and makes a profit, no one gives you credit.  (Example: Does Mayor Hao get any credit because the Taipei MRT is rolling in profits?  Of course not! )  However, if anything goes wrong, the blame is swift and sharp.  The MRT is a tangible issue that voters can see and understand.  We might not understand the intricacies of health care reform, but everyone can understand a derailed train, a crowded and dirty station, a corruption scandal, or a construction delay.

So I expect to hear a lot more about the Kaohsiung MRT over the next two months.  I don’t think this will be sufficient to derail Chen Ju’s re-election bid, but it might eat into her margin significantly.

[1] That was intentional.

The Hualian campaign and predictions

February 26, 2010

On the eve of the legislative yuan by-election, I thought I’d update the races and make some highly dubious predictions.

Three of the races are shaping up mostly as I discussed in my previous posts.  Chiayi County 2 is going to be a landslide DPP win.  Stunningly, the KMT seems to have publicly given up on the race in Hsinchu County.  KMT spokesmen are  publicly only hoping to protect two seats, and they always mean Taoyuan 3 and Hualian.

In Taoyuan, the race has degenerated into an ugly series of accusations that the other side is cheating, corrupt, an outsider, and so on.  The KMT has largely ignored the two independent candidates and focused its attacks on the DPP candidate, Huang Renzhu 黃仁杼.  Huang seemed like a much stronger candidate at the beginning of the campaign, but I think the KMT’s efforts to portray him as a small-minded, local, visionless, grassroots figure are taking some effect.

Something very interesting, however, is happening in Hualian.  The campaign has turned into a full-blown issue-oriented, not personality-oriented, campaign.  One issue is dominating discussion: transportation.  To understand this, we’re going to need some background.

Here’s a map of Hualian County from Wikipedia.  Hualian is in red.

Taiwan ROC political division map Hualien County.svg

At the end of 2009, 4.5% of the total population lived in the three counties along the east coast.  2.0% lived in Ilan County, just north of Hualian County; 1.0% lived in Taidong County, just south of Hualian County; and the other 1.5% lived in Hualian County.[1] Why do so few people live on the east coast?  A quick glance at a topographical map answers this question.

As you can see, it’s very hard to get from the Taipei area to Ilan County.  It’s even harder to get from Ilan County to Hualian County.  It’s not hard at all to get from Hualian to Taidong, since the East Coast Rift Valley is about 30km wide and runs from Hualian City at the northern mouth of the valley, to Taidong City, at the southern mouth.

Currently, there are three ways to get from Taipei to Hualian.  You can fly, take the train, or drive.  Driving is a real drag.  Ten years ago, there were two provincial highways going from Taipei to Ilan.  One was a winding mountain road; the other was a winding coastal road.  Both roads are heavily traveled two lane highways and are quite slow and dangerous.  The coastal route, which most heavy trucks used, had the added disadvantage of going to Jilong City, not directly to Taipei City.  Getting to Ilan is the easy part.  There is one road going from Ilan to Hualian.  This road is one of the most breathtaking roads in the world.  The mountains rise straight out of the ocean over 1000 feet high in many places.  (This is also true below the waves; the ocean floor is over 1000 feet below sea level.  From mountain peak to ocean floor is probably less than 100 feet horizontally in many places.)  For long stretches at a time, the road is carved out of the rock halfway up the side of the mountain.  Since you follow the shape of the mountainside, the road can be very twisty and prone to collapse.  In several sections, they have opted to build a short tunnel, but you can still see the old road going around the outside of the mountain.  Over the past three decades, the road has gotten progressively safer but less beautiful as they have built more and more of these bypass tunnels.  However, there is still plenty of scenic road left.  On a sunny summer day, the ocean waters are a deep blue and the mountains are dark brown, except where covered with lush green vegetation.  I’ve taken several memorable trips on this road, and it makes me happy every time.  Well, unless it’s not a sunny summer day.  When it is dark, when it rains, or both, this road is downright terrifying.  Even when it’s bright and sunny, this road is very slow.

About 5 years ago, it became much easier to get to Ilan from Taipei.  The government built a beautiful new four-lane divided freeway.  It cost a lot of money because it has several long tunnels deep underneath the surface.  The longest tunnel is over 12km long.  It also cuts the time to get to Ilan by more than half (unless, as is frequently the case on holidays, it has a traffic jam), and is far safer than either of the old roads.  As you might guess, weekend tourism in Ilan is booming.  It’s still very hard to get to Hualian or Taidong, however.

Let’s return to the campaign.  The DPP has never done very well in Hualian, and it didn’t have a local candidate willing to take up the fight.  They nominated Bi-khim Hsiao 蕭美琴, who has likely spent more time in Ohio[2] than in Hualian.  I think a lot of what has happened is probably due to a short-term horizon.  Hsiao had to have figured that her political career in Hualian would last all of two months, after which she would return to Taipei.  She took the nomination as a service to her party, and determined to fight (and lose) the good fight.  Since she had no reasonable chance of winning and wanted to bolster, not sully, her national image, she had no reason to descend into ugly mudslinging.  Rather, she constructed a policy-oriented campaign centered around economic development and transportation.  She is calling for several things, most notably for the government to subsidize half the price of bus and train tickets to Hualian and for Hualian businesses to be exempt from the operating tax.  The latter is inspired by her shock and disbelief[3] upon coming to Hualian and finding that Hualian’s level of development is roughly the same as Penghu’s.[4] Penghu businesses have a special exemption from the operating tax, and Hsiao insists that the residents “behind the mountains” should get the same treatment.  All of this would be just more cheap talk, but the DPP has introduced an “East Coast Development Act” in the legislature and pushed it through to the second reading.  The DPP bill budgets NT50 billion (USD 1.6 billion) for east coast development.  The KMT has reacted with its own version of the bill, but it provides for far less funding.  I wonder how Hsiao ever managed to get the DPP to accept responsibility for her campaign promises.  It must have been part of her conditions for accepting the nomination in the first place.  “If I go, I’ll have to run on transportation issues, so you’ll have to support my bill in the legislature.”  Of course, since neither she nor the DPP expected her to win, they probably did not expect to really have to pass or take responsibility for the financial consequences of these promises.

One thing that Hsiao noticeably has not endorsed is the freeway plan.  There is a plan to extend the Taipei-Ilan freeway all the way down the east coast.  Public opinion in Hualian (and presumably Taidong) is solidly in favor of the freeway.  There are two major reasons that it hasn’t been built: cost and environmental impact.  I can’t judge the environmental issues, except to say that people around the rest of the island seem to be more worried about environmental impact than people in Hualian.  Financially, this is a classic case of concentrated benefits and diffused costs.  People in Hualian would benefit disproportionally from the road while paying only a small fraction of the costs.  One estimate for the cost of the section between Ilan and Hualian was NT 89 billion (USD 2.8 billion).  About 70% of that was earmarked for one especially long tunnel.[5]

The candidate stumping hard for the highway is independent Shi Shenglang 施勝郎. In fact, the KMT has accused Shi of only having one idea.  Perhaps, but it seems to be a potent one.  The Shi campaign is practically daring the KMT to match its appeal.  County executive Fu Kunqi 傅崑萁 has publicly said that he will switch his support to the KMT candidate as soon as President Ma signs a statement that he will start building the freeway this term.

The KMT has responded by attacking Shi almost as much or perhaps even more than Hsiao.  I think this is a big mistake.  In Taoyuan, the KMT has ignored the two minor candidates, and they seem to be fading into the background.  In Hualian, the KMT has ensured that people think of this race as having three distinct choices.  It is entirely possible that the KMT argument that a vote for Shi is really a vote for Hsiao may backfire by reminding voters that Shi is in the race.  The KMT would have been better off by focusing on Hsiao and turning this into a choice between KMT and DPP.

OK, how about some predictions?  First, a disclaimer.  I don’t have much confidence in my predictions.  Each election is an incredibly complex phenomenon that we only see a very small slice of.  This is true for people working 24 hours a day on the campaigns, and it is much more true for people like me who see the election from afar and in scattered little bits.  Moreover, I rely heavily on past events to predict future events.  One reason that the social sciences are much more difficult than the natural sciences is that people, unlike molecules, learn, adjust their behavior, and even strategically.  My “predictions” are really just glorified guesses, and I expect them to be wrong quite often.

Here are my best guesses:

Chiayi County 2: Chen Mingwen 陳明文 (DPP) 69; Lin Derui 林德瑞 (KMT) 31.

Hsinchu County: Peng Shaojin 彭紹瑾 (DPP) 54; Zheng Yongtang 鄭永堂 (KMT) 46.

Taoyuan County Third District: Chen Xuesheng 陳學聖 (KMT) 49; Huang Renzhu 黃仁杼 (DPP) 40; Wu Yudong 吳餘棟 (IND) 7, Lin Xiangmei 林香美 (IND) 4.

Hualian County:  Bi-khim Hsiao 蕭美琴 (DPP) 44; Wang Tingsheng 王廷生 (KMT) 42; Shi Shenglang 施勝郎 (IND) 14.

I’m stunned by my own predictions.  That would be DPP 3, KMT 1.  According to the political map, the KMT should win the latter three seats handily.  I can’t believe that I think the DPP will be close in all of them, much less win in two of them.  I must be off my rocker.

[1] For reference, 29.7% of the total population lived in Greater Taipei (Taipei City, Taipei County, and Jilong City on the northern tip of the island.

[2] Hsiao has a BA from Oberlin and an MA from Columbia.

[3] Somehow she has turned being an outsider into an advantage.  She could naively and innocently be shocked by conditions in Hualian, leading to (convenient) moral outrage at the state of affairs.  In other words, her appeal is “I had no idea it was this bad!  We have to do something about this!”

[4] Penghu is the chain of islands to the west of central Taiwan.

[5] The central government is investigating an alternate plan to upgrade the existing provincial highway by putting in a few tunnels in the most treacherous sections.  This plan would cost about half as much as building a new freeway.  It would also still leave east coast residents with a two-lane, unlimited access highway with large stretches of winding road.