Archive for the ‘party politics’ Category

The TSU: We’re back, baby!

August 19, 2019

So apparently, the Taiwan Solidarity Union still exists. Who knew! I learned of their continuing existence because they published a half page ad in the Liberty Times yesterday. This has to be my favorite ad in several years. I’m not quite sure why it tickles me so much. Do they understand how crazy it is to publish a voting guide for strategic voting five months before the election? We don’t even know who the contestants will be yet. And look at how they have helpfully defined all the other political parties in various far-fetched ways! And their totally unrealistic policy proposals! Did anyone tell them that there is a range of enormous mountains on the island or a big body of water next to it? Even though this ad is half bonkers, the other half is somehow extremely informative.

Here’s the ad:

The top line reads, “unity in the green camp, but differences on the party vote.” On the left side, the red font reads, “if you support these policies, vote for these parties.” The logos are for the DPP, NPP, Taiwan State Building Party, and Social Democrats. Their respective policies are abolishing the death penalty, raising the minimum wage and applying labor laws to foreign workers, huge increases in tobacco taxes, protecting Taiwan’s sovereignty, and not amending the constitution to formally change the name of the country. On the bottom left, they have the logos for the two new radical independence parties, the Formosa Alliance and the Taiwan Action Party Alliance. People who oppose Tsai Ing-wen are encouraged to vote for those two parties. On the right side it lists the TSU’s positions:

  • Protecting Taiwan’s sovereignty by amending the constitution to change the name
  • opposing recent revisions to the labor standards law (concerning consecutive working days or mandatory two-day weekends; also, they think it should only set a maximum number of working hours everything else should be left to negotiations between labor and capital)
  • opposing abolishing the death penalty
  • applying different standard to Taiwanese and foreign labor (NT30,000 minimum wage for Taiwanese labor, NT8,000 minimum wage for foreign labor, you must hire one Taiwanese worker for every four foreign workers, this cuts the price of labor in half!)
  • oppose huge increases in the tobacco tax
  • allow and encourage automobile racing, light aircraft, and coastal and canal yachts
  • development projects for the west coast
    • bridge between Taiwan and Penghu (next to the bridge, there will be large-scale enclosed aquaculture, under the bridge will be tidal power generation, next to the bridge wind power generation
    • east-west rail line from the east coast to Yunlin and Chiayi to Penghu
    • 80km artificial island off the west coast (Changhua to Tainan), upper layer for wind power, forested lower layer to help reduce air pollution
    • Canal on the Changhua to Tainan coast for yachting and waterside residences

To top it all off, the orange box at the bottom sneers, “You don’t care about policies? Your vote is a worthless fart! Cast your party for the TSU; the communist bandits will shit their pants.”


I wonder who has an investment interest in auto racing and/or yachts. Those are flat-out weird. Also, they are entirely focused on southern Taiwan. There is no mention of the north, and the only mention of the east is the bananas idea to run a railroad straight through the Central Mountain range to Hualien. I also love the idea of building wind turbines in a forested area. Have they never noticed that all the vegetation around the base of a wind turbine is always removed? I dunno, maybe these guys aren’t exactly world-class civil engineers.

Yet, this ad does say something substantive. First, the TSU is clearly defining themselves as a conservative, Taiwan nationalist party. Never mind all the progressive stuff that the NPP and Social Democrats are pushing, they think the DPP’s economic policies are basically socialist! Second, they are differentiating themselves from the two new radical independence parties by supporting Tsai Ing-wen. They think everyone in the green camp should vote for her (including supporters of those two parties, but they aren’t asking for party votes from people who oppose her.

But let’s not let actual information distract us too much from the main message: The TSU is batshit zany. They are throwing down a marker to all the other small green camp parties: we dare you to try to match our superficially reasonable but utterly delusional ideas. We are the craziest motherfuckers in this polity, so stay off our turf. (Especially the turf on the magical artificial island next to the impossible bridge!)

The NPP’s internal divisions, Ko’s new party, and the China Cleavage

August 7, 2019

Every now and then, an international media outlet will publish a story on Taiwan elections that interprets everything through the lens of relations with China. For example, someone might write a story saying that, after the recent events in Hong Kong, the DPP’s presidential prospects are surging. Every time this happens, a gaggle of Taiwan-based analysts responds by pointing out that it isn’t that simple. Taiwanese politics are complex, and Taiwan’s international relationship with China isn’t the only thing that affects voting. All kinds of things unrelated to China policy – nuclear power, labor policy, air quality, food safety, overdevelopment, corruption, marriage equality, pensions, health care, industrial policy, tax rates, whether to ban drinking straws, and on and on – also affect electoral outcomes. Of course, they are right. But…

In the broader argument about the fundamental nature of Taiwanese politics, I come down firmly on the side that argues that Taiwan has one and only one dominant political cleavage. Taiwan’s relationship with China, broadly conceived, is more important than all of those other issues put together. This China Cleavage fundamentally shapes every aspect of Taiwan’s politics, most notably the party system. To put it bluntly, you can understand most – somewhere between 70% and 90% – of Taiwan’s politics if you understand the China Cleavage. (Of course, no one – including me – fully understands the China Cleavage.) Moreover, you can’t understand anything else unless you understand how it is embedded within the China Cleavage. The conflicts over all those other issues I listed above don’t make any sense unless you understand how they are filtered through the China Cleavage. They aren’t completely absorbed by it; otherwise they wouldn’t matter at all. However, they are deeply influenced by it. The opposite is not true. You don’t need to have a solid background in food safety issues to understand the China Cleavage.

Lots of people have written about this messy cleavage that defines Taiwanese politics, so I’ll be brief. I think of it as having four related but somewhat different dimensions. The first is ethnic background – the conflict between native Taiwanese (those who were already here during the Japanese colonial era) and mainlanders (who came after WWII). This dimension was most important during the authoritarian era but has faded in importance over the past few decades. The second is national identity, whether a person self-identifies as Chinese or Taiwanese. My personal opinion is that this is currently the single most important aspect of the China Cleavage. If I were cut off from all information about Taiwan for five years and you offered to give me just one number, I would want to know the percentage of respondents identifying as Taiwanese only in the NCCU Election Study Center tracking polls. The third dimension involves Taiwan’s future status. Should Taiwan unify with China, become a formally independent state, or something else. This dimension seems to have faded in importance in recent years. The fourth dimension is how to manage day-to-day relations with China. On what basis should Taiwan have economic interactions with China? How should Taiwan regulate Taiwanese citizens in China and Chinese citizens in Taiwan? Is it important to have government-to-government communications? What is the best way to prevent war? What is the best way to protect Taiwan’s sovereignty? This dimension is rapidly increasing in importance and may even be approaching national identity in significance. It will probably continue to increase in importance because China is increasingly making demands on Taiwan and more and more aggressively challenging Taiwan’s place in international society. National identity and day-to-day relations focus attention in different places. National identity is idealistic, looking at how citizens feel about themselves and who they want to be. Day-to-day relations is much more pragmatic, searching for a workable plan of action that may not completely reflect the choices they would make in an ideal world.

Lots of people would prefer for Taiwanese elections not to be about the China Cleavage. These people are like climate change deniers. It doesn’t matter if you want to ignore this set of issues, the world will force you to pay attention to them. You might want to think about air quality, but whether or not Taiwan continues to exist simply matters more. You might want to think about labor relations as a purely domestic issue, but Taiwan’s economy is highly intertwined with China’s, and China periodically does things that send shockwaves through Taiwan’s political and economic environment. Until Taiwan’s status is thoroughly resolved – something that is hopefully not on the immediate horizon – the China Cleavage will inevitably dwarf everything else in importance.


Why am I talking about the China Cleavage? The last couple weeks in Taiwanese politics have been eventful, to say the least. I’m going to focus on two big stories, the civil war threatening to rip the New Power Party apart and the recent moves by Ko Wen-je and Terry Gou. Both of these are much more easily understood through the lens of the China Cleavage.


The New Power Party was founded on the assumption that Taiwan does NOT have a single dominant political cleavage. The NPP positioned itself as a pro-Taiwan party occupying roughly the same space as the DPP on the China Cleavage spectrum. Unlike the Taiwan Solidarity Union or some of the new political parties that have been announced in the past few weeks, the NPP did not differentiate itself from the DPP by staking out a markedly more extreme position on this spectrum. Rather, it differentiated itself by staking out a markedly different position on a second dimension, the progressive-conservative dimension. The NPP argued that the DPP was fundamentally a conservative pro-Taiwan party, and it would be a progressive pro-Taiwan party. Thus, the NPP took different positions on things like labor unions, the welfare state, student issues, and, above all, marriage equality.

In recent months, the NPP has had an internal debate over its future path. Some, led by Freddy Lim and Tzu-yung Hung, want the NPP to cooperate with the DPP in the presidential election to guard against throwing the presidency to pro-China forces. Others, led by KC Huang and Yung-ming Hsu, feel that this will condemn the NPP to an existence as the DPP’s junior partner. They want the NPP to set its own course and become an unaffiliated party that can bargain with (and extract more concessions from) either major party. These two visions effectively force members to ask themselves whether the China Cleavage or the progressive-conservative cleavage is more important to them.

If the latter is true, Huang and Hsu are probably right to want to escape the DPP’s shadow. The NPP will be able to maintain its popular support, since its voters will continue to support them. (Voters tend to vote for whatever they think is the most important thing.) Moreover, the NPP will have more bargaining power in the legislature if it can deny both major parties an outright majority.

However, the progressive-conservative cleavage simply isn’t more important than the China Cleavage. Even NPP, who might like that to be so, know deep in their guts that the China Cleavage trumps everything. Maintaining Taiwan’s sovereignty is a prerequisite for everything else. Marriage equality is impossible without liberal democracy, and liberal democracy is incompatible with any arrangement the PRC would agree to. Lim and Hung simply (and correctly) aren’t willing to throw the presidency to the KMT, even if that means that the NPP is doomed to remain a “small green” party. They can’t convince themselves that their progressive agenda makes it ok to ignore the China Cleavage. If Huang and Hsu insist on directly challenging the DPP, the NPP will inevitably be plunged into this sort of civil war.

Being a “small green” party may not be the path that the NPP wants, but, unless it wants to adjust its position on the China Cleavage spectrum, that is the only viable path to survival. They simply cannot be a pro-Taiwan party that purposely divides the pro-Taiwan vote and helps the pro-China side to win, no matter how wonderfully progressive they are. They can perhaps survive by sticking to their 2016 positioning. In 2016, they cooperated with the DPP in the presidential and district legislative races. In the party list ballot, they contented themselves with the (small) chunk of pro-Taiwan voters who were also progressive. If the NPP does choose to adjust its position on China, it has two other options. It either has to become more extreme and argue that the DPP is not actually a pro-Taiwan party or become more moderate and argue against pro-Taiwan positions. If it takes the latter path, it has an obvious ally in Ko Wen-je.


Ko Wen-je is setting up a new party today, the Taiwan People’s Party. He also may or may not be running for president. He also may or may not be cooperating with Terry Gou, who also may or may not be running for president. I’m fairly sure that at least one of them will run. At any rate, we don’t know exactly what it will look like, but there will be a challenge from the center.

Like the NPP, Ko’s most enthusiastic supporters may not want to care very much about the China Cleavage. Ko’s base is disaffected youth who think that both major parties are corrupt and do not represent them. However, there isn’t really a cluster of issues that Ko taps into to bind these voters to him for the long run. Ko, unlike the NPP, was glaringly absent during the debate over marriage equality. When he did speak, it was for the other side. To the extent that Ko has any specific issue, it is that he has paid off lots of government debt. However, I don’t think that his supporters are really motivated by lowering the city debt. I think they are more motivated by his style. They see him as speaking bluntly and plainly. He sometimes says controversial things, but that is ok because it shows that he is not an ordinary, polished (meaning corrupt) establishment politician. So far, Ko has a good record on corruption, and this is also one of his main appeals.  However, corruption is what we call a valence issue: it is unidirectional. Everyone is against corruption, and everyone wants less of it. Being against corruption is like being for a good economy and praising mothers. Enduring parties are founded on positional issues, not valence issues. Someone else has to enthusiastically take the position that you are standing against. If Ko were just a plain-speaking, honest politician, he wouldn’t be very interesting.

However, Ko has also taken a centrist position on the China Cleavage. His One Family discourse effectively stakes out a position somewhere in the muddy middle. Unlike the KMT, he does not explicitly endorse the 92 Consensus or the One China policy. Unlike the DPP, he makes nods toward the notion that China and Taiwan are somehow connected.

Terry Gou has also staked out a relatively centrist position, though his is closer to the KMT than Ko’s. While the KMT drifts to a more extreme position by endorsing a peace treaty and jettisoning ideas such as No unification, No Independence, No War, Gou has shifted toward the center. He has suggested that Ma’s 92 Consensus is too weak, and the critical part is “each side with its own interpretation.” He has also played around with a Two China’s discourse.  Gou is clearer than Ko about the fundamental nature of Taiwan as Chinese. However, both argue that they would do more than the KMT to protect Taiwan’s sovereignty.

This centrist positioning suggests that the Ko/Gou alliance (if one takes shape) might be a viable stance. However, China will have something to say about that. Under Ma Ying-jeou, the KMT’s policy was to engage formally with the PRC to spur economic growth. However, this meant that the KMT had to entice the PRC into the meeting room, and that meant satisfying PRC demands on sovereignty. The 92 Consensus was designed as a formula that would simultaneously satisfy China (“One China”) and reassure the Taiwanese electorate that the KMT wasn’t plunging headlong into unification (“each side with its own interpretation”).  In recent years, the PRC has been increasingly dissatisfied with this formulation, constantly urging the KMT to go one step further. Since the KMT still needs the PRC to enter the meeting rooms, it has been dragged to a more extreme position.

Ko and Gou are effectively ignoring the KMT’s experience and arguing that they can get all the benefit of the 92 Consensus with even less of a concession on sovereignty than even Ma, much less Han, had to make. This is going to be a difficult position to explain to the public during the campaign. I have no idea if China will stay silent, thus helping Ko/Gou by not publicly vetoing their proposal, or feel the need to clarify that it requires more. If either is elected, I suspect they will find their position untenable and will be driven either to the DPP’s position of living without official contact or the KMT’s position of fully endorsing One China and taking concrete steps toward unification (eg: peace treaty) in order to get into the meeting room. As we say in Texas, the only things in the middle of the road are yellow lines and dead armadillos.


The hegemony of the China Cleavage isn’t entirely a bad thing. In fact, Kharis Templeman has made a powerful argument that Taiwan’s successful democracy has been achieved not in spite of the China Cleavage, but precisely because of it. The China Cleavage gives Taiwanese politics structure and stability. You may have a different opinion, but we don’t get to try it a different way. For better or worse, Taiwan’s relationship with China, broadly conceived, will continue to be the most important force in Taiwanese for the foreseeable future.


I wrote this post before watching the rollout of Ko Wen-je’s new party. Let’s just say that it isn’t going well so far.

When news leaked that Ko had registered a party named the Taiwan People’s Party, a name previously used in the 1920s by a group led by Chiang Wei-shui, criticism came quickly. Chiang’s family members publicly and vocally opposed Ko’s use of the name. They think that Ko is taking advantage of Chiang’s good reputation while not representing Chiang’s ideals. DPP surrogates have elaborated on this by contrasting Chiang’s defense of Taiwanese autonomy (“Taiwan is the Taiwanese people’s Taiwan”) with Ko’s ambivalent One Family discourse. Right off the bat, Ko is being defined as wishy washy on China and lacking in core values.

I wondered who would show up as a founding member of the new TPP. I thought maybe Ko would have some high-profile figures from society and maybe even a smattering of defectors from both the blue and green camps. Nope. Almost all of the prominent roles are being filled by officials from the Taipei city government. (Terry Gou and Wang Jin-pyng sent flowers but did not personally attend.)

Today’s other big news is that protests and government/thug crackdowns continue to intensify in Taiwan Hong Kong. Han Kuo-yu gave a pro-China response to the media, expressing hope that the chaos in Hong Kong would end quickly and pointedly refusing to express support for demonstrators or democracy and declining to assign blame to China or the Hong Kong authorities. That was predictable, as the KMT has decided to do whatever it takes to maintain an amicable relationship with the PRC. Ko’s response was more surprising. Ko said that he didn’t know anything about it, and that the protests in Hong Kong had nothing to do with Taiwan. He might as well have covered his eyes, turned his back, and then buried his head in the sand. So maybe that is how Ko intends to deal with China…

At the ceremony, Ko gave a short speech laying out his vision for his new party. He argued that Taiwan has lousy government because the two big parties run the country along ideological lines. What is he for? All the things you want! Good policies, effective governance, human rights, democracy, standing with public opinion, respect for expertise, no corruption, and (I think) economic development. Notice anything missing? That’s right. In this speech laying out the basic ideals of the new party, Ko did not mention sovereignty or China. He completely ignored the question of how he would manage the single most important question facing the country.

I guess Ko doesn’t agree with my thesis in this post. If today’s performance was any indication, he’s going to try to ignore the China Cleavage. At the very least, he’s going to argue that other things are more important. We’ll see how well this argument goes over with the general public. I don’t think he can run for president this way, though maybe his party can win a few (less than five) seats on the party list. Perhaps he is leaving the door open for an alliance with Terry Gou. If Gou is the presidential candidate, he will define the position on China. Still, I expected him to say something vague about protecting Taiwan’s sovereignty and having fruitful relations with China. He couldn’t even manage that.

the KMT primary

July 4, 2019

I started this post last week after the first KMT presidential debate. It was supposed to be a debate summary. However, I don’t seem to have the time to write an exhaustive debate analysis, and I have an important point about polling that I want to throw out there. So I’ll just publish this without much debate analysis.


It’s hard to know where to start with this field since there are so many different angles. I guess I’ll start with Han Kuo-yu. The Kaohsiung mayor has seemingly been in the lead all year. In a previous post, I suggested that Han draws support from three different types of voters: orthodox KMT supporters, the uncommitted and not-very ideological centrist voters, and voters fed up with the establishment from both parties.

The deep blue voters are head over heels for Han. He is a mainlander who came up through the KMT Huang Fu-hsing (military) party branch, so maybe it isn’t all that surprising that they love him so much. I think one thing that is often overlooked with Han is just how orthodox his views about Taiwan and China are. We often think of him as a populist, throwing bombs from the outside. He has offended some KMT insiders, such as former president Ma, but his offenses are stylistic rather than ideological. On policy, his views fit in quite comfortably with standard KMT views. Economically, he wants to develop by integrating Taiwan’s economy into China. This is not fundamentally different from Ma’s policy. Of course, Han packages it differently. He stresses how lower-class people can benefit, such as farmers selling agricultural products or people in the tourist industry catering to Chinese visitors. Ma viewed the problem from a more abstract macroeconomic angle. Nevertheless, they are both pushing similar policy agendas. Han also isn’t really challenging the 92 Consensus, though he doesn’t always phrase his ideas in those terms. In other words, Han is different from someone like Trump. Republicans have to accept some policies they don’t like about Trump (notably trade policy and, to a lesser extent, immigration policy) to get the things they like (taxes, judges, and executive power). They also have to accept his style, which most of them dislike. KMT members don’t have to make any policy compromises with Han. They only have to accept his style, which isn’t nearly as outrageous of a departure as Trump’s. This is a small price to pay for winning. Let’s not forget that Han performed a miracle last year, winning what was widely regarded as an unwinnable race. To put it even more dramatically, after 2016 it looked as if the KMT message was obsolete. To win back power, the KMT was going to have to make some painful changes to some of its most cherished positions. Instead, Han emerged and managed to sell an almost unaltered version of their old-time religion to some of the traditionally hostile voters in the country. Moreover, he created the wave that carried the KMT along with it in many other important races all over the island. “We can win elections without doing anything differently? Sign me up!”

So it makes perfect sense to me that the deep blues adore Han. What is somewhat harder to understand is why he is so attractive outside that group. After all, it is the ability to go beyond deep blue votes that enables him to win (and thus so enthralling to the deep blues). He has been embraced by the KMT local factions in a way that is nearly unthinkable for a mainlander (who speaks only lousy Taiwanese) from the Taipei area who came up through the military party branch. The obvious answer is that he married well. His wife’s (Lee Chia-fen) family is deeply enmeshed in Yunlin factional politics. Her family has held a seat in the county assembly since 1986. Her father had it for three terms, then her brother held it for three terms, and now she is on her third term. Her father started out as a factional opponent of current Yunlin political godfather Chang Jung-wei. In Chang’s first big stab at power, the 1994 Yunlin speaker election, her father supported the other side. (That was a wild affair. Both sides bribed heavily and then took their purchased assembly-elect members on foreign trips to make sure the other side wouldn’t poach them, returning only on the day of the election. About 2000 police surrounded the county assembly so that gangsters wouldn’t be able to physically intimidate the members. The first ballot was tied, and Chang’s opponent won when one of Chang’s votes was ruled invalid because it was (inadvertently or maybe not so inadvertently) splashed with betelnut juice.) Four years later, Chang won the 1998 speaker election. In that election, Lee’s father switched sides, the Lee family has been allied with Chang ever since. There are at least two important consequences of this history. First, Han has been in close contact with local faction politicians for his entire thirty-year marriage. He has learned how to speak their language and be comfortable with their culture. As a family member, he has been trusted and socialized in ways that very few mainlander politicians can claim. In short, he is not an outsider. Second and more specifically, his ties with Chang Jung-wei go back two decades. He is not just a recent ally of convenience. This is a long-term relationship. Chang is one of the most influential faction leaders. If he vouches for Han, it carries some weight. It has been fascinating to watch the local factions switch their allegiance over the past year. A year ago, Wang Jin-pyng and Wu Den-yi were considered the leaders of this part of the KMT. Wang campaigned hard for Han in the mayoral race, bringing the Kaohsiung factions into the fold. Now however, Wang and Wu seem to have lost their leadership positions. All those local factions seem more responsive to Han than to them.

I’m not entirely convinced by the story I just told about Han becoming part of the factional family. I can’t quite explain why, but it just seems too easy to me. I suspect (without any evidence) that something more substantial is going on behind the scenes. Political scientists have traditionally understood local factions as a network of hierarchical patron-client relationships, with the top-level patron as the KMT. The KMT distributed resources to its clients, which they in turn distributed down their networks. However, many of the old sources of goodies, such as the farmers association credit unions, township budgets, and irrigation associations, have dried up. Why has Han emerged as such a powerful leader? The sinister explanation is that he is the connection to a new top-level patron distributing resources. We know that China is trying to penetrate Taiwanese society in exactly this sort of way. Admittedly, I have no evidence for this suspicion, but it seems to me a more convincing explanation of the factions’ sudden rush to embrace such an unlikely figure.

These two pillars of Han’s support, the deep blues and the local factions, are pretty solid. That might seem unexpected, since I just argued that one of the sources of Han’s support is the idea that he can win. One might expect that bad polls would puncture that bubble, and all of his support would evaporate. I do not expect his support to be so tenuous. The deep blue voters have seen him deliver a miracle once, and I suspect they will be reluctant to abandon him without definitive evidence in the form of a losing election. After all, switching to another candidate probably means accepting some (painful) adjustments to China policy. They are all in on him. Likewise, many of the local factions have made serious commitments to the Han campaign; they are also heavily invested in Han. Moreover, there is a big payoff to being a core supporter of a winner. Many will take their chances at that prize rather than becoming peripheral supporters of another candidate who (momentarily) appears to have a slightly higher chance of winning.

Outside these two pillars, however, Han’s position seems to be gradually eroding. His lackluster performance as mayor has hurt him. He doesn’t seem to be able to manage the Kaohsiung city government, so voters might wonder if he is up to the task of overseeing the much more complex and challenging central government. Moreover, at the same time he seems a bit overmatched by the task of governing Kaohsiung, he is grasping at even more power by running for the presidency. Many voters who thought he was a different type of politician may be having second thoughts. He is also hurt whenever he deals with or comments on China. Ordinary voters mostly overlooked his position on China, but they were not happy with his lack of support for the Hong Kong demonstrations or his startling reluctance to criticize One Country Two Systems. Han’s support among ordinary centrist voters – and most are not directly controlled by local factions – seems to be waning. His support among disillusioned voters has probably declined even more. His unfavorable ratings have steadily crept upward over the past six months, and he is now one of the more disliked politicians in Taiwan. He appears to have a high floor and a low ceiling.


When Terry Gou jumped into the race, I expected him to run on a platform of integrating Taiwan’s economy with China’s and sweeping aside any political obstacles (such as disagreements about One China) that might get in the way of that goal. After all, it was widely rumored that Gou had been recruited by former president Ma as a way to block Han from getting the nomination, so it seemed reasonable to expect that Gou would share Ma’s vision. Moreover, as the head of Hon Hai, the largest private employer in China, Gou has a strong incentive to ensure that Taiwan and China enjoy smooth relations.

It hasn’t turned out that way. Gou has positioned himself as a defender of the ROC who is not at all interested in unification. Rather, he has staked out a position in the center of the independence – unification spectrum that might be described as maintaining the status quo indefinitely. The DPP currently also wants to maintain the status quo, but Gou and the DPP have different ideas of what the status quo is. The DPP says that the status quo is de facto independence, while Gou believes that the status quo involves a sovereign ROC that is not an independent Taiwan. In this, he is most similar to Lee Teng-hui’s position in the 1990s.

Upon entering the race, Gou called for two countries. This was probably not a sophisticated and carefully considered position, since he backtracked fairly quickly in face of the outcry from orthodox KMT voices. Rather, it probably reflects a pragmatic business approach in which he has never really had to parse his words with the fanatical precision that politicians do. Gou retreated to a version of the 92 Consensus, but he is not all the way back to Ma Ying-jeou’s 92 Consensus, much less to the slightly more China-friendly version most of the KMT is holding today. During the first presidential debate, Gou flatly stated that the 92 Consensus must be one China, each side with its own interpretation. Moreover, the second part of the formula – each side with its own interpretation – was the more important part of that formula. Without that second clause, Gou insisted that there can be no consensus. If Gou is elected and insists on this, it might effectively torpedo the utility of the 92 Consensus for lubricating official interactions with the PRC since the PRC has doggedly ignored the existence of the second clause. To them, the 92 Consensus is only One China. The KMT has ignored the PRC’s redefinition, waving it away as the PRC’s interpretation. After all, they say, each side has its own interpretation. Gou is suggesting that the 92 Consensus requires the PRC to admit that the ROC interpretation exists and has some degree of legitimacy.

Eric Chu is the third KMT candidate. Chu is professional, respected, has thought through various policy positions, and – unlike Han or Gou — generally ready to be president. KMT voters seem to be uninterested. He continues to lag in a clear third place in almost all polls.

Here are my quick debate impressions of the first two debates. In the first debate (which was the most important, both because it was about sovereignty and because people pay more attention to the first debate), Han seemed nervous. It seemed like he was trying to look and act like what he thought a presidential candidate was supposed to look and act like, but he didn’t know exactly what that was. He spoke in vague and mostly unsatisfying platitudes. The second debate was on social issues, and Han was clearly much more at home. He still didn’t have any concrete policies, but he was quite comfortable complaining about the current state of society. Gou is also clearly an amateur. Neither one of his debate performances inspired much confidence. However, I think he did much better in the next day’s newspapers than on stage. In each debate, he put forward a few ideas that dominated coverage. In the first, it was his statements about the nature of the ROC. At one point, he addressed fears that the PRC would use his company as a hostage by saying he could withdraw from China any time: Who’s afraid of who? In the second debate, he promised to pay all costs for children under the age of six. Chu was polished and prepared; he was the only person who looked anything near presidential. He did well in the first debate, both by subjective impressions and by Google searches. On China, he took a position between Han and Gou, saying that Taiwan’s democracy is non-negotiable and that Taiwan shouldn’t be afraid to offend China by standing up for democracy. The polls don’t show him making much headway, though. There were two minor candidates. Former Taipei county magistrate Chou Hsi-wei is running as the representative from 1982. He promised to unify China under the ROC. In his closing statement, he talked about how wonderful it would be when the country became an international superpower! I was disappointed that he didn’t go all the way and use the old slogan, “unify China under the three principles of the people.” Chang Ya-chung, an extreme unification ideologue, is running as what DPP supporters might call “the surrender candidate.” Chang argues that war would be so horrifyingly catastrophic that Taiwan must do anything to avoid it. Naturally, this means moving quickly toward a political settlement with China. Chang also promised that he would strictly prohibit government officials from openly advocating Taiwan independence. [Note: I am a government employee, so let me just politely say to him, “Fuck off.”]


Let’s go to the polls. Depending on which question you ask, the polls are either wildly different or remarkably consistent. If you are interested in inter-party politics, the polls are all over the place. In the course of two weeks, major polls have shown Tsai way ahead of the field and way behind the other candidates. Ko is either in the high 20s, in or close to first place, or struggling to maintain 20% and clearly in third place. The craziest outlier (at least I think this one is the outlier) is a TVBS poll showing Tsai at 35-37% in the three-way races and 45-50% in head to head matchups with the three KMT contenders. She is at least 8% ahead of her closest competitor in all of those matchups. Remember, TVBS polls usually show a lean to the KMT. TVBS seems to publish at least one head-scratcher every year. I suppose this is evidence that they aren’t herding (adjusting their results to keep them in line with other polling results), which is commendable. In contrast, United Daily News and Apple Daily polls published this week both show Tsai languishing in the low 20s in three-way races and losing all the head-to-head matchups by a considerable margin. The polls are just all over the place, and I have no idea who is ahead and who is trailing.

KMT Tsai Ko DK
Apple 6/19 Han 32.8 27.1 24.3 15.8
Apple 6/19 Gou 27.2 25.4 24.2 23.2
Apple 6/19 Chu 26.8 26.6 25.5 21.1
Apple 6/19 Han 39.1 40.3 20.6
Apple 6/19 Gou 40 32 28
Apple 6/19 Chu (+0.2%) ?
Apple 6/26 Han 33.7 26.7 22.9 16.7
Apple 6/26 Gou 27.3 25.2 21 26.5
Apple 6/26 Chu 26.2 26.6 25.1 22.1
Apple 6/26 Han 38.8 40.6 20.6
Apple 6/26 Gou 36.9 33.8 29.3
Apple 6/26 Chu 35.6 37.3 27.1
Apple 7/3 Han 35.8 24 23.1 17.1
Apple 7/3 Gou 32.5 20.1 21.4 26
Apple 7/3 Chu 29.5 22.8 22.6 25.1
Apple 7/3 Han 42.1 33.9 24
Apple 7/3 Gou 43.8 26.1 30.1
Apple 7/3 Chu 39.3 30.9 29.8
TVBS 6/22 Han 29 37 20 14
TVBS 6/22 Gou 24 35 21 20
TVBS 6/22 Chu 21 36 23 20
TVBS 6/22 Han 36 50 14
TVBS 6/22 Gou 35 45 20
TVBS 6/22 Chu 33 48 19
UDN 7/1 Han 35 22 26 17
UDN 7/1 Gou 31 19 24 26
UDN 7/1 Chu 25 21 28 26
UDN 7/1 Han 43 38 19
UDN 7/1 Gou 45 30 25
UDN 7/1 Chu 42 33 25


However, right now it isn’t that important how Tsai or Ko are doing. The immediate question at hand is the KMT nomination, and the polls are stunningly consistent on the state of that race. Let me state my conclusion first: Han is a prohibitive favorite to win the polling primary and, thus, the KMT nomination.

The single-most important fact is that, in every poll, Han does better than Gou in the three-way race. Forget Tsai and Ko for a minute and just focus on Han and Gou. Han’s support is always 3-5% higher than Gou’s. For example, in the UDN poll, it is irrelevant that Han beats Tsai by 13% while Gou beats her by 12%. What matters is that Han gets 35% and Gou gets 31%, so Han leads Gou by 4%. This is not how we usually look at polls, but this is how the KMT will calculate its interparty question, which accounts for 85% of the KMT’s nomination decision. Again, in five polls with wildly different inter-party outcomes over the past two weeks, Han always beats Gou by a consistent margin of 3-5%. This pattern has also emerged in every other poll I’ve seen over the past month or two, though Han’s lead has sometimes been bigger.

The other 15% of the nomination is determined by an intra-party comparison. Here, Han and Gou are more tightly matched.

Han Gou Chu Chang Chou
Apple 6/19 27.9 25.6 11.4 0.0 1.2
Apple 6/26 29.0 21.4 13.4 0.3 1.0
Apple 7/3 29.6 28.4 12.3 0.4 0.4
TVBS 6/22 27 29 19 0.4 1
UDN 7/1 30 29 15 1 1

This section only accounts for 15% of the total score, so Gou would have to win this question by a huge margin to make up for his deficit in the other section. For example, if Han wins the first section by 3%, Gou would have to win this question by at least 17%. In other words, the first question is decisive, and this one only matters if they are tied in that first question.

This all implies that Han has enjoyed a consistent, though not overwhelming lead. Apple has helpfully calculated the nomination scores based on its poll results. The race has tightened up in the last week, but Han is still clearly in the lead.

Han Gou Chu
Apple 6/19 38.6 32.6 28.8
Apple 6/26 39.7 31.6 28.7
Apple 7/3 37.4 34.3 28.3

Yet I am arguing that Han is a prohibitive favorite to win. There is one more factor to consider. In the DPP polling primary, Tsai had been leading slightly in the final polls, but she ended up with a comfortable victory in the polling primary. Tsai was favored by DPP supporters by about 2 to 1 over Lai. This group was almost certainly overrepresented in the actual results because DPP supporters mobilized themselves. They sat by their phones at home, stayed out of the shower during polling hours, answered unknown numbers instead of ignoring them, and once they answered the phone they didn’t hang up on the pollsters. My guess was that they were over-represented by about 50%, and this expanded Tsai’s margin over Lai from about 2% to about 8%. The same effect will occur in the KMT’s primary. KMT supporters will be much more motivated than everyone else to answer their phones. Moreover, since the KMT is only calling landlines (unlike the DPP which also called cell phones), mobilization to stay home is even more important. This is a big advantage for Han. Most polls don’t publish preferences broken down by party support, but the few results I have seen all tell the same story. KMT supporters overwhelmingly prefer Han. For example, the Apple 6/19 poll published the following:

Chu Han Gou No response
overall 11.4 27.9 25.6 35.1
Pan blue 8.7 52.7 28.0 10.6
Neither 7.9 19.5 23.7 48.9
Pan green 18.1 6.2 26.6 49.1
No response 1.9 9.7 5.3 83.1

Among blue camp supporters, Han crushes Gou by 52.7 to 28.0, roughly 2 to 1. Gou’s support comes mostly from neutral and green respondents. In the general election, that would make Gou a strong candidate; in the polling primary it is a disaster for him. The KMT primary looks eerily like a mirror image of the DPP primary.

The media is making a big deal out of how close this race is. However, I expect Han to win the polling primary by roughly 10%.

Before moving on, I want to pause for a minute to think about an alternate world. What if the KMT had decided to use a head to head matchup with Tsai instead of the three-way race for the (85%) interparty question? Gou does much better in the two-way question; he is usually tied or leading by slim margin. Han’s advantage among blue voters would probably still swing the polling primary his way, but it would not be a sure thing. By choosing the three-way race, the KMT basically rigged the outcome in favor of Han. I used the word “rigged” on purpose, because the KMT has been enthusiastic about applying it to the DPP for exactly the same choice. I’m not sure Gou’s team had any polling experts, but I am damn sure that Han’s team did. They knew exactly what they were doing when they chose this question, and I suspect KMT chair Wu Den-yi and his crew were in on it as well.


The fact that I think Han will cruise to victory does not imply that I think he is the stronger candidate. In fact, I think the data pretty clearly show that the KMT is more likely to win the general election if they nominate Gou. [Note: I am looking at current data. I’m not considering gaffes, international developments, scandals, or anything else that might happen between now and January.]

There are a couple of numbers that I think are significant. First, in the head-to-head races, Gou always does better than Han, relative to Tsai. Let me edit that big table from above:

KMT Tsai DK Margin
Apple 6/19 Han 39.1 40.3 20.6  -1.2
Apple 6/19 Gou 40 32 28  +8.0
Apple 6/26 Han 38.8 40.6 20.6  -1.8
Apple 6/26 Gou 36.9 33.8 29.3  +3.1
Apple 7/3 Han 42.1 33.9 24  +8.2
Apple 7/3 Gou 43.8 26.1 30.1  +17.7
TVBS 6/22 Han 36 50 14  -14
TVBS 6/22 Gou 35 45 20  -10
UDN 7/1 Han 43 38 19  +5
UDN 7/1 Gou 45 30 25  +15

Gou is always 5-10% better than Han. That is a pretty significant difference. The easiest way to see what is happening is to eyeball the difference between the three-way and two-way races. That is, what happens to Ko’s support if he doesn’t run? When Gou (or Chu) is the KMT candidate, about half of Ko’s support goes to the KMT and about half goes to the DPP. However, if Han is the KMT candidate, about two-thirds of Ko’s support goes to Tsai and only one-third goes to Han. I think we are starting to see the effects of Han’s increasingly high disapproval. People who like him absolutely love him, but (the increasing number of) people who don’t like him are fairly unlikely to vote for him.

Another thing to look at in the above table is the “don’t know” column. When Han is in the race, voters mostly know who they will vote for. When Gou is in the race, the number of undecided voters goes up by 6-10%. That is, there are a lot of people who still haven’t made up their minds about Gou.

I believe this is not simply because Gou is a newcomer to politics and unfamiliar to many voters. Rather, this is a direct result of Gou’s positioning on sovereignty. Gou has placed himself much nearer the center of the political spectrum than Tsai, so there are a lot of light blue or neutral voters who are unhappy when Han plays footsie with China and who are intrigued when Gou criticizes the Red Media or One Country, Two Systems. In a general election, Gou can appeal to a much bigger audience that Han (assuming he can hold the deep blues).

To use Donovan Smith’s vivid formulation, Han has a high floor but a low ceiling. In a three-way race in which Ko maintains his support, Han’s high floor might be sufficient or even an advantage. However, if Ko doesn’t run or if his support fades, Han’s low ceiling could be a big problem for the KMT.



landlines and cell phones

June 3, 2019

The DPP finally settled on its presidential nomination procedures last week. Among the most controversial of the decisions was the question of whether to incorporate cell phones into the polling primary sample. At first glance, this might seem like an extremely arcane and technical matter, hardly the stuff of political controversy, much less the type of thing that could swing a presidential election. However, just as in tax laws and Google user agreements, the fine print matters more than you might expect. In this post, I want to look at why this has become such an important question.

A good starting place is with a recent TISR survey. The topic of this survey was satisfaction with President Tsai after three years in office, but we are not really concerned with that. This survey had roughly half the sample from landlines and half from cell phones. At the bottom of the report, TISR presents a breakdown of the two samples by age and education.

population landlines Cell phones
20-29 16.3 4.7 21.5
30-39 18.9 12.5 16.7
40-49 19.3 15.5 22.1
50-59 18.9 21.1 18.2
60-69 15.4 27.2 15.7
70&up 11.3 18.9 5.8
Primary school 13.1 17.2 4.4
Middle school 12.2 13.5 6.3
High school 27.7 30.4 31.5
Technical college 12.0 11.1 11.5
University 27.3 21.5 36.6
Graduate school 7.7 6.3 9.7

As you can see, the two types of samples are quite different from each other and from the population. Landlines drastically underrepresent younger voters and voters with higher education levels. Cell phones are much closer to the population on age, underrepresenting only the oldest category and overrepresenting only the youngest category. On education, however, cell phones significantly underrepresent people with lower education levels and significantly overrepresent people with higher education levels.

Almost no one simply presents the raw data as an estimate of the population. Instead, the respondents are weighted according to their share of the population. Typically, they will be weighted by variables that we have authoritative data on, such as age, sex, and region. Some analysts will also weight on education level, but this is much riskier since we don’t have great statistics for the population. (Government stats are based on household registration data, and not everyone’s education level is accurate in that database.) I don’t know exactly how the DPP weights its results, but I assume they use age, sex, and perhaps city/county. I don’t think they ask about education levels in their polling primary questionnaire.

Assume we only had the landline sample from above with 1000 responses. The 47 respondents aged 20-29 would be weighted up by multiplying each response by some number, on average 16.3/4.7=3.47, though that number would also be adjusted according to their sex and region. The estimate of the population would thus have 163 weighted responses from the 20-29 age group, not 47.

What this means is that, if those 47 people accurately reflected the 20-29 age group as a whole, the weighted estimate would be a pretty good estimation of the population. Think about what this means. If the only things skewing the sample are age, sex, and region, then weighting should solve that problem. Landlines should give a good estimate of the population. Of course, exactly the same logic applies to cell phones. Thus, landlines and cell phones should provide exactly the same estimate. It shouldn’t matter whether cell phones are included in the polling primary, and it shouldn’t matter what percentage of the responses are collected from cell phones.

Of course, you have probably already spotted the flaw in this logic. Age, sex, and region are NOT the only things skewing the samples. We can see quite clearly that education is also different in the two samples. The 20-29 year-olds who answer landline calls are not like the 20-29 year-olds who answer cell phones calls. What kinds of young people answer landline calls? My guess is that the overwhelming majority live with their parents, who still have landlines. One might imagine that people living with their parents have different socialization experiences, can be mobilized by different social networks, and get information from different sources.

TISR also asked whether respondents had only a cell phone, only a landline, or both. I don’t have much to comment about this; I just think it is neat.

population Cell only both Landline only
20-29 16.3 28.7 10.4 1.9
30-39 18.9 23.8 13.7 2.8
40-49 19.3 19.3 20.3 6.5
50-59 18.9 13.5 22.8 8.3
60-69 15.4 9.9 23.2 31.5
70&up 11.3 4.9 9.7 49.1
Primary school 13.1 4.4 8.4 43.5
Middle school 12.2 4.4 9.4 25.0
High school 27.7 30.2 32.4 21.3
Technical college 12.0 9.3 12.7 4.6
University 27.3 39.1 29.3 5.6
Graduate school 7.7 12.4 7.8 0.0


So if the people who answer cell phone and landline surveys are different in important ways (even when they are weighted to make them look demographically similar), what does this mean for the DPP’s polling primary? Conveniently, a recent TVBS poll report illustrates the importance of the DPP’s polling choices quite nicely. This poll is a few weeks old (conducted April 29-May 8), and used half cell phones and half landlines. TVBS weights their results by sex, age, region, and education, so the results presented below are all weighted. Most people probably only paid attention to the horse-race results. When you look at these, remember that TVBS usually has the KMT candidates several points stronger than most other polling organizations. Anyway, we aren’t really concerned about the KMT or Ko in this post; this is a post about Lai and Tsai. But just for fun, here is the big table:

Han Tsai Ko 39 25 26
Han Lai Ko 39 24 27
Kou Tsai Ko 31 24 30
Kou Lai Ko 31 24 30
Chu Tsai Ko 26 24 33
Chu Lai Ko 27 25 33
Wang Tsai Ko 15 23 38
Wang Lai Ko 13 24 37
Han Tsai 50 38
Han Lai 48 40
Kou Tsai 43 36
Kou Lai 42 40
Chu Tsai 40 40
Chu Lai 37 43
Wang Tsai 27 39
Wang Lai 25 44

A couple of points are interesting. The overall results change much more as the KMT candidates are rotated in than with the DPP candidates. In the three-way races, support for the DPP is remarkably stable no matter which one is included. However, Ko takes quite a bit more support from some KMT candidates than others.  In the two-way matchups Lai is usually 3 or 4 points ahead of Tsai, while in the three-way matchups they are essentially tied. You can see that having Ko included in the DPP polling primary question is beneficial to Tsai. Moreover, in the two-way matchups, Tsai is closest to Lai against Han. And the only time that Tsai actually beats Han Lai is in the three-way matchup with Han. This finding is not unique to this survey. Han and Ko soak up a lot of disillusioned voters that might otherwise turn to Lai. It is not a coincidence that the question the DPP will use in the polling primary is the three-way race with Han and Ko. This is Tsai’s best chance to win. She is by no means guaranteed victory, but using this question helps her odds immensely.

OK, back to cell phones and landlines. The reason that this TVBS poll is so useful is that their report broke down the results by cell phones and landlines. Here is the first question:





Cell phones


Han 39 41 38
Tsai 25 27 23
Ko 26 21 30
None 7 7 7
undecided 3 4 2

Both Han and Tsai do slightly better in the landline group, while Ko does quite a bit better in the cell phone group. Yes, you got that right. Tsai is 4% stronger in landlines than in cell phones. Here is the second question:





Cell phones


Han 39 41 38
Lai 24 31 19
Ko 27 17 35
None 7 6 7
undecided 3 5 2

Now you can see the difference. Lai is a LOT stronger in landlines than in cell phones; the gap is 12%. When you only ask landlines, Lai beats Tsai by 4%. However, if you only ask cell phones, Tsai is 4% better than Lai. When you put them together, Tsai comes out slightly ahead.

(By the way, also note that Han is exactly the same in both samples, and Ko is much stronger among cell phone respondents.)

Lai is screaming that the polling primary has been rigged against him. It is true that they choose the best question for Tsai. It is also true that Tsai does better with half the sample taken from cell phones than if all responses are from landlines. However, what the stats listed above show is that an all-landline sample is not representative of the whole population. That is, the method that Lai considers to be the default was skewing the estimate dramatically in his favor. If the DPP had adopted a 100% cell phone sample, he would have had a good argument that it was biasing the estimate unfairly toward Tsai (though the tables above indicate that cell phones are not quite as skewed as landlines). However, the two sources balance each other relatively well. A 50-50 split (plus weighting for age, sex, and region) is actually not a bad balance. It is certainly more representative of the overall population than either a pure landline or a pure cell phone sample. I’m inclined to argue that the DPP’s decision to use a 50-50 sample should be seen more as undoing the previous bias toward Lai than as creating a new, unfair bias toward Tsai.


On polling primaries

March 8, 2018

The KMT and DPP have now finished their first round of polling primaries. It seems to me that the polling primary might not be around very much longer. But before I get to that, let me start this post with some quick comments about the DPP results of the past couple days.

We have been headed for factional wars in Kaohsiung, Tainan, and Chiayi for a few years now, but it turned out that the full-blown battle only materialized in Chiayi. Chen Ming-wen’s 陳明文 side has won that battle, so he and his friends will control the county government for the next four years. This will make a full two decades in power for him since he switched sides in 2002. To recap, during the 1990s Chiayi County was reliably KMT, with the DPP never really coming close to victory. Even in the 1997 DPP tidal wave, Chiayi stayed blue. Chen himself was the second most important politician in the Lin Faction, which was clearly the second faction in the KMT. The dominant Huang faction won the intra-party struggles, and then the KMT won the inter-party struggles. Two things changed this. First, the dominant Lin faction politician, legislator Tseng Chen-nung 曾振農 (famed as king of rattan chairs涼椅王), faded away. I can’t remember clearly, but I think he had some legal and financial problems and eventually went to exile in Cambodia where he died in the early 2000s. Chen Ming-wen thus assumed leadership of the faction. Second, Chen read the changing political environment, and showing considerable political skill convinced nearly his entire to switch sides. Inside the DPP, Chen’s faction was the dominant force, and the newly strengthened DPP easily beat the KMT. Chen served as county magistrate for two terms and then turned the county over to his ally (and Tseng Chen-nung’s widow) Helen Chang 張花冠. During her two terms she apparently decided to try to take over leadership of the faction, and so here we are today. The Chen and Chang factions went head to head in the primary, and Chen’s candidate Weng Chang-liang 翁章梁 won a narrow but clear victory 43-35. I really only know three things about Weng: 1) He is in Chen’s faction, 2) He comes from the Wild Lily student movement, and 3) He has three surnames 翁、章、梁.

The Kaohsiung primary momentarily turned nasty about a month ago, when mayor Chen Chu 陳菊 released her book and rehashed some of the unpleasantness of her 2006 campaign. It turned out to be a terrible strategy, and her favored candidate Liu Shi-fang 劉世芳 ended up withdrawing from the race. This left the field wide open for Chen Chi-mai 陳其邁, who was probably always going to win anyway. However, without Liu (and with mayor Chen staying neutral), Chen Chi-mai lapped the field, getting more support than the other three candidates combined. This large win makes it highly unlikely that anyone from the green side will challenge him in the general election. Unless something really strange happens, Chen is a shoe-in to win in Octobler.

Chen Chi-mai’s smashing victory in the Kaoshiung primary is important for another reason. Chen has a good head on his shoulders and plenty of ambition. He probably slots into third place in the future DPP presidential candidate sweepstakes, just behind Premier William Lai 賴清德 and Taichung mayor Lin Chia-lung 林佳龍. I think he jumps ahead of other contestants, such as VP Chen Chien-jen 陳建仁, Taoyuan mayor Cheng Wen-tsan 鄭文燦, Chen Chu, and people not currently in the DPP such as Huang Kuo-chang 黃國昌 and Ko Wen-je 柯文哲. I have a very high opinion of Chen Chi-mai, and I expect his national profile to soar over the next few years.

The contest in Tainan was also a blowout, with Huang Wei-che 黃偉哲 clearly beating Chen Ting-fei 陳亭妃 and the rest of the field. Tainan can be a launching pad to the presidency (see Lai, William), but I don’t have such a high opinion of Huang. Thus far in his career, he has been better at going on talk shows than actually doing politics. But there is absolutely no chance that the KMT will win Tainan, so Huang will get a chance to prove himself and make me eat my words.


I don’t really want to write about the specific races. I want to write about the future of the polling primary. I think this institution might be on its last legs.

Nominations are always challenging. Parties want to nominate a (1) candidate who will win the race and is (2) ideologically consistent with the party’s mainstream values. They further want to do this in some sort of process that (3) gives the party some degree of control over who they nominate, and (4) convinces the other aspirants not to challenge the decision in the general election. These various goals usually conflict with each other. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, when elections were becoming more and more competitive, both parties struggled with nominations. The KMT tried decentralizing its process, but it ended up with candidates the party leaders didn’t like. It also found that candidates who were highly rated by the local party office weren’t always great candidates, such as the 1989 Taipei County magistrate debacle in which all the local factions rebelled against the bookish and clueless Lee Hsi-kun 李錫錕. (Somehow, Lee has re-emerged after all these years to launch an internet-fueled campaign for Taipei mayor. The world is weird.)

The early KMT “primaries” were generally advisory and non-binding. The DPP tried holding binding votes among party members. This resulted in widespread accusations of mindless factional vote trading, cultivating phantom party members, and outright vote-buying. When the DPP tried giving more weight to elite party members’ preferences, the factionalism only intensified.

This clearly didn’t work. The DPP tried moving toward an American-style public primary in the 1996 presidential nomination. However, in the USA, the primary elections are run by the state. The Taiwan government was not interested in helping the DPP run its primary election. Instead, the DPP launched a touring roadshow. They set up a stage, just like a political rally, and the two finalists debated each other (saying the same things every night). After (ok, during) the debate, the audience could go to the side tent and vote by casting a special commemorative coin into a custom-made vending machine. It was a disaster. The machines broke repeatedly, there were rumors of repeat voters and other forms of cheating, turnout was much lower than the DPP had hoped for, and the DPP fundamentalists ended up nominating Peng Ming-min 彭明敏, one of the worst candidates in Taiwan’s electoral history. (He could barely be bothered with unimportant things like, you know, policy.) The DPP was never going to win in 1996, but it was clear that in a more winnable race this nomination process might torpedo their chances.

Telephone polls were the answer. At first, parties used a mixture of party member voting and telephone polls. However, the polls were seen as a more authentic gauge of support in the electorate. A candidate who lost the party vote but won the telephone poll was not going to withdraw in favor of a candidate who had won the party vote but lost the telephone poll. Moreover, as long as there was some component of party voting, there was a danger of vote buying. The death knell for party voting came prior to the 2008 election, when the electoral law was revised extending the penalties for vote buying to primary elections. The parties (especially the DPP) were terrified that their nominees would be indicted for vote buying BEFORE the election. Since 2008, the parties have resolved all of their nomination disputes by polling primaries. They don’t always need the polling primary; sometimes they can negotiate a nominee acceptable to everyone. However, the polling primary is always the default final solution.

Telephone polls were particularly useful because they convinced losers to accept losing. When they work properly, polls give each candidate a fair chance to demonstrate their support. It is hard to argue that you are actually the more deserving nominee when a telephone poll with a representative sample says the opposite. Polls are also hard to manipulate, especially in comparison to other alternatives such as voting by party members. Because each resident with a telephone is potentially a polling respondent, it is inefficient to buy votes or intimidate voters.

To top it off, polling is pretty cheap, so parties can easily afford to hire multiple companies and do large samples.

So what is the problem? I think that polls are losing their authoritativeness. For one thing, there are rumors that innovative politicians are finally learning how to manipulate polls. We hear again and again that politicians are buying thousands of telephone lines to increase the chances that pollsters will call them. I have doubts about this. Wouldn’t Chunghua Telecom notice a person registering 1000 new numbers at one address and flag that transaction? Who would staff all those telephones? Besides, you need a lot more than a thousand extra numbers to move the needle in, for example, Kaoshiung, which has over 2 million residents. Nonetheless, rumors of manipulation are an important ingredient.

The second ingredient is real. There is a growing crisis in polling caused by the rise of mobile phones. For decades, pollsters have assumed that a representative sample of household landlines was effectively a representative sample of the entire population. Every house had a phone, so a sample of phone numbers covered everyone. This was never actually true, but it was close enough. No longer. Now we don’t quite know how construct a representative sample. It is clear that you cannot rely simply on landlines. However, there is no theoretically rigorous algorithm to combine landlines, cell phones, and internet surveys. That 3% margin of error (which is calculated solely by sample size) you see reported in every newspaper story was always something of a lie, because a sample of landlines was never actually a true random sample. Now it is even more meaningless.

Note that I did not say that pollsters are intentionally manipulating the results. Professional pollsters don’t do that, especially for something like a party primary. The protocols are set up to allow observers from each candidate to make sure that no manipulation occurs during the interview process.

Many candidates don’t know what they are looking at; the speakers of the Keelung and Chiayi councils are not exactly members of the numerati. They might really think they have somehow been cheated because, for instance, the polling company refused to call the list of telephone numbers they brought in. Other candidates, such as Chou Hsi-wei 周錫偉 in New Taipei, probably do understand the basics of polling but cynically proclaim doubts that the results were manipulated to explain away their losses. The problem is that when these sorts of accusations are made (as they always are), the experts no longer fight back with a unified front. We no longer have absolute confidence in our own results. Rather than a solid wall of rejection from the experts, the complainers now have little cracks to exploit. Polls simply don’t have the authority that they did ten or twenty years ago.

Without this aura of authority, polling primaries will probably start to fail at one of their most basic tasks: convincing losers to accept defeat. That means that parties will need a new mechanism. I suspect the next thing they will try might be an American-style publicly run primary election. However, that will require significant legal changes, so it is still some distance in the future.

Musings on the old and new premiers

September 11, 2017

It seems I don’t get around to blogging very much these days. Hopefully I’ll pick up the pace as we move into the next election cycle. In the meantime, I have a few thoughts on the recent cabinet reshuffle.


Former Premier Lin Chuan’s 林全 resignation did not come as much of a surprise. After 16 months, it was time for a reset. His satisfaction ratings were not great, but it’s easy to overstate that point. We’ve had several stories in the international media gasping about President Tsai’s cratering satisfaction ratings in the high 20s or low 30s (“worse than Trump!!!!”), and Lin’s ratings were a notch below those levels. However, the Taiwanese electorate is historically much stingier with its approval for national politicians than the American electorate, and ratings in this range haven’t historically heralded disaster. I’ll have more to say on public opinion in a subsequent post. For right now, let’s just say that Lin’s ratings weren’t spectacular.

Taiwanese cabinet members come in two broad prototypes: elected politicians and technocrats. Lin is a classic technocrat, having served in various administrative and policy-focused positions since the mid-1990s. It is somewhat ironic that his biggest failings were technical rather than political. In recent weeks, the KMT has enthusiastically thrown the legislature into chaos protesting the Forward-Looking infrastructure package. They have made some substantive arguments against the package, such as claiming that spending on railways is wasteful, but their first and most effective argument was that the documentation was sloppy and incomplete. The cabinet’s original proposal for the massive eight year package came with a pitifully thin set of documents explaining exactly what the money would used for. In other words, the technocrats had not bothered to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s. This is the kind of problem you might expect a career politician – with a focus on power and coalitions – to make, not a career technocrat who supposedly revels in the details of public policy. Lin ran into the same sort of problem in his biggest failing, the revision of the Labor Standards Law that has left almost no one satisfied. The broad and inflexible brush strokes of the new policy are the kind of thing you would not expect from a policy nerd with a detailed understanding of labor markets. They are exactly what you might expect from a politician catering to the whims of a specific interest group and ignoring all the others.

Meanwhile, Lin passed one of the most important political tests for any premier: he could almost always count on support from a majority in the legislature. The DPP LY caucus may not have been thrilled with the amendments to the Labor Standards Law, but they were willing not only to vote en masse for those amendments but even to physically push KMT legislators off the speaker’s podium so that they could vote for Lin’s bill. Likewise, in the fight over infrastructure, the DPP LY caucus allowed the KMT caucus to make noise and express their discontent, but at the end of the day, they passed the cabinet’s plan relatively unchanged. For the most part, the LY had Lin’s back. If you think that is trivial, try talking to former KMT Premier Jiang Yi-huah 江宜樺about whether a majority party in the LY always supports the premier’s agenda.

From a political perspective, Lin also handled marriage equality quite deftly. In the face of strident demands from pro-marriage equality forces to amend the Civil Code and deep trepidation from DPP legislators staring at polls showing substantial opposition to this among back in their districts, Lin simply sidestepped the issue. By interpreting the Grand Justices’ ruling as implying that the language in the Civil Code requiring marriage to include one man and one woman was unconstitutional, Lin decided that there was no need to amend the Civil Code. Gay marriages can be registered under the current law. In this way, Lin did not force DPP legislators into a no-win situation by forcing them to offend either their young voters or everyone over forty.

This is not to say that Lin has been a terrible technocrat and a genius politician. He has had plenty of political failings. For example, somehow the DPP managed to tackle the very thorny issue of pension reform, pass a bill that the KMT didn’t dare try to physically block in the legislature, and still leave the majority of people dissatisfied. What should have been a crowning triumph of Lin’s tenure is instead something that most people think should have been handled better. The technocratic efforts are, by nature, less visible, but it is reasonable to assume that he has quietly launched drives to remake government policy in a number of areas. Still, it is striking to me that his highest profile setbacks were mostly technical in nature.


Tainan mayor William Lai 賴清德 is the new premier, and there is a lot of speculation about his next move. Some people think he will run for New Taipei mayor next year, while others think he is planning to run for president in 2020. I don’t think either of these are likely.

The timetable for a mayoral run is very tight. The election will be in late November or early December next year, so he would have to start his campaign (and resign as premier) by May or June at the latest. However, he would have to announce his intention (or “reluctant capitulation” to the intense arm-twisting pressure from the rest of the DPP) to run a month or two before that. In other words, he would ony have a maximum of eight months in office as premier before starting the campaign. In April 2010, Eric Chu 朱立倫 announced he would be willing to run for New Taipei mayor after only eight months as deputy premier, so maybe the calendar isn’t too tight. However, I think premier and deputy premier are fundamentally different positions. The deputy premier isn’t the one in charge of the executive branch; Chu was not the one determining policy directions. When the deputy premier resigns, there is no need to formally reshuffle the cabinet. Mayor is arguably a step up from deputy premier, while it is almost certainly a step down from premier. It just doesn’t make sense for the premier, after only eight months, to claim that he has successfully accomplished everything he wants to do in his current job and is now ready to move on to a new and less important challenge. For the deputy premier, though, that makes perfect sense. Perhaps Frank Hsieh 謝長廷 is a better model for this proposed jump than Eric Chu. Hsieh was re-elected as Kaohsiung mayor in 2002, became premier in 2005, and then ran for Taipei mayor in 2006. However, Hsieh served as premier from February 2005 to January 2006, almost a full calendar year. Moreover, he took over as premier much earlier in the cycle (February rather than September) and he resigned well before the nominations for the next mayoral elections were decided. His calendar was much less compressed than Lai’s. Still, one year is not a particularly long time as premier, and Hsieh did not exactly resign in triumph. This lackluster record as premier probably contributed to his landslide defeat in the Taipei mayoral race. It is hard to see Lai arguing that he was a successful premier with only eight months in office. Running for mayor would probably require him to talk defensively rather than brag proudly about his tenure as premier.

Lai is even less likely to run for president in 2020 than to run for mayor in 2018. For one thing, as premier, he will now be tightly identified with Tsai. His triumphs are her triumphs, and her failings will rub off on him. More fundamentally, there simply is not much demand within the DPP right now for someone to split the party by running against their incumbent president. Tsai is still the leader of the party. Some of the shine may have come off her leadership, but she is still the unquestioned top dog and still on track to win a second term.

Lai’s goal should be for the DPP’s 2024 nomination. He is not necessarily in a great position for this. Premiers tend to have a relatively short shelf life. If he does very well, he might make it to the 2020 presidential election as premier. It is almost unthinkable that he might make it all the way to the 2024 election as premier. Perhaps his best scheme might be to persuade the current VP to yield that spot to him in order to guarantee his survival to 2024. However, it seems highly unlikely at this point that Chen Chien-jen 陳建仁 would want to step aside or that Tsai Ing-wen would ask him to. If we are still thinking of Lai as a presidential contender after his tenure as premier ends, he will have to find some other platform to keep him in the public eye for a year or three until the 2024 presidential campaign begins. However, that is a problem that we don’t have to worry about right now.


We are hearing a lot about how Lai is a leader of the New Tide 新潮流 faction, and some people are wondering if the New Tide faction is becoming dominant within the DPP. After all, it now controls the cabinet, many important local governments (Kaohsiung, Tainan, Taoyuan, Changhua, Pingtung), and it has a powerful presence in the LY. This is correct on the surface, but it is worth asking how cohesive the New Tide still is. From the 1980s through the Chen presidency, New Tide was famous for its internal discipline. There were three leaders (Lin Cho-shui 林濁水, Chiu I-jen 邱義仁, and Wu Nai-jen 吳乃仁) who ran the faction. They defined the ideals and policy priorities, built the organizational network, raised money, recruited and trained talent, made deals with other factions, and generally cultivated a tightly disciplined faction. Those three leaders have mostly faded from the scenes. Today’s New Tide is led by a disparate group of local leaders (the aforementioned mayors) and legislators (especially Tuan Yi-kang段宜康). There is no longer any central authority. Chen Chu 陳菊 may be a New Tide member, but she is primarily the mayor of Kaohsiung and her highest priority is on Kaohsiung’s problems. She isn’t going to take orders from William Lai or any other New Tide member. In fact, it is not an exaggeration to think that she has organized her own Kaohsiung-based faction including many people who are not necessarily New Tide figures and who answers to her rather than to any national New Tide leadership. The same goes for Cheng Wen-tsan 鄭文燦 in Taoyuan and every other mayor. In the legislature, the New Tide faction might help win nominations, but I don’t think it exercises quite as much control over its members as it once did. During the Chen-era, we started hearing about the North Tide 北流, Central Tide 中流, and South Tide 南流. These three had very different attitudes about whether to support the embattled President Chen. The North Tide led calls for him to resign, while the South Tide was much more supportive (reflecting difference in the larger population among northern and southern voters). The New Tide didn’t quite fracture, but its cohesion did suffer. I don’t think it has or will ever fully recover. So while it is not meaningless that Lai is a New Tide member, this doesn’t imply that New Tide is taking over everything. New Tide isn’t really a cohesive (unitary) actor with a distinctive set of policy preferences these days.


I’m not exactly buying into the hype about William Lai. I think there are a lot of parallels between Lai and Eric Chu. Both were relentlessly promoted by the media as the party’s great savior without having done very much to earn that mantle. Chu was a scholar and Lai was a doctor, both were singled out at a fairly young age and placed into a solidly blue/green district that they could win without much challenge. Both are physically attractive enough, neither is brimming with charisma, and neither has actually accomplished as much as you have the impression they have. Yet, somehow, we all have been led to believe that they are presidential material. In their first forays into cross-straits affairs, they even employed similar strategies by playing superficial word games. Chu tweaked the 1992 consensus, changing one character and advocating One China, both sides with the same interpretation 一中同表. Lai tried to coin a vacuous pro-China, love Taiwan 親中愛台. Both seemed to think that they could cleverly clear away all the obstacles to cross-straits relations by coming up with a better four-character slogan than anyone else. Neither seems to have bothered to think through the implications of these formulae the way Ma, Tsai, or Hsieh did.

In early 2015 when Chu took over as KMT party chair, I wrote that he was now stepping out of the easy aura of a local mayor, in which most every action is reported with a favorable tinge by an accommodating local reporter, and into the harsh light of national politics, where every action would be scrutinized and (fairly or unfairly) attacked if any partisan advantage could be gained. Likewise, Lai now steps into that harsh limelight. Rather than taking credit for the mango harvest or paving a road, he will more likely be blamed for not having a quick and painless solution to a variety of intractable problems such as the low birthrate, systemic youth unemployment, or companies willing to compromise food safety in order to cut costs. Lai just stepped into the big leagues, and the vague hero image that his boosters have so assiduously cultivated won’t survive if he doesn’t deliver the goods.

The parallel to Chu isn’t perfect. Lai has faced and overcome a few more electoral challenges than Chu. Chu won one term in the legislature; Lai won four terms. In particular, Lai survived the 2008 KMT tidal wave even though Ma beat Hsieh in his district. In addition, while Chu had both the Taoyuan and New Taipei mayoral nominations handed to him, Lai won an intense primary in 2010 to secure the mayoral nomination. However, if Lai has a few more substantial victories than Chu, he also has a couple of red flags. Lai has not been able to forge a compromise with affected residents over the rerouting of a rail line. He was also unable to manage a Dengue Fever outbreak.

But most disturbing was his response to the election of a KMT politician as speaker of the Tainan City council. Lai accused the speaker of buying votes and refused to attend city council meetings until the speaker was removed. The speaker probably had bought votes, but that is hardly justification for Lai’s behavior. The mayor does not have the power to assign guilt; that is job of the judiciary. Lai’s certitude in his right to assign guilt and ignore his legal duty to give reports and answer interpellations in the city council belies a stunning moral arrogance. The KMT sarcastically dubbed him Deity Lai 賴神, and, dishearteningly, he has not shied away from that moniker. It is very easy to imagine him refusing to see a flawed decision or even doubling down on it. If he is to have a successful tenure as premier, he will have to show a bit more humility that he has thus far.


KMT party chair election, revisited

June 22, 2017

Wu Den-yi was elected KMT chair about a month ago. At the time, one of the popular theories about his win was that it represented a victory of the Taiwan-oriented local factions over the orthodox Chinese nationalist wing. (Or, if you prefer, the Taiwanese wing defeated the Mainlander wing.) In this line of thought, Wu was inheriting the support previously won by Lee Teng-hui, Wang Jin-pyng, and Huang Min-hui. The unspoken implication was that native Taiwanese Wu would lead the KMT in a more localist direction, perhaps even becoming another Lee Teng-hui.

I’ve never been too enamored with this discourse, but I keep talking with smart people who believe it is more or less what happened. I see Wu as a firm believer in the orthodox KMT catechism. He may not be as extreme as Hung Hsiu-chu, but all of his statements and actions over the past four decades seem to me to indicate someone who is quite comfortable with the direction established by Lien Chan and Ma Ying-jeou. That is, he should be acceptable to both wings of the party. I think what happened in the chair election is that KMT members – who want to return to power – simply chose the strongest leader.

So what if I’m wrong? What if Wu was elected because the local factions mobilized to support him? What would that look like? One notable difference between the KMT chair elections in 2016 and 2017 was that there were about 50% more eligible voters and valid votes in the 2017 election. Many people have speculated that this was the result of local factions signing up new party members in support of Wu. If so, we should see a clear pattern. There should be far more new voters in central and southern Taiwan, where the local factions are strongest. Moreover, if Wu inherited and built on Huang Min-hui’s 2016 support, the increase should be greatest in places where more new people signed up for KMT membership.

Let’s look at the results of the 2016 and 2017 KMT party chair elections. The KMT tallied results for individual ballot boxes, but I can only find the full results aggregated up to the city and county level:


2016 KMT party chair election

    陳學聖 李新 黃敏惠 洪秀柱
    Chen Lee Huang Hung
合計 139558 6784 7604 46341 78829
台北市 12802 756 901 2990 8155
新北市 16694 723 916 4131 10924
基隆市 1931 121 136 504 1170
宜蘭縣 2845 139 138 1110 1458
桃園市 10745 1597 787 1698 6663
新竹縣 3378 153 191 1389 1645
新竹市 1944 74 112 485 1273
苗栗縣 5204 216 265 1796 2927
台中市 11238 548 751 3484 6455
彰化縣 8074 249 325 4217 3283
南投縣 4038 159 210 1905 1764
雲林縣 4354 148 188 2627 1391
嘉義縣 3842 47 92 2765 938
嘉義市 2678 27 62 1748 841
台南市 11102 316 561 3895 6330
高雄市 15996 632 1048 4956 9360
屏東縣 6358 197 370 2808 2983
花蓮縣 3420 189 243 795 2193
台東縣 2738 121 117 1315 1185
澎湖縣 1367 86 79 361 841
金門縣 1606 74 23 132 1377
連江縣 445 33 14 65 333
海外黨部 6759 179 75 1165 5340


And here is the 2017 election:

  valid Hung Han Pan Hau Chan Wu
  有效票 洪秀柱 韓國瑜 潘維剛 郝龍斌 詹啟賢 吳敦義
合計 272704 53065 16161 2437 44301 12332 144408
台北市 26887 5209 1689 248 6250 1338 12153
新北市 28684 6486 1658 240 4544 984 14772
基隆市 4537 461 217 33 1586 156 2084
宜蘭縣 6055 1244 302 63 749 180 3517
桃園市 18372 4001 998 132 4067 458 8716
新竹縣 7192 955 400 70 1413 346 4008
新竹市 5253 1576 355 78 696 212 2336
苗栗縣 9671 1641 693 100 1579 445 5213
台中市 22588 3934 1121 151 4035 707 12640
彰化縣 18808 2566 889 172 2770 1002 11409
南投縣 8566 879 234 31 577 179 6666
雲林縣 8765 1062 1476 95 1390 288 4454
嘉義縣 5038 898 198 19 524 391 3008
嘉義市 4810 1078 267 63 817 675 1910
台南市 20535 4588 1262 178 3124 1882 9501
高雄市 36623 6657 2239 389 4645 1695 20998
屏東縣 14798 2377 667 108 1418 476 9752
花蓮縣 9645 2681 690 156 1424 318 4376
台東縣 5100 810 255 42 1193 114 2686
澎湖縣 2711 768 124 32 546 302 939
金門縣 2382 747 148 20 448 91 928
連江縣 574 124 53 1 97 26 273
海外黨部 5110 2323 226 16 409 67 2069


You will notice right away that the total number of valid votes nearly doubled, increasing by 133,146. At the same time, the number of votes won by the (supposed) representative of local factions (Huang in 2016, Wu in 2017) increased by 98,067. It seems plausible that these two shifts are related.

98,068 divided by 133,146 is .74. A reasonable interpretation is the pre-existing party members voted basically as they had in 2016, but 74% of the new party members voted for Wu. However, once you start looking at individual cities and counties, things start to break down. We expect Wu’s mobilization efforts to be most effective in central and southern Taiwan, where the local factions supposedly went all out to mobilize new party members for Wu. Assuming Wu’s increase came entirely from new members, he only won 8% of the new members in Chiayi City and 20% in Chiayi County. Those results can perhaps be explained away because Huang was from Chiayi, so they might have already mobilized for her in 2016. However, if you accept the hometown effect for Chiayi, you also have to discount the high ratio in Nantou, since that is Wu’s home. Throughout the rest of the region, the ratio does not differ markedly from the national average; if anything it is slightly lower. At any rate, Wu’s supposed share of new voters is lower in all of central and southern Taiwan (excepting Nantou) than in New Taipei (.89) and Taoyuan (.92). These are not the supposed loci of local factions in Taiwan.

    Increase Increase  
    Wu-Huang Valid ratio
合計   98067 133146 0.74
台北市 Taipei 9163 14085 0.65
新北市 New Taipei 10641 11990 0.89
基隆市 Keelung 1580 2606 0.61
宜蘭縣 Yilan 2407 3210 0.75
桃園市 Taoyuan 7018 7627 0.92
新竹縣 Hsinchu Cnty 2619 3814 0.69
新竹市 Hsinchu City 1851 3309 0.56
苗栗縣 Miaoli 3417 4467 0.76
台中市 Taichung 9156 11350 0.81
彰化縣 Changhua 7192 10734 0.67
南投縣 Nantou 4761 4528 1.05
雲林縣 Yunlin 1827 4411 0.41
嘉義縣 Chiayi Cnty 243 1196 0.20
嘉義市 Chiayi City 162 2132 0.08
台南市 Tainan 5606 9433 0.59
高雄市 Kaohsiung 16042 20627 0.78
屏東縣 Pingtung 6944 8440 0.82
花蓮縣 Hualien 3581 6225 0.58
台東縣 Taitung 1371 2362 0.58
澎湖縣 Penghu 578 1344 0.43
金門縣 Kinmen 796 776 1.03
連江縣 Lienchiang 208 129 1.61
海外黨部 Overseas 904 -1649 -0.55


Maybe I’m thinking of this wrong. Maybe the point is that the growth in new KMT voters was much higher in central and southern Taiwan. The valid votes grew by 95% from 2016 to 2017. In 2016, Huang Min-hui won 33.2% of the votes, while Wu Den-yi won 53.0% in 2017, for an increase of 19.7%. If it was mobilization, these two numbers should move together. For example, valid votes increased by 129% while Wu beat Huang by 26.4%. Both of these numbers are larger than the national average, and Kaohisung is in the south. The problem is that we don’t see similar numbers throughout the rest of center and south. For example, in Changhau valid votes increased substantially, by 133%. However, Wu only bested Huang by 8.4%. All those extra voters didn’t seem to be going to Wu. In Tainan, valid votes only grew by 85% and Wu only outperformed Huang by 11.2%. In fact, some of Wu’s best areas were in the north. Wu outperformed Huang by 31.6% in Taoyuan and 26.8% in New Taipei, but neither one of these places had a particularly large increase in new voters. If you stare really hard and long at this table, you might convince yourself that you see a pattern. However, you are probably hallucinating. The correlation between the two columns is 0.05, just about as close to zero as you will ever see.

    % increase Vote share
    Valid votes Wu-Huang
合計   95 19.7
台北市 Taipei 110 21.8
新北市 New Taipei 72 26.8
基隆市 Keelung 135 19.8
宜蘭縣 Yilan 113 19.1
桃園市 Taoyuan 71 31.6
新竹縣 Hsinchu Cnty 113 14.6
新竹市 Hsinchu City 170 19.5
苗栗縣 Miaoli 86 19.4
台中市 Taichung 101 25.0
彰化縣 Changhua 133 8.4
南投縣 Nantou 112 30.6
雲林縣 Yunlin 101 -9.5
嘉義縣 Chiayi Cnty 31 -12.3
嘉義市 Chiayi City 80 -25.6
台南市 Tainan 85 11.2
高雄市 Kaohsiung 129 26.4
屏東縣 Pingtung 133 21.7
花蓮縣 Hualien 182 22.1
台東縣 Taitung 86 4.6
澎湖縣 Penghu 98 8.2
金門縣 Kinmen 48 30.7
連江縣 Lienchiang 29 33.0
海外黨部 Overseas -24 23.3

In the end, there just isn’t any compelling evidence for the idea that local factions elected Wu chair by mobilizing tons of new voters for him. Heck, there isn’t evidence that anyone mobilized new voters for Wu.

I think the increase in new KMT voters is related to party morale, not to the KMT party chair election. Morale was at a nadir in the aftermath of the 2016 wipeout, and lots of party members let their membership lapse. As morale has recovered (slightly), some of those party members have drifted back (and paid their dues). The turnout rate was also markedly higher this time. However, the number of eligible voters and valid votes are far below the levels of 2005, when the winner was widely expected to become the next president.

  Valid votes Eligible voters turnout
2005 518324 1033854 50.2
2016 139558 337351 41.6
2017 272704 476147 58.1

At any rate, I think the evidence suggests that Wu Den-yi was elected by a fairly broad base of support within the KMT rather than by any specific group such as local factions or Taiwan nationalists. Admittedly, there is a limit to what we can see with crude data like this, so maybe it is best to state my conclusion in the negative. I don’t see any clear evidence for the local faction mobilization thesis.




KMT party chair election

June 5, 2017

(I’ve been working on this post on and off for a couple of months now. Rather than revise it again, I’m just going to post it.)


The votes are in and Wu Den-yi has been elected the next KMT party chair, so I guess it is just about time for me to write up my election preview.


Here are the results:

吳敦義 Wu Den-yi 144408 52.2%
洪秀柱 Hung Hsiu-chu 53063 19.2%
郝龍斌 Hau Lung-pin 44301 16.0%
韓國瑜 Han Kuo-yu 16141 5.8%
詹啟賢 Chan Chi-hsien (Steve) 12332 4.5%
潘維剛 Pan Wei-kang 2437 0.9%

That is roughly twice as many votes (and KMT party members) than the last KMT party chair election. However, before you get too excited about a certain member mobilizing new members, remember that this is actually quite a bit fewer votes (and party members than the 2005 party chair election when over a million people were eligible to vote and over half a million votes were cast.

I was out of the country when the accusations of vote buying exploded, so I mostly missed that. However, I did watch both debates on Youtube, and I learned quite a bit from those forums about how each candidate was presenting him or herself. I’ll discuss the candidates in reverse order of their finish.


Pan Wei-kang

Pan was elected to the legislature in 1992 and has spent most of the last 25 years in the legislature, often also serving on the KMT central committee. For someone who has been at the center of national politics for so long, I was somewhat surprised by how little I knew about her. She is a second generation politician, and she comes out of the Huang Fu-hsing (military) system. However, I can’t remember hearing her speak very many times, and I never thought of her as particularly extreme. As such, I was a bit taken aback when she came out in the first debate breathing fire, demanding state reparations for the current wave of Green Terror against the KMT. She seemed determined to displace Hung Hsiu-chu as the candidate of the reactionary nostaligists. She toned down the rhetoric a bit in the second debate, but she managed to redefine herself in my eyes.

I don’t know what Pan was doing in the race. She never seemed to matter, and she never carved out a distinct niche for herself.


Steve Chan Chi-hsien

Chan was a complete mystery to me when this contest started. He had served as Economics Minister, but I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to governing. I’m into politics. I had heard his name bandied about as a possible running mate for the KMT presidential candidate, but that came to nothing. In retrospect, the high moment for Chan’s party chair campaign might have been when they announced the final results of the signature drives. All six candidates easily passed the minimum threshold, but Chan somewhat surprisingly finished second, edging out Hung and Hao. This turned out not to be predictive of the voting results though, as Chan actually got fewer votes than signatures.

In the second debate, Chan mentioned that his mother had been a Changhua county councilor and his brother had been Yuanlin town mayor. This was news to me, and I’m supposed to know these sorts of things. However, there was a reason I had never heard of them: they were elected back in the dark ages. Chan’s older brother was elected mayor in 1973, and we don’t have systematic records from town elections that far back. In fact, Chan comes from an elite local family with several prominent doctors. A bit of googling revealed that he is distantly related in some way to most Taichung and Changhua local faction families and even a few opposition politicians. However, the family’s electoral activities were decades ago and the old nework is almost certainly long gone today.

In the debates, Chan was the embodiment of a bureaucrat. He exuded as little charisma as possible and gave me the impression that he understood all of the details of problems without necessarily grasping the big picture. He spoke of visiting grassroots party members as if they were some abstract idea. People who routinely interact with ordinary voters don’t talk about those interactions as if they require some special effort. Someone told me that Steve Chan is close to Lien Chan. I don’t know if that is true, but they have very similar styles.


Han Kuo-yu

Five of the candidates sounded rather similar. Han sounded completely different. During both debates, Han didn’t talk about things like the 1992 Consensus, KMT party assets, or other partisan topics. Instead, he talked about the difficulties of everyday life for lower income and less educated people. Good jobs are scarce, drug use is common, things are too expensive, and life is generally hard. Notably, he did not blame all of these woes solely on President Tsai and the DPP. He was complaining about the effects of President Ma’s policies just as much. His discourse was limited to expressing the pain felt by the lower class. He did not bother to offer any solutions, not even Trump-esque claims that everything could be easily fixed if only someone really wanted to. This was a campaign aimed at the people who know the system is rigged against them and will continue to be rigged against them. It was also aimed at young men, especially the types who might drive a truck or join a gang. This may not have been the best strategy for a KMT party chair race, since I would wager that KMT members are less likely than the general population to be young, unemployed, financially struggling, or to feel that the system is rigged against them. Nevertheless, Han didn’t do terribly. I wonder how many candidates will pick up this campaign strategy for the city and county councilor elections next year.


Hau Lung-pin

Hau Lung-pin had exactly one remarkable idea. He stressed repeatedly that if he were elected chair, he would not personally run for president in 2020. Instead, he would ask Hon Hai boss Terry Gou to be the KMT candidate. Let’s think about this for a minute. There are a few reasons that this might be a good idea. 1) The KMT doesn’t exactly have a stable of qualified, charismatic candidates foaming to challenge President Tsai in 2020. Everyone is flawed, and no one is terribly popular. 2) The conventional approach failed dramatically in 2016, so the KMT needs to try something new. 3) Public opinion surveys show that Gou is more popular than any current KMT politician. 4) Donald Trump just showed that the USA was willing to vote for a business tycoon with no political experience, so maybe Taiwanese voters will follow suit. There is the small matter that Gou is currently busy running Hon Hai and may not have the time or desire to run for or serve as president. Nonetheless, Gou didn’t shoot the idea down, and there have been a few discreet trial balloons hinting that he might be willing. Rich people think they can do anything, that their immense wealth proves their superior wisdom and vision. Gou’s availability may not be the fundamental flaw in Hau’s plan.

There are two basic problems with Hau’s plan. The first is that Gou would probably bomb miserably as a presidential candidate. Gou has reasonably good poll numbers now, but the public hasn’t thought carefully about Gou as a potential president. He is a very successful business leader – with a far more impressive record than Donald Trump – and the public evaluates him mostly as a business leader. Once he becomes a politician, the media scrutiny will intensify and become much more critical. The halo surrounding Eric Chu in 2014 melted away in only a few months under the harsh spotlight of national politics in 2015. Gou’s current good (not great) polling numbers are almost irrelevant; six months after entering the political fray the public will think of him in a completely different light.

What about Gou’s fantastic business record? (Unlike Trump) Gou has built an enormous, world-class company. Hon Hai is one of the pillars of Taiwan’s economy, and it employs over half a million people around the world. Gou is good at business. Unfortunately, his business talent might not translate into a political appeal. For one thing, Taiwan does not have the traditional reverence for free enterprise that America does. Especially for Republicans, you often hear voters say that they prefer a person who understands business. As the chair of General Motors once said, the business of the US government is business. There is a significant slice of the electorate that sees pro-business policies as a moral appeal. Taiwanese voters are different. Among traditionalists, Confucianism views commerce with a skeptically. Politics and agriculture are honorable and create a better world; people in commerce are not much better than parasites and must be carefully regulated and restrained by the state. Contemporary mainstream Taiwanese society views business more favorably, especially since the Taiwan economic miracle was built on exports by small and medium sized business. Still, there is nothing like the American or British reverence for the invisible hand of the market. Not many people believe that an unregulated economy would produce a better society. Moreover, there is a growing worry about the increasing gap between rich and poor, and business tycoons may not be the ones preoccupied with addressing these concerns. Suffice it to say, Trump’s victory in the USA doesn’t necessarily mean that a business leader in Taiwan will do well in Taiwan. (Also, there is the strong possibility that by the time 2020 arrives, Trump’s disastrous presidency will be widely seen as evidence that business leaders do not make good politicians.)

Trump’s international dealings were never more than a side note among the perpetual storm of astounding news swirling around his campaign. For Terry Gou, it is unthinkable that his ties in China would not be at the center of his campaign. Hon Hai is the single biggest private employer in China. One way to interpret that is that Hon Hai has some leverage over the Chinese economy. Another interpretation is that China has enormous leverage over Hon Hai’s (and Terry Gou’s personal) fortunes. When China demands that Hon Hai does something, Hon Hai has little choice but to comply. It is not much of an exaggeration to say that the prime duty of Taiwan’s president is to defy China. There is a fundamental conflict of interest on the overriding question in Taiwanese politics. Gou’s loyalties would be continually questioned, and he would have no way to reassure the dubious public. Moreover, it isn’t like Gou is a strident democrat. The Gou Doctrine (“You can’t eat democracy.”) might find sympathy in a society that takes democracy for granted, like the USA. In Taiwan, democracy is what keeps Taiwan from being absorbed by a voracious China. (Note: Many people believe Taiwan’s economy keeps it independent. Hong Kongers wish that were true.)

I don’t care what the current polls say. I can’t see any way that Terry Gou wouldn’t be a disaster as a presidential candidate. Hau Lung-pin bet his political career on a terrible idea.

The second problem with Hau’s plan to ask Gou to be the presidential candidate is that it shows that Hau fundamentally misunderstands the nature of power in Taiwanese politics. Quite simply, power flows from the presidency. This is not unique to Taiwan. When there is an elected president with significant power, parties organize themselves to capture that big prize. Parties are presidentialized. Regardless of who holds the formal position of party leader, the de facto leader of the party is the incumbent president, the presidential candidate, or the person who could potentially become the presidential candidate. By promising not to run for the KMT’s presidential nomination in 2020, Hau basically ensured that he would never wield any power. His campaign appeal boiled down to, “Elect me as your leader so that I can refuse to be your leader.” Not only is this an illogical appeal, we’ve just seen how badly it works in practice. Eric Chu tried being a neutral referee in early 2015 when the entire party was practically begging him to run for president. That didn’t work out well for either Chu or the KMT.

To recap, Hau made a terrible choice in choosing to outsource the KMT presidential nomination, and he made another terrible choice by selecting Gou as his target. He deserved his humiliating third place finish with a pathetic 16% of the vote.

Where does Hau go from here? He probably won’t leave politics simply because the KMT has so little talent at the top levels. However, I think he is probably spent as a serious political force. It has been a very bad few years for him. As a two-term mayor, he was not on the ballot in 2014 and so was spared that humiliation. Nonetheless, his satisfaction ratings were routinely among the lowest of all the mayors and magistrates. It certainly isn’t good for your reputation when the other party wins your formerly unwinnable city after your eight years of lackluster performance in office. In early 2015, when the KMT was casting around desperately for a presidential candidate, Hau was one of those who boldly decided to sit on his hands and watch Hung Hsiu-chu’s rise. He bears a share of responsibility for the damage she inflicted on the party. Instead of running for president, Hau managed to secure the KMT nomination for Keelung City, one of the few safe KMT seats remaining. His calculation seemed to be that he did not want to sacrifice himself in the coming DPP tidal wave. Someone else could do that. He would position himself as leader of the KMT legislative caucus, which would be the de facto center of KMT power after the election. He would be able to pick up the pieces and lead the party back from defeat. There was one flaw in that plan: he lost the Keelung election. It wasn’t that there weren’t enough votes. The winning DPP candidate only got 41%. The problem was that MKT and PFP candidates combined to siphon off 24% of the votes, leaving him with only 36%. He was not able to unify the blue voters around his candidacy. The same thing happened in the KMT chair election. He did not lose because the general electorate rejected him. He lost because KMT party members – supposedly the group most enthusiastically supporting him – looked at him and collectively mumbled, “meh.”


Hung Hsiu-chu

I don’t have a lot to say about Hung that hasn’t been said many times over the past two years. She is far too extreme for the Taiwanese electorate. She was a disaster as a presidential candidate and party chair, and if it had elected her to another four years as party leader the KMT would have been sentencing itself to political oblivion. This wasn’t working, and even most of the KMT members who like what Hung stands for could see that the party needs to go in a different direction if it ever wants to return to power.


Wu Den-yi

It wasn’t a surprise that Wu won the race. He acted like the front-runner and the other candidates and the media treated him like the front-runner throughout the campaign. His first-round victory was perhaps a surprise, though. I had thought that he would get somewhere around 45% and need a second round to dispatch Hung or Hau. Instead, he won 52% and beat the second place candidate by 33%. In a race with five candidates getting significant numbers of votes, 52% is a fairly impressive result.

Wu’s strategy can be summed up quite simply: Let’s party like it’s 2011! In this view, there was nothing wrong with the party that won the 2008 election and was re-elected in 2012. Everything was going well until the party got derailed during Ma’s second term. The KMT flubbed things like the gas and electricity pricing and the capital gains tax. They failed miserably at political communication, and the population came to believe that nuclear power was dangerous and that the Services Trade Agreement would somehow risk Taiwan’s political sovereignty while transferring enormous wealth to the rich elite. The KMT failed most disastrously by shifting away from the 1992 Consensus under Hung Hsiu-chu. The task at hand is simply to return to that winning strategy. That means the entire package. For example, the KMT has to rebuild its ties with the local factions, assuring them that they are still a critical component of the KMT coalition. It also means returning to the greater ambiguity of the 2008 campaign, in which Ma repeatedly promised “no unification, no independence, no war.” In subsequent years, the KMT seemed to forget the “no unification” part of that formula. However, this does not mean that Wu Den-yi is a modern-day version of Lee Teng-hui, secretly scheming to lead the KMT and Taiwan toward independence. Wu is a deeply conservative person who believes in traditional values and deference to authority. He is well-schooled in the Church of Sun Yat-sen, and there is very little evidence he is not a sincere and committed believer. Lin Yang-kang and Wu Po-hsiung are much better models for Wu than Lee Teng-hui. Wu firmly supports returning to the 1992 Consensus, including the part about insisting that there is only One China. The Ma presidency was built on the premise that Taiwan’s economy should be further integrated into the larger Chinese economy for both economic and political purposes. Economically, Ma believed that integration would lead to faster economic growth for Taiwan. Politically, Ma saw an economic appeal as a way to win votes from a public skeptical of the glorious history of the Republic of China. The message was, “Don’t worry so much about China. We won’t take any steps toward unification. Instead, we will use them to make ourselves rich.” Of course, this strategy depended on negotiating a better economic relationship, and China would not negotiate with Taiwan unless Taiwan accepted the One China principle. The ambiguity that Ma was so proud of involved telling China, “Look, One China! Don’t worry about independence!” while simultaneously telling Taiwanese, “Look, each side with its own interpretation! Don’t worry about unification!” This delicate balancing act arguably produced two election victories before, in Wu’s interpretation, the KMT blundered by walking away from it. Wu promises to resume the friendly (but still arm’s length) relationship with China by reaffirming and adhering to the One China principle.

Is Wu correct to think he can simply put the old band back together? I have some doubts. For one thing, China in 2017 (and 2020) is not the China of 2005 or even 2012. Today’s China is much less deferential to the international order and much more aggressive about pursuing its international interests. In 2005 the world was still talking about the peaceful rise of China, and it was marginally plausible that Taiwan could have an exclusively economic relationship with China (win-win!). These days, China looks far more predatory and menacing. Further, in 2005 the two economies were more complementary, matching Taiwanese capital and technology with Chinese labor. Today, the two compete directly in many critical sectors. Finally, the Chinese economy is no longer growing at miraculous rates; it is now entering phase of relatively slower growth.

A second and more important point is that Taiwan of 2017 (and 2020) is no longer the Taiwan of 2005 and 2012. Identity has shifted. I assume that my readers are all familiar with the NCCU Election Study Center trends on national identity. Prior to 2008, more people held a Chinese identity (either exclusive or dual) than an exclusive Taiwanese identity. After 2008, that has no longer been the case. Nowadays, exclusive Taiwanese identity outpaces Chinese identity by a large margin (58.2% to 37.7% in the most recent data point). This is partly due to generational replacement, partly because some people have changed their minds, and partly because the language of political discourse has changed and Taiwanese are simply less likely to use the term “Chinese” to refer to themselves regardless of their political stance. Nonetheless, a KMT promising One China will face a far more skeptical electorate in 2020 than in 2008.

The third problem for this strategy is that the 1992 Consensus is no longer the same thing. In 2008, no one knew how the 1992 Consensus would work in practice. If you wanted to project optimistic or pessimistic visions on it, you could. Now we have eight years of experience. By the last few years, China was increasingly unhappy with Taiwan’s reluctance to take more concrete steps toward unification, and the Taiwanese electorate was increasingly unhappy with the continual degrading prostrations and erosion of sovereignty necessary to keep the official channels open. Ma’s implicit promise to voters, “Don’t worry about the political implications; this is just going to be pure economics,” was increasingly far-fetched. Instead of the wink-wink-nudge-nudge promise that the 1992 Consensus would allow Taiwan to enjoy both political sovereignty and close economic relations, it became increasingly apparent that the two were, in fact, inseparable. Accepting One China would have political consequences. In Taiwanese politics, whenever one issue (in this case economic strategy) clashes with the China cleavage, the China cleavage subsumes and absorbs the other one. I don’t think Wu can simply ignore eight years of history and pull them back apart.

My guess is that Wu will be fairly successful at holding the broader KMT coalition together. I don’t expect a spate of new splinter parties from the blue side, at least not in the next year and a half. However, I think Wu is overestimating the number of voters who are waiting to be pulled back into the KMT coalition. In 2012, 54% voted for Ma or Soong. In 2016, only 44% voted for Chu or Soong. Wu might consolidate that vote, but his plan to return to the good old days of 2011 doesn’t seem to me to hold much promise of expanding it much. Wu Den-yi is betting otherwise. I guess we’ll see.

KMT party ID

December 14, 2015

If you want to understand why the 2016 election won’t look anything like the the 2012 election (or any other election in the past two decades) but you only have time to look at one indicator, you should look at trends in KMT party identification. It’s easy to get lost in the little details (and I indulge in little digressions all the time), but I always try to remind myself to keep one eye firmly on the big picture.

Read more in my piece for the China Policy Institute blog.

party lists

November 26, 2015

Much has been written about the various party lists, especially the KMT list. I don’t want to repeat all of that. Yes, I agree that no one seems to know why the KMT nominated Jason Hsu 許毓仁 and that several important constituencies in the KMT are really pissed off right now. However, I want to look at the lists from a different angle.


From the mid-1990s through the mid-2000s, the KMT and DPP had very different ways of producing their party lists. The DPP generally had some sort of contested party primary, with party members voting on nominations. What this meant in practice was that each faction would determine how many people it could support in the safe section of the list and then organize its voters to vote for them. The factions registered large numbers of members for these (and other) contests, and there were often abuses. Factions were wary of allowing their members to be poached, so they kept a tight leash on members’ information. Dozens or even hundreds of members were registered at a single address, which usually turned out to be some faction organizer’s home. The faction bosses sometimes also paid their party dues, so that when it came time to vote, they could count on strict discipline. In nomination contests, faction leaders made deals across different districts. You vote for my candidate in county A, and I’ll vote for your candidate in county B plus give you 150 party list votes. Sometimes loyalty was enough to arrange these complicated deals, but sometimes they were cemented with a cash payment to the voter. Yep, that’s vote buying. It was a clear test of strength, and the factions tended to dominate the resultant party lists. Even when the DPP had three different sections for politicians, women, and experts or disadvantaged groups, the latter two groups were thinly veiled factional contests. Because the primaries took place at the same time as the district primaries, these fights tended to happen in the late spring or early summer of election years, months before the general election.

The KMT did things very differently. It tended to delegate the decision to the party leader, who usually had a committee put together a list. Of course, the leader had the final say if he wanted to exercise that right. However, the party leader didn’t have a free hand to stack the list as he wished. The list was a carefully negotiated bargain between all the different factions of the party, and the committee/leader was simply the final arbiter of the struggles. The KMT always released its list very late in the election campaign, just before the official registration period started. This forced aspirants to work hard for the party during the early and middle stages of the campaign in order to maximize their chances of getting on the list. It also prevented backlashes. If a politician found that she had been left off the list, it was typically too late to launch an independent candidacy in the district. Remember, she wouldn’t have laid any of the groundwork for a district campaign since that would have signaled the party leaders that she was disloyal and didn’t deserve a spot on the list. Moreover, since the list was only released when the final campaign was under way, it was too late to try to launch a rebellion within the party. Supporters were already focused on the party-to-party fight for the general election and would not want to expose divisions within the party. Losers simply had to accept being left off the list.

In 2012, the DPP revised its rules and moved toward the KMT system of delegating construction of the list to the party leader (who then delegated the task to a committee). There were two reasons for this change. First, the Election and Recall Law had recently been amended to extend penalties for vote-buying to cover primary elections as well as general elections. The DPP feared that the KMT would use this new provision to accuse it of vote buying in the primaries. Without reform, there was a real possibility that the DPP could go into an election with half of its list facing indictments for vote buying. That would have been both a public relations nightmare and also a governing disaster, since any conviction would strip the legislator’s seat. Second, the DPP had just gone through a vicious round of factional infighting in 2007 and 2008. By 2010 and 2011, that traumatic experience was still fresh in party members’ minds, and they did not want to go through another naked struggle for power. Delegating the task to the party leader seemed to be a better solution, especially since party chair Tsai Ing-wen did not have her own faction.

It didn’t work out very well for the DPP. The list was a balance of the various factions, and it didn’t go over very well with the general public. During the summer and early fall, there were continuous calls for the DPP to revise its list. Tsai adopted a tough line, refusing to admit there was anything wrong with the list and resisting any efforts to reopen the decision. However, the new system did not produce a list that helped the DPP win votes. This negative image was exacerbated by the glowing reviews the KMT got for its list. Chairman Ma declared he wouldn’t just hand out spoils to the various KMT factions, and he put a few activists in high positions on the list. The media was particularly smitten with the #2 legislator, disabled activist Yang Yu-hsin 楊玉欣. There was a clear contrast in images, with the KMT looking far more progressive.


Military generals are always refighting the previous war, and the KMT and DPP both tried to learn from the experience of 2012 when they put together their lists this year. In 2012, the DPP produced its list much too early. Because there was so much time before the election, the losers felt they had the space to try to reverse the outcomes. This time, Tsai copied the KMT’s traditional strategy and waited until the last possible moment to announce the party list. This worked very well. We haven’t heard much at all about the losers. This late in the campaign, they really don’t have much alternative other than to accept their disappointment and hope that there will be other opportunities to move up the career ladder in the future DPP administration.

The KMT tried to copy its successful 2012 experience. Then it was Yang Yu-hsin. This time Eric Chu looked for other social activists, and he put these high up on the list. His star selling point is Lin Li-chan 林麗蟬, an immigrant from Cambodia. By making her the first immigrant to become a legislator, Chu hoped to create an image for the KMT as a progressive, open, and tolerant party.

However, it isn’t 2012, and the KMT list isn’t selling so well this year. The KMT is so divided right now that even the late release of the list isn’t stopping a backlash by the losers. The various factions are furious, though they don’t all seem to know who they are furious at. They are working hard to keep all that anger under control during the campaign, but dissatisfaction with the list pushed that rage out into the open. Chu has quite a task to turn down the flame and put the lid back on the pot. It would be a challenge for a talented leader.

The other problem is that we can now see what happened with all those social activists from 2012. They haven’t had much success in the legislature. The problem is that simply being a legislator doesn’t mean that you have power. If you don’t have power – meaning support from a large, organized constituency preferably expressed in votes – you won’t have power in the legislator.

Taipei city councilor Liang Wen-chieh 梁文傑 has expressed this sentiment best. He writes that experts are used by political parties as decorations, but the most they can do is to provide expert questioning during the legislative process. When it comes to the actual decision-making, they have almost no influence. The idea that a mere expert could be a powerful legislator has always been a myth. In fact, if the governing party really valued their input, it could have made them cabinet ministers. It put them in the legislature precisely to marginalize their views while still appearing to value those views. As for the social activists, Liang is even more scathing. People like Yang Yu-hsin and Wang Yu-min 王育敏 are only able to help shepherd KMT bills in their areas through the legislative process and hold press conferences to act as attack dogs. People like Chen Pi-han 陳碧涵 and Lee Kuei-min 李貴敏 can’t even serve as attack dogs, and they are completely anonymous legislators.

Eric Chu has put several of these social activists on his list. The angst over whether Jason Hsu is a loyal KMT member and the praise for placing new resident Lin Li-chan on the list misses the point. Neither one of these has any political power going into the legislator, so they won’t have any once they get into it. When it comes time to make important decisions, they will be elbowed into the corner of the room while the big dogs monopolize the center stage. They are merely decorative flower vases. If the KMT really wants to advance progressive causes, it should find a real politician who holds progressive views.


This is an unrelated point, but I have not seen anyone make it yet. The #14 person on the KMT’s list is Lin Yi-hua 林奕華, who was formerly a Taipei city councilor and head of the Taipei city department of education. Chu is selling her as a regional representative, since she apparently has ties to Changhua. This is ridiculous. Lin is a Taipei-style politician, and all her career has been focused in Taipei. If the KMT really insists on sending her to Changhua for the 2018 magistrate race, she is going to get crushed. It is crazy that Chu couldn’t find a real person from central Taiwan for this spot in the list. (Or perhaps this insistence on regional representation is all a disingenuous façade.)

However, I do think Lin’s nomination is significant. She is still fairly young, and she has potential to move up. If she can get into the legislature (and #14 is no sure thing), she could then become a leading candidate for the KMT’s Taipei mayoral nomination. The current crop of KMT Taipei legislators is somewhat drab, and Lin could quickly pass them by. And since the Taipei mayor almost automatically becomes a presidential contender, you can see a path for her to the top job. It’s a very long shot, but if you want to take a bet now on the KMT’s 2028 presidential candidate, she makes more sense than most other names. Of course, this assumes that the KMT still exists in 2028. Also, Lin will have a hard time in that election, since Bi-khim Hsiao 蕭美琴 will be running for re-election.