Archive for the ‘party politics’ Category

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.

The curious career of James Soong

August 13, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Declining KMT Party ID

June 28, 2015

I’ve spent most of the past week digging through mountains of data from the Taiwan Election and Democratization Surveys (TEDS) trying to put together a paper proposal for a conference later this year. As a side effect, I have lots of stuff to share on my blog.

 

After last year’s elections, I lamented that we would never be able to completely figure out what happened in the two most important elections, New Taipei and Taoyuan, since TEDS was doing the big post-election face-to-face surveys in Taipei, Taichung, and Kaohsiung. Happily, I was wrong. In addition to the major surveys (which will be released in the next few weeks), TEDS also did pre-election telephone surveys in New Taipei, Taoyuan, Yilan, and Yunlin. Even better, TEDS has conducted national surveys quarterly since September 2012. As a result, there is a lot of stuff to dig through, and I might be able to come up with a more complete answer for why the KMT lost Taoyuan and barely won New Taipei.

 

Blue supporters are mostly ignoring last year’s elections. They don’t matter. They were local, not national elections. People just wanted to express dissatisfaction with President Ma, but they’ll come back to the KMT in national elections when it really matters. The KMT had lousy candidates. Whatever the reason, I keep talking to KMT true believers who think the KMT is in good shape for next year’s elections. They aren’t convinced that Hung Hsiu-chu can’t beat Tsai Ing-wen, to say nothing of the possibility that the KMT will lose the legislature.

Those objections are a little correct, but they are mostly wrong. Local elections are a bit different, but mayoral elections still run largely along party lines. The bigger the city or county, the more nationalized the election is. Hualien and Hsinchu County had weird, local things happen, but that type of thing is a lot less likely in a direct municipality. Sean Lien was a historically awful candidate in Taipei City, and he managed to single-handedly lose that race. However, the KMT candidates in Taoyuan and New Taipei were both more highly rated than their DPP opponents. Candidate quality can’t explain the poor KMT performance in those races.

Then there is party ID, which is what I’m really going to write about today. To put it bluntly, the KMT has suffered a massive decline in its party ID over the last four years, and party ID is one of the most important variables in all of political science. You can see this decline in data from TISR and the Election Study Center, NCCU, pictured below. From the late 1990s until 2012, party ID was fairly stable. The blue camp, mostly the KMT, had a consistent lead of about 5-10 points over the green camp, mostly the DPP. Not coincidentally, the blue camp consistently had about a 10% edge in most elections. In hindsight, the 2012 election might be both the most “typical” election result and also the last election of that party system.

PartyID (2)

A quick review. Party identification has two classic conceptualizations. The social psychologists of the Michigan School thought of party ID as a group identity. Someone would identify themselves as a Democrat in the same way they would identify themselves as a Catholic, a German, a Red Sox fan, or a union member. All of those identities define who the person is, so Democratic identifiers usually vote for Democratic candidates because they are both part of the same meaningful group. A person who ceases to identify as a Democrat is telling you something very substantive and meaningful about how he or she has changed. The other way to conceptualize party ID is as a running tally. This idea has its roots in the rational choice school of thought that comes out of microeconomics. According to this school, every time something happens, a voter updates his or her current opinion of the party. If something negative happens, the voter’s opinion is lowered. This running tally is then a summary of how the voter currently sees the party, and it is a good information shortcut to use in the voting decision. In Taiwan, party ID is usually operationalized as asking the voter, among parties A, B, C, D, and E, which party do you support more? A long list of studies over the past twenty-five years have shown that party ID is a powerful indicator of vote choice in Taiwan, just as in the rest of the world.

Here is the TEDS party ID data for the past four years.

kmt party ID 1

The first data point is from rolling telephone surveys in the five weeks before the 2012 election. The second data point is from the post-election face-to-face survey, which was mostly conducted during the month after the election. The remaining data points are the quarterly telephone surveys. The surveys before and after the 2012 had large samples (n~5000, 2000), which the quarterly surveys had about 1000 interviews each. In some of the following graphs in which the data are cut into several categories, the quarterly data will jump around a bit more, reflecting the larger sampling error. The DPP held steady at around 25% through most of the period, but it has been above 30% in the two most recent quarters. Of course, the December 2014 data are critical, since they were taken right after the election. The KMT data is more dramatic. KMT party ID had a spike up from its normal 35% or so right before and after the 2012 election. By the time the quarterly data start in Sept 2009, this spike is completely gone. The KMT continues to bleed support, with a noticeable plunge in Dec 2014. Comparing the two elections, the KMT crashed from 43% in late 2011 to 23% in late 2014.

What’s amazing to me about this plunge is how it happens in nearly every sub-population. Maybe you think young people are abandoning the KMT. They are, but not any faster than old people. (I ran a binary logistic regression model on this for the Sept 2009 to Dec 2014 period, and the slopes of the individual lines are not statistically different from the slope of the overall line.)

kmt party ID 2

Education isn’t the answer. All these lines go downward at just about the same rate. (Region and gender don’t show any differences either, but I’ll spare you those charts.)

kmt party ID 3

Occupation is not quite uniform. KMT support among government employees (the blue line) declines at a slightly steeper slope. The red line for students is just about at the average until the June 2014 survey, when it plunges dramatically. It is as if a generation of students were radicalized or something! Statistically speaking, my model showed that the slope of the student’s line was more negative than that for the government employees. However, since students are a small group, their coefficient was not statistically significant.

kmt party ID 4

There is a clear trend in ethnic background. Support for the KMT declined much less rapidly among Hakkas than among Mainlanders or Min-nan respondents. (I wish the sample sizes were large enough to analyze Aborigines, since there are hints of massive changes from the electoral returns.)

kmt party ID 5

There is one more demographic variable that I find intriguing. I recoded all the townships into four categories. The first is the “urban core.” This includes all the prosperous parts of the major cities. The second is the “urban sprawl.” This includes the decaying downtown sections as well as the new growth overflow suburbs. Most of New Taipei and Taoyuan are in this second category. If money were no object, almost everyone would choose to live in the posh first category rather than the (comparatively) low-rent second category. The third category includes rural Min-nan townships. This category is dominated by the stretch of townships in the rural south from Changhua to Pingtung. The fourth category is much smaller and includes all the other rural townships. This group is dominated by predominantly Hakka townships, though it also includes a large number of (sparely populated) Aboriginal townships. There lines are different, especially if you limit the sample to the period from Sept 2012 to Dec 2014, as my model did. Support for the KMT among people in the rural diverse townships did not decline much at all. This is similar to the trend among Hakkas that we saw above, but it is even stronger here. It is possible that preferences among rural Hakkas have been more stable than those among urban Hakkas (though I haven’t tested that idea). The bad news for the KMT is that their best group is by far the smallest. The largest category is group 2, the urban sprawl. In this group, support for the KMT plunged the fastest. It’s hard to see in this picture, but the difference is statistically significant. TEDS telephone surveys don’t ask respondents for income information since that is too sensitive to do on the phone, but an obvious interpretation is that poorer urbanites are abandoning the KMT ship faster. This might be evidence of the emerging class cleavage.

kmt party ID 6

The variations among subgroups are interesting, but the main takeaway point from this post is the main trend. Those big, black lines in the middle of each graph are moving relentlessly downward. The KMT can tell itself that this doesn’t matter. All those newly undecided voters will come back to the KMT when national power is at stake. That’s what the DPP told itself in 2007. That didn’t work out so well for the DPP, and the dip in DPP party ID in Chen’s second term was much smaller than the dip in KMT party ID during Ma’s second term. Whether people are no longer expressing a group identity with the KMT or their running tallies no longer put the KMT in a favorable position, this drop in KMT party ID is almost certainly the main cause of the KMT’s 2014 debacle (outside of Taipei). Unless things turn around in a big way, it is also almost certain to have a major impact six months from now.

Should the DPP yield districts?

May 27, 2015

I’ve been meaning to write a post about the DPP’s nomination controversies, but while I was dilly-dallying around Solidarity.tw beat me to most of what I was going to say. Hats off to you, S.tw.

Let’s recap. Last week, Lin Yi-hsiung 林義雄 publicly lambasted the DPP for refusing to yield 20 legislative districts to the Social Democratic Party and the New Power Party. While Lin Yi-hsiung is a self-appointed Moral Beacon who we are not supposed to question, his logic was terrible. This had the useful effect of forcing many DPP mouthpieces to point out all the reasons why the DPP should not simply stand aside. Let me see if I can summarize these arguments (plus a few of my own).

 

For:

  1. The DPP cannot get a majority on its own. It needs to cooperate with smaller parties. The DPP should extend the Ko Wen-je 柯文哲 model to the legislative elections.
  2. If it only yields 13 districts and the two smaller parties must run in at least 20 to be eligible for the party list, the DPP is effectively suffocating them.
  3. The DPP is nominating several city councilors who just won new terms last December. Those people have a solemn democratic contract with the voters and must serve out their terms.

 

Against

  1. It is up to the voters to decide if they can accept a serving politician’s decision to try to jump to a new office before finishing the current term.
  2. The Ko Wen-je model involved convincing people who had previously voted for the blue camp to vote for him. There is no indication that the SDP or NPP candidates have cross-camp appeal.
  3. Arguably the most important element of Ko’s success was his opponent. None of the KMT’s legislative candidates seems as inept and unlikeable as Sean Lien.
  4. Ko got DPP support by defeating the DPP choice in a poll. Lin is demanding that DPP aspirants simply step aside. The DPP has been willing to let the strongest candidate run, but the NPP and SDP haven’t been able to find many (any?) strong candidates.
  5. DPP voters might not be able to accept being told to vote for a NPP or SDP candidate. The parties don’t have strong party reputations or popular candidates. How can the DPP tell its supporters to vote for a candidate who is a stranger from a party they know almost nothing about?
  6. It isn’t the DPP’s job to devote resources to other parties. If those people wanted to draw on DPP resources, they should have joined the DPP. In fact, they explicitly decided that they didn’t want to be part of the DPP. They valued purity over power. By the way, Lin Yi-hsiung dropped out the DPP several years ago. Why does he think he can tell the DPP who to nominate?
  7. Electoral politics is a game of opinion aggregation. You have to combine the support of many people who will inevitably have some differences of opinion. Successful electoral parties are all big tents. The SDP and NPP have failed at this basic concept. They started with a fairly narrow base and then further divided into two parties. If they can’t even cooperate among themselves, why should the DPP pay them any heed?
  8. Is the DPP also supposed to yield 10 seats each to the Green Party and Tree Party, who also subdivided an already tiny electoral base?
  9. Taiwan has a majoritarian electoral system that crushes small parties. If the DPP wants to win governing power, it has to pay attention to the incentives created by the electoral rules. By the way, Moral Beacon Lin Yi-hsiung is more responsible than any other person for Taiwan’s current electoral system. Ten years ago, he knew what was Right and used his Moral Superiority[1] to shame anyone who took the Wrong position or simply even dared to question his proposed electoral reforms.
  10. Some of the SDP and NPP candidates want to run in districts such as New Taipei 12, which include significant rural populations. Elections in these areas run along a different logic from urban areas. You need to slowly build organizational power over a period of several years. Yielding to a SDP or NPP candidate in such a district would be tantamount to yielding that bloc of voters to the KMT candidate. That, in turn, would ruin any chance of winning the district.
  11. The DPP can’t afford to even signal to voters that it is ok to vote for the smaller parties in the party list tier. The “progressive” side has six(!) parties (DPP, TSU, NPP, SDP, Green, Tree). With a 5% threshold, that means the DPP would have to yield more than 25% of its support to them (and spread it evenly) or risk throwing away votes. If the five small parties each got only 4%, that would swing about six seats to the blue side. Given that the electoral system already gives a mild advantage to the blue side in malapportionment (ie: Lienchiang and Aborigines are overrepresented), the green side cannot afford to give away any PR seats. Perhaps if the four smaller parties merged into one party, the voters might have some confidence that it could pass the 5% threshold. However, they have instead chosen to subdivide their already tiny base.

 

If you haven’t figured it out already, I don’t think much of Lin’s arguments. Electoral politics is a high-stakes game for political power, not a summer camp for nurturing naïve but earnest activists. Supporting idealistic but hopeless candidates at the cost of yielding governing power to the other side is simply irresponsible.

If the green side is to win a majority, it will have to be competitive in some of the “difficult” districts and even win a few. In fact, the DPP seems to think that its people have a chance in some of them. I have seen comments that the potential DPP candidates lead the KMT incumbents in both New Taipei 1 and New Taipei 12 in internal DPP polling. Take that with a grain of salt, but if there is any chance at all the DPP has to doggedly go after it. They should resist any thought of yielding those districts simply to make some tiny splinter party look better.

If Lin wanted small parties in the system, maybe he should have thought about that a decade ago. Perhaps he should have listened to voices trying to tell him what would happen instead of shouting them down.[2]

One nice thing is that the small parties seem to have clearer heads about their relationship with the DPP than Lin does. A few have commented that they are not in the DPP and want to maintain some distance from it. I don’t particularly share their enthusiasm for purity, but at least they understand the consequences of their choice.

 

 

[1] It was a good week for Morally Superior people. Morally Superior presidential candidate Shih Ming-teh 施明德 went on a talk show this week. When DPP city councilor Kao Chia-yu 高嘉瑜 asked him if his proposal of a Greater China above the ROC and PRC was basically the same as the KMT position he threw a temper tantrum. How dare she put a hat on him! She is such a lazy student! Shih punctuated his petty outburst by slamming his fist on the table. Yes, of course! It is completely unacceptable in a democratic system to ask someone running for the presidency to clarify and defend their position on the most important question facing the country, given that that person is Morally Superior. (I wonder what St. Wang Chien-hsuan 王聖人 was doing this week.)

[2] Why am I so wary of people with a strong sense of right and wrong? A basic premise of pluralistic democratic politics is that people have different values and want different things. In an authoritarian society, someone can designate certain values as “correct,” and this implies that other values are “wrong.” People holding “wrong” values are often struggled against. To give two examples, communist states often label people as “enemies of the people,” and Thais will put you in jail if you dare to question the existence of the monarchy. In a democracy, we don’t have to struggle against people who disagree with us. We simply label them as partisans. If they are in the opposition, we ignore them as harmless crackpots. If they are in the governing coalition and implement policies consistent with those values, at least we don’t have to publicly acknowledge that those policies and values are “right.” We can openly disagree and try to reverse them in the future. Acknowledging that there is no such thing as an absolute “right” or “wrong” allows us to accept diversity of opinion in society, promotes tolerance, and provides democratic politics with space to breathe.

the KMT nomination fiasco (so far)

May 18, 2015

If the last week of KMT presidential politics hasn’t made much sense to you, you are not alone. I wish I could offer a definitive answer, but I don’t know what the hell just happened either. As for the future, it looks like the KMT is heading for an electoral disaster, but who knows which script it will follow.

I think I should start this post by reminding myself that the KMT presidential nomination is, contrary to everyone’s actions, a very valuable prize. First, the nominee might just win the presidency. Right now, it looks like Tsai can beat anyone the KMT puts forward, but there are still eight months to go. Lots of crazy things can happen in eight months. The world economy could crash, China could have a political crisis, someone could get assassinated, Tsai could have a huge scandal, a massive natural disaster could happen, or a massive street protest could change everything. Heck, it doesn’t even need to be that crazy. The British Conservative Party just won an unexpected victory when all signs pointed to defeat. Gerald Ford was down by over 30% when he was nominated for USA president in 1976, but he eventually lost by only about 1%. Weird things happen in politics. It doesn’t seem all that likely that the KMT candidate would win, but it isn’t impossible. Campaigns occasionally make up large deficits in the polls. Second, even if the KMT loses the race, the nominee can shape the KMT’s party image. After Ma steps down, will we see the Ma Era as an aberration, or will we see the Lee Teng-hui Era as the aberration? Or will we see the KMT as a conflicted party that switches back and forth between its two co-equal nativist and Chinese nationalist wings? Third, after the election, the KMT will need a new set of party leaders. Ma will clearly not be the face of the party. He will be more like Chen Shui-bian was in the 2008-2012 period for the DPP: someone who won’t go away but who the party would rather you forget ever existed. In 2008, the DPP leaders were all somewhat discredited, and they distrusted each other. Tsai Ing-wen emerged from relative obscurity to take over the party, and she has not yet relinquished control. If the KMT nominee performs reasonably well in the presidential race, he could become the post-Ma leader. At the very least, the nominee would be first in line for consideration. No one sets out to become leader of the major opposition party, but it isn’t the worst position to be in if you eventually want to win back power. The point is this: people should want to be the KMT nominee.

So why didn’t Wang Jin-pyng register for the primary? In the last few days, it had become clear that Chu wouldn’t register. Since Chu is the only person who could beat Wang in a polling primary, if Wang had registered, he would have won the primary. Wang was also clearly interested, but apparently he only wanted the nomination on certain conditions. I can think of a few possible conditions that may not have been met.

First, Chu has stated that the KMT will not use any of its funds on the presidential campaign. The nominee will be responsible for financing the campaign by himself. Wang might have been demanding that Chu relax this position and pledge a certain amount of money to the presidential campaign, and he might have been dissatisfied with Chu’s response.

As an aside, why the hell would Chu make such a stupid and self-defeating decision? Everyone knows the KMT is sitting on a mountain of assets, so no one is going to donate money to the KMT when the KMT isn’t willing to spend its own money on itself. Some have suggested that Chu wants to spend the money on legislative campaigns, but raising the presidential vote a few percentage points is a far more effective way of winning legislative votes than blowing money on lavish dinners for grassroots elites or a few more billboards of candidates promising good constituency service. If Chu really doesn’t release the money, it wouldn’t surprise me to see a rebellion within the party. Chu’s chairmanship might not make it to the end of the campaign.

Second, everyone has pointed to Ma’s opposition to Wang. Without Chu in the race, I don’t think Ma could have beaten Wang. However, he could have destroyed Wang’s campaign. Imagine if Ma had openly agitated against Wang during the polling period. Also, don’t forget that the current rules say that party member votes count for 30% and that the deep blue wing is heavily overrepresented among eligible party voters. Ma could have made it clear that the party was not united behind Wang.

I think what Wang must have wanted from Ma was a guarantee that Ma would act something like Lee Teng-hui did in 1998. In 1998, the KMT had a big dispute over who would challenge Chen Shui-bian for mayor. LTH and Ma were not allies, to say the least. Ma was something of a pop idol in this period. Media coverage fawned over his good looks, his jogging, and all the blood he donated. As Minister of Justice, Ma sent several crime lords in helicopters to prison on Green Island, making him even more of a media hero. LTH eventually forced Ma out, demoting him to Minister without Portfolio. When it became clear that Ma had no power in that role, he resigned from the cabinet, famously asking “What am I fighting for? Who am I fighting for?” 為何而戰、為誰而戰 LTH did not appreciate this criticism. During the mayoral nomination decision, the KMT considered a few people such as Jason Hu and (then) Chang Hsiao-yen. However, the polls indicated that Ma was the only person who stood a chance of beating Chen. LTH repeatedly and pointedly declined to ask Ma to run. Eventually, Ma recanted on his promise not to run, and LTH couldn’t block his nomination. During the campaign, LTH maintained distance from the election, refusing to say much in favor of either candidate. The Chen campaign even decided not to criticize LTH in hopes that he might come out and openly endorse Chen in the last few days. In fact, the opposite happened. LTH bowed to the logic of party politics and political power. The president went on stage at Ma’s rally and asked (in Taiwanese), “Ma Ying-jeou, who are you? 馬英九,你是什麼人?” Ma replied (in Taiwanese), “Reporting to President Lee, I am the eater of Taiwanese rice and drinker of Taiwanese water Ma Ying-jeou” 報告李總統,我是吃台灣米喝台灣水的馬英九。 Ma eventually won by 5%, and LTH’s late endorsement may have been a major contributor to this victory. I think it might be reasonable that Wang hoped for similar treatment from Ma. He certainly wouldn’t have expected Ma to enthusiastically support him, but he might have hoped that Ma would stay out of the race or perhaps make a symbolic gesture near the end.

If this is correct and Ma was unwilling to guarantee even this low level of support, the KMT’s toxic internal politics are destroying its post-2016 prospects. The deep blue wing’s refusal to accept Wang does not come from anything Wang has said or done. Wang has always been a party man, following whatever the party line of the day was. Rather, the deep blues have convinced themselves that Wang is a corrupt traitor. After so many editorials and talk show diatribes in the deep blue media echo chamber, they have poisoned their own well and are now unable to accept the one person who is willing and capable of running a moderately competent campaign at the top of the ticket. It seems the KMT will be paying the price for Ma’s ill-advised purge attempt for at least four more years.

After Wang announced that he would not run, some people in Wang’s camp seemed to direct their ire more at Chu than at Wang. One of them even suggested that if Chu didn’t start leading the party more effectively, his term as party chair might not last until August.

This suggests a third possible narrative. It is possible that Wang never had much hope for support or even neutrality from Ma. However, he needed united support from the rest of the party. When Ma objected to Wang’s candidacy, Wang expected Chu to make a forceful gesture of support. Chu, however, said nothing. If Ma was hostile and Chu was indifferent, Wang could probably see that his presidential effort would end in disaster. Further, if Chu wasn’t going to go all out for him, then Chu probably wouldn’t be willing to share responsibility for the inevitable loss. Wang would be hung out to dry. In other words, Wang backed away not because of opposition from Ma, but due to indifference from Chu.

So much for Wang, what about Chu? He’s the one who really is acting strangely. Just for the moment, let’s take him at face value. Chu said that he decided not to run for president when he committed to another term as mayor. He agreed to become party precisely because he wasn’t going to run for president. He has told us again and again of his intent, and we shouldn’t be surprised. When Ma said yesterday that Chu was responsible for this mess and he had the responsibility to run, Chu apparently responded by whining that Ma had insisted that Chu should run for re-election. Chu seems to want us to believe that he is doing the noble thing by acting as a neutral referee and not running. The chairmanship in an election year is a thankless job, he reminds us. If the party wins, the new president becomes chair. If it loses, he has to resign to take responsibility.

So apparently Chu always saw himself as an interim leader? He took over the party with no intention to pursue his own vision, no intention to seek power, and every intention of stepping aside when the next real leader emerged? So why did he bother taking over the party chair in the first place? He should have stuck strictly to running New Taipei City and let the power transition begin several months ago.

My opinion of Chu has dropped precipitously in the last month as Ma has repeatedly kicked him around. Ma first told Chu to attend the KMT-CCP forum. Then he called Chu to a MAC meeting where he informed Chu what his position would be at that forum. Chu dutifully adhered to Ma’s strategy of always taking things one small step further by adding the “we all belong One China” line, but when he came back to Taiwan Ma slapped him down again by “clarifying” Taiwan’s position. Then Ma blocked Wang’s candidacy and blamed Chu for it. When Chu complained that Ma had caused all this by insisting that Chu run for re-election as mayor, Ma rejected that complaint as well. Ma has shown that he is still the alpha dog in the KMT pack, and I’m no longer even sure that Chu has the desire, much less the guts or ability, to challenge him. At this point, if Chu announced that he wanted the nomination, my immediate reaction would probably be that he didn’t have the guts to resist the pressure from the rest of the party.

A week ago I thought it was barely possible, but now I’m starting to believe that the party will eventually turn to Wu Den-yi. First, however, they have to eliminate the two and a half actual candidates in the race. We won’t worry about the turkey who used to work in some local government office; he won’t pass the signature threshold. The problem is the other two candidates. Officially, there is a way out. If they can eliminate one of the candidates in the signature stage, the other will have to pass a 30% polling threshold. Hung Hsiu-chu claims that she has far more than the necessary signatures, but Yaung Chih-liang might not. I suspect the KMT workers will comb through his signatures looking for any excuse to claim that he did not get the necessary numbers. If they can do this, they will then launch a massive suggestive campaign telling voters that they don’t necessarily have to support Hung in the polls. It will be interesting to watch them talk down their potential nominee in public while trying not to say negative things about her or the party. On the other hand, if Yaung and Hung both pass the signature stage, the KMT will really be in a pickle. If there are two candidates, the rules don’t provide for any 30% threshold. The KMT talking heads will argue that the winner really needs to get 30% approval to be a credible candidate and suggest that the party shouldn’t nominate anyone who wins with a lower number than that. However, even that might not work. Yao Li-ming (the political scientist, former NP legislator, frequent talk show guest, and genius behind the Ko campaign) claimed that there was a poll done showing Yaung at 27.5% and Hung at 22% approval. Now, people make up poll numbers all the time, but this story included one important detail. Yao claimed that Hung Yung-tai had conducted the poll. Before he retired, Hung Yung-tai taught at Tunghai, NCCU, and NTU, and he is the godfather of political polling in Taiwan. Countless graduate students, including myself and probably half of all the serious pollsters in Taiwan, learned how the nuts and bolts of survey methodology from him, and we all respect him deeply. If Hung’s name is attached to that poll, it is credible. If that poll is real, there is a good chance that Yaung will pass the 30% threshold. I don’t think the KMT would nominate him, but it would be a public relations disaster for the party. The KMT has never been that committed to their internal party rules. However, to get out of this mess, they might have to blatantly repudiate their entire official process.

[Aside: I think it is legal for the party to ignore its nomination rules. I think the Central Committee always has the authority to overturn any other body’s decision and make the final decision. However, after the Wang Jin-pyng case, I’m no longer 100% sure. It has been pointed out that the Election and Recall Law has been extended so that it applies to party primaries. (This was done partially to make vote-buying in primaries a crime.) However, if party primaries are covered by law, could the primary winner – or a supporter – sue the party if they were denied the nomination, perhaps using the same law that Wang used to claim he had been unjustly denied his rights within the party? I doubt it, but wouldn’t that be fun to watch?]

[Second aside: I think Yaung’s real game is to become the next Tsai Ing-wen. He is putting himself in the public consciousness so that when the dust settles in January and the party needs a new leader, people will think about him. He is one of the few people who emerged from Ma’s government with a good reputation. While he may not be on the current short list of top party leaders, the KMT might be ripe for an outsider like him or former Interior Minister Lee Hung-yuan to take over. It’s a long shot, but it’s not impossible.]

It’s important to keep some sense of perspective here. It feels like the KMT needs to make a decision soon, perhaps because the DPP made its decision so comically early. However, there is still plenty of time. The election is still eight months away, and eight months is plenty of time to put together a presidential campaign. Heck, you can do this in three or four months if you need to. I’m fairly sure that the KMT will eventually get around to nominating someone. There’s a pretty good chance that there will eventually be a poll or two showing the KMT candidate to be fairly close to Tsai Ing-wen. At some point, all of us are going to seriously wonder if the KMT could actually win this race. This nomination fiasco isn’t helping the KMT, but it also might not be the end of the world. By the time October rolls around, we probably won’t be thinking very much about how the drawn-out nomination process doomed the KMT candidate.

Chu’s China Trip

May 9, 2015

Eric Chu’s trip to China for the KMT-CPP forum is now over, and Chu has completed his first event in the international spotlight. How did it go? From where I sit, it went pretty badly.

First, the optimistic assessment. Chu’s main message to China was that the KMT under his leadership will continue business as usual. Chu promised not only to continue to respect the 92 Consensus, but even to deepen it. He went out of his way to show respect for the CCP’s sensibilities by not stating the “each side with its own interpretations” part to their faces, and even when he needed to say “Republic of China” for domestic consumption he found a way to do that that the CCP leaders wouldn’t object to. He further stated that the two sides “both belong to One China” 兩岸同屬一中, a formulation that the Ma administration had previously rejected. In short, Chu presented himself as someone the PRC can work with. That will reassure the PRC, some people in Washington, some in Taiwan’s business community, and most in the KMT’s deep blue wing.

Now, the negative assessment. Reread the above paragraph.

The most important job of any party leader in a democracy is to win elections. Power is the top priority. I’m not convinced that Chu’s trip helped the KMT in winning votes next January. The current Ma government is deeply unpopular, and the 2014 elections and data from public opinion polls seem to indicate that the electorate does not want another term of the same old policies. It isn’t clear exactly how much change the electorate demands, but it does seem clear that the KMT needs to offer some sort of change from current policies.

The 92 Consensus, in particular, is living on borrowed time. It is under attack from both sides. China doesn’t seem satisfied with continuing the status quo indefinitely. Several Chinese leaders have made statements about needing to move forward with political integration. KMT presidential aspirant Hung Hsiu-chu has echoed this, saying the 92 Consensus has performed its historical transitional role, and now it is time to move forward and sign a peace agreement. In other words, the unification forces are just about ready to throw away the “each side with its own interpretation” clause. The Taiwan-First side is also just about ready to ditch the 92 Consensus. The usefulness of the 92 Consensus stemmed from its ambiguity. The PRC has suffocated it by squeezing the life out of the “each side with its own interpretation” clause and by refusing any international space for the ROC. If all that is left is One China and the PRC, it becomes harder and harder for people who think Taiwan is a sovereign country – the large majority of the electorate – to see any space for them within the 92 Consensus. Big business still supports the 92 Consensus, but the rest of the coalition is shrinking fast.

I didn’t really expect Chu to reject the 92 Consensus, but I thought he might play to public opinion and try to differentiate his position from Ma’s. After all, the classic KMT electoral strategy is to talk about being Taiwanese, placing Taiwan first, and affirming that the ROC is an independent, sovereign state. Chu’s public image is still not yet fully formed, and he had an opportunity to position himself closer to the median voter. Instead, Chu doubled down on Ma’s position. He effectively told the electorate that he would continue Ma’s strategy of incrementally moving closer and closer to China and unification. Predictably, KMT mouthpieces complained that the green media was painting him red. Actually, the green media didn’t need to smear him. Chu went out of his way to ensure we all know that he is firmly in the pro-unification slice of the spectrum.

By deciding to attend the forum personally, Chu also signaled that he doesn’t see anything wrong with the party-to-party model of cross-strait affairs. If the KMT controls the government, it can use government channels to arrange policy. If the KMT loses control of the executive branch, it will revert to party-to-party channels to try to control Taiwan’s interactions with China. Unless I’m reading public opinion incorrectly, this is not a winning political position. The public is in favor of cross-strait exchanges, but it wants politics and negotiations to be done on a government-to-government basis. I don’t think Chu’s smug and condescending question of why the DPP didn’t have its own forum with the CCP resonated as well with the general public as he thought it would. Chu apparently doesn’t see anything wrong with undermining his own country’s government to collaborate with another country’s rulers. This, of course, is what One China means. The KMT and CCP are both from the same country, so there is no question of undermining the country.

Perhaps it was inevitable that Chu would toe the party line on the 92 Consensus. However, he could have easily differentiated himself from Ma by calling for policies that would help ordinary wage earners. Instead, he asked the PRC for cooperation on exactly the same things that the Ma administration wants. He asked for Taiwan to join the AIIB and to participate in China’s regional economic cooperation program (RCEP). Laissez-faire economists often argue that more trade and economic grown will trickle down to ordinary people, and the KMT also generally takes this stance. However, the Taiwanese public is increasing rejecting the idea that cross-strait economic integration has been good for everyone. Widening income inequality certainly seems to indicate that the gains have been monopolized by a small minority while the broader public shoulders the costs. Who would benefit from Taiwan’s participation in the AIIB and a trading block run under Chinese rules? Probably the same big corporations that benefitted from earlier rounds of integration into the Chinese economy. In other words, Chu is doubling down on Ma’s economic strategy, and he is forgoing the opportunity to try to appeal to wage-earning sectors of the voting public.

The American in me thought that Chu looked like a leader. He was energetic, friendly, and spoke eloquently without a script. This was in marked contrast to the other side of the table, which seemed dull and lifeless. However, the voice in my head that pretends to understand Chinese political stagecraft laughed at my inner American’s naiveté. Chu was overeager, a younger smiling too broadly and showing his desperation for the older man’s approval. Xi showed his dominance by giving only the faintest of smiles in the official photo. Xi read his remarks from a script without much emotion, as if this were just another – relatively unimportant – event in his busy schedule. Yesterday while I was driving home, a talk show host (on a deep blue radio station) lambasted Chu for introducing his team one by one in the reception line, as if he were presenting a group of schoolchildren to the principal for a pat on the head. Chu simply didn’t seem to have the gravitas of people like Lien Chan.

Overall, my overall impression of Chu from this visit is that he’s still not quite ready for the big stage. He didn’t take the opportunity to present any sort of independent image or vision. He seemed content to not offend anyone and to reassure everyone that he would continue Ma’s policies. Most of all, he didn’t seem to understand that he was talking to people at home as much as he was talking to Beijing leaders. His “ROC” moment was particularly instructive. Green voices always complain that blue people only talk about the ROC at home. When they go to China, suddenly they are afraid to say anything about the ROC. Chu decided that he would take this talking point away by directing saying the term “ROC” to Xi Jinping’s face. Of course, he didn’t want to offend Xi, so what he did was to say something about “back when Sun Yat-sen established the ROC…” Of course, the ROC that existed during Sun Yat-sen’s time is not controversial at all. Apparently Chu thought that Taiwanese wouldn’t be able to see through this ruse, and DPP politicians would no longer be able to claim he didn’t dare talk about the ROC in China. Maybe he thought no one was watching the 24 hour news channels? In fact, now he simply opens himself to ridicule, and DPP attack dogs will be even more likely to bring up the topic.

I guess I should remind myself that Chu hasn’t exactly had good training for national leadership. He was a professor of accounting, a one-term legislator, and head of a local government for 12 years. His one stint in upper-level national politics was a very short eight-month stint as Vice Premier, during which he wasn’t exactly the public face of the government and may not have been included in President Ma’s strategy sessions on how to deal with China and manage the economy. In high politics, Chu is a greenhorn.

Of course, we shouldn’t overstate the impact of Chu’s performance. Within the KMT, he is still the most popular figure and the overwhelming preference for the presidential race. Now that he has come back and the deadline for deciding the presidential candidate is fast approaching, the KMT is putting the pressure on him to run. We are now in full flattery mode. “Only you can save the party from disaster.” “You are our only hope.” “We nurtured your career; you have no right to avoid a fight when the party needs you.” In 2010, Tsai Ing-wen found it impossible to resist her party’s pressure to run, even though it was pretty clear she would have preferred to sit out the race. My impression is that Chu was sincere in planning not to run, but I’m not sure he will be able to resist the pressure coming from almost all corners of his party.

If Chu does end up as the KMT’s candidate, the KMT-CCP forum will be even more awkward. It will appear as though he went to Beijing to inform Xi he was running, or, worse, to get Xi’s blessing. The forum and the presidential nomination are temporally so close that it is nearly impossible not to draw a connection in your mind. This is not helping Chu’s case with the general electorate. It didn’t have to be this way. If Chu was going to be the candidate, he probably should have sent someone else to Beijing to meet with Xi. At the very least, he could have changed the date of one of the events. Hey, he’s the party chair. He could have decided that the forum should be a month earlier or the nomination registration deadline would be moved back to June. If it looks like Chu went to China to get Xi’s imperial approval of his presidential bid, it’s his own damn fault. He shouldn’t blame the media for painting him red when he arranges events in this way.

[Of course, I could be wrong. I’m still waiting for a post-trip opinion poll to be published.]