Archive for the ‘party politics’ Category

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 beat me to most of what I was going to say. Hats off to you,

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).



  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.



  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.]

possible party realignment?

April 22, 2015

Caution: This is one of those crazy ideas that probably won’t happen. Still, I can’t shake the idea that lots of various forces are aligning. I’m probably wrong.

I’m starting to think that party realignment might be coming. This is not about the DPP; they’re doing just fine these days. If any of this happens, it will be the blue side of the spectrum that is thrown into utter chaos. Nevertheless, if the blue side goes into wild convulsions, the green side will inevitably be affected, though I have no idea how.

There are a couple of linchpins to my scenario. One is Eric Chu 朱立倫. If he accepts full leadership of the KMT – including running for president – the KMT probably holds together, at least for the immediate future. Chu is the one person who everyone in the KMT can agree on. For the record, I still think they will prevail on him to run, but for the purposes of this post let’s assume that he is serious about not running. If Chu isn’t the candidate, the KMT has to come up with someone else. That is a problem.
Wang Jyn-ping 王金平 is the obvious replacement, as he is clearly the second most popular KMT figure in the polls. I think Wang has two fundamental challenges facing his presidential bid. On the one hand, he doesn’t seem to have any vision for Taiwan’s future. Wang has never set out a set of policies that he wants, talked about what sort of relationship Taiwan and China should have, or staked out a position about wealth inequality. His entire career has been devoted to seeking consensus. In other words, he has resolved the conflicts between other people’s visions. The closest he has come to staking out a courageous or controversial political position was his refusal to allow the police into the legislature to clear out the sunflower students. That, however, was a reflection of his vision for what the legislature should be – an institution that resolves conflict by seeking compromise and consensus rather than by allowing a bare majority to run roughshod over the minority. It was not a reflection of his vision for the country. As a presidential candidate, that won’t work. He can’t lead if he doesn’t stand for anything.
Much of Wang’s popularity stems from voters’ willingness to project their hopes and dreams onto him, rather than to anything he has told them he stands for. There are many people who think that Wang will become a second Lee Teng-hui 李登輝 and transform the KMT into a Taiwan-first party. Thus, every so often someone will propose the idea of a Wang-Tsai ticket, with Tsai Ing-wen 蔡英文 taking the second place. In the general electorate, being positioned as a Taiwan-First candidate is an advantage. Within the KMT, that is a big problem. Wang will have to make overtures to the deep blue part of the party to prevent a party rebellion. And because suspicions of him are so deep, he will have to be explicit and forceful in making these statements. Of course, as soon as he starts making statements about how Taiwan is part of China or how the relationship between Taiwan and China is not an international one, he will disillusion many of the light green people who are dreaming of a second LTH. I don’t think the effort to reinvent himself as a Chinese nationalist would be credible or successful. After all, LTH and Ma Ying-jeou 馬英九 said all kinds of things in order to win power; once they got into power it was a different story. Everyone, including the deep blue people, remembers this history.
If Wang somehow gets the KMT nomination, I think it is very possible that we will see an open rebellion from the Chinese KMT wing of the party. Remember, from their point of view, the biggest catastrophe in recent years was NOT Chen Shui-bian 陳水扁 winning two terms as president. Rather, it was LTH usurping their party. During the Chen era, they could openly complain, oppose policies in the legislature, and march in the street. When they discredited him, they roared back into power. When LTH took control of the party and turned it into a vehicle promoting Taiwanese sovereignty, they were stuck. Their own party was doing the wrong things; they could hardly go on talk shows or write angry editorials demanding that the KMT step down. Moreover, when the LTH-led KMT finally lost power, it issued in eight years of DPP government. If Wang Jyn-ping could become the second LTH, it would be far better for the deep blue wing of the party if Tsai and the DPP won outright. They could go into open and vocal opposition and try to win back power in four or eight years. If Wang wins and steals their party again, they might never be able to wrestle control back again. As such, if Chu doesn’t run, I suspect we will start hearing louder and more intense warnings from the deep blue wing that Wang is not acceptable under any circumstances.
If not Chu or Wang, then who? Everyone else is deeply unpopular, and most are closely associated with Ma Ying-jeou and his vision of pursuing unification by tying the Taiwanese economy closely to the Chinese economy, especially by encouraging large companies to develop in China. This economic unification strategy draws on worldwide ideas of free-market economics. China is seen as an economic opportunity (not a irredentist threat), and Taiwan and China can pursue mutual gain by developing more and more economic ties. Thus, the Ma government continually trumpets the gains from this trade, pointing to numbers such as GDP growth and the potential of the vast Chinese market. This argument was very powerful in 2008 and still had fairly widespread acceptance in 2012. However, it is coming under intense scrutiny.
On the one hand, there is a growing concern with inequality in the global economic discourse. The most important voice has been Picketty, whose Capital in the Twenty-First Century argued that since governments are no longer pursuing redistributive policies, returns to capital have outstripped economic growth. This has led to an increasing concentration of global wealth. Picketty’s argument implies that more economic activity will not necessarily lead to a fairer, more just society, since it is highly possible that all the gains will be monopolized by a small group of plutocrats. In fact, as this elite becomes richer and more powerful, it can use its influence to try to block any redistribution or regulation. That might make the world a worse place for the vast majority of people. For example, the world’s tech companies are sitting on trillions of dollars of cash right now. Much of this money is parked in Ireland, where they pay a negligible tax rate. The companies could repatriate this cash and invest it in new technologies or increased production, but then they would have to pay taxes to the governments of their home countries. Instead, they are demanding a tax holiday, effectively blackmailing the home governments. Are the 99% better off if the economy grows but the companies that make most of the profit don’t pay any taxes?
On the other hand, the domestic version of this argument has become more and more powerful over the past few years. In the 2012 election, Tsai Ing-wen was already raising concerns about the M-shaped society (with lots rich and poor people but not many in the middle). The Sunflower Movement really focused the argument and transformed it into mainstream opinion. They argued that the gains from cross-strait integration have been monopolized by a small elite. The costs, such as the loss of manufacturing jobs and low wages, have been borne by the rest of the population. Leading KMT politicians were seen as “compradores,” middlemen selling out the interests of the larger society for their own personal gain.
The effect of these arguments has been to transform the way the general public sees Ma and the KMT. Ma has increasingly come to be viewed as allied with wealth and capital, and he is increasing seen as indifferent to the plight of the average person. In an election, being framed as a champion of the rich and powerful is usually not a good thing. I believe that this transformation of the KMT party image was intimately tied to the KMT’s poor performance in the 2014 elections, especially in the urban north. If Wu Den-yi 吳敦義 wins the KMT nomination, he will not repudiate Ma’s policies. Hau Lung-bin 郝龍斌 probably wouldn’t fundamentally try to attack the KMT’s entrenched big business interests either. They are closely connected to Ma’s big business policies and have almost certainly completely bought into the idea that an alliance with capital is necessary in order to integrate economically with China in pursuit of the dream of unification. Of course, it is highly unlikely that Hau or Wu would win the presidency. However, their candidacy would signify that the deep blue wing still controls the party and will pursue business as usual. Unfortunately, the KMT’s current position looks increasingly precarious. It has painted itself into a corner with a minority of voters on both national identity and economic justice. Business as usual probably means facing life as a long-term opposition party.
A continuation of Ma’s policies leaves a big hole in the political spectrum. To be sure, I don’t think that Chu or Wang is ready to transform the KMT into a party for the working or middle classes either. However, Chu is popular enough that he might be able to hold the whole edifice together. With an unpopular candidate heading the ticket and a vacuum in the middle of the political spectrum, the existing party system might be ready for an earthquake. Nature abhors a vacuum.
There are many people on the blue side of the divide who are uneasy about the growing wealth gap and would like to work more for the average person than for the economic elite. During the CCK era, the KMT used to talk a lot about “the people’s livelihood,” an idea that goes back to Sun Yat-sen. For the past few years, James Soong 宋楚瑜 has been the most vocal proponent of this strain of thought within the blue camp. Unfortunately, Soong is old, and his time is past. He has been unable to organize the anti-capitalist forces. Now, however, there is another possibility.

The second linchpin is Ko Wen-je 柯文哲. Remember that crazy hypothetical poll from a few weeks ago that showed a Ko-Soong ticket leading the presidential race? While Ko and Soong won’t be appearing on a joint ticket any time soon, it’s actually not that crazy to think that they should be political allies.
In his campaign, Ko had the good fortune to run against Sean Lien. Positioning himself as an ordinary person who did not drive a Porsche or drink expensive red wine was a fairly easy and obvious tactic. In fact, I suspect his victory came precisely because he won over the votes of what the New Party used to call the “little people in the city” 小市民 who had no love for the economic elite. However, since taking office, Ko has shown that he actually meant his rhetoric by staking out a clear position as someone willing to fight against big business and elite privilege.
Ko is ambitious. He isn’t running for president in 2016, but I think it’s safe to say he wants to be re-elected in 2018 and 2020 may be crossed his mind once or twice. He can’t count on a repeat of 2014 in 2018. Even if – and this is a big if – the DPP yields to him, the KMT will probably find someone more competent than Sean Lien. He will be better off if he can reshuffle the party structure.
Ko won his office as a green candidate who developed ties with the blue side. Since taking office, he has continued to work with the blue side. In fact, he has arguably appointed more blue people to more powerful offices. Even more interesting, Ko’s position toward China has been ambiguous. As it becomes more and more likely that Tsai Ing-wen will win the presidency, China has been trying to come up with a new China policy. They want to stay engaged with Taiwan, but they don’t want to concede any ground on symbolic issues or help a pro-independence DPP in any way. It appears that one of their strategies is to reach out to Ko. If these ties deepen over the next few years, it is not impossible that Ko could play a critical role in cross-strait relations. While Ko denies that he is either blue or green, I can easily see Ko shifting to the blue side of the divide.

By now, you should be able to see where I’m going. If the KMT persists in its pro-rich agenda, Ko will have an opportunity to organize a political party representing the ordinary citizens on the blue side of the spectrum. Yao Li-ming 姚立明 might run the party, and he might build alliances with established politicians such as Soong, Wang, or defectors from the KMT legislative caucus. However, Ko would be the star, and everyone else would revolve around him. In 2018, instead of running against the KMT, he would cooperate with the KMT to defeat the DPP. In my scenario, the KMT wouldn’t particularly be happy about cooperating with Ko in 2018, but their supporters would demand it since a three-way race would probably be won by the DPP. I’m assuming Ko would easily win a polling primary against anyone the KMT could throw against him. Ko might then try to extend this model to the 2020 presidential race.

I’m not sure exactly why the KMT was able to fend off the PFP challenge a decade ago. I suspect the KMT party assets were a major factor in holding the party together. Neither side could access the resources of the state, but the KMT chair had a big pile of money he could throw around. The KMT still has those, but, unlike Soong and the PFP, a party led by Ko could draw on the resources of the Taipei City government, the richest local government in Taiwan. We’ll see how energetically Ko works for “his” legislative candidates this year; the legislative races might be a test run.

Separately, the KMT nomination difficulties, Ko’s political ambitions, and the shifting economic discourse could each lead to a minor reshuffling. If the KMT nominates Wang, I can easily see a deep blue rebellion. If the KMT nominates Wu or Hau, the Taiwan KMT wing might defect to the green side or support a Soong candidacy. Regardless of KMT presidential politics, Ko might organize a party as his best bet to win re-election. However, none of these seem likely to bring about a fundamental partisan realignment. It is the confluence of these factors that piques my interest. There is an outside chance that everything could mesh together perfectly to completely reshuffle politics in the blue half of the spectrum.

Taipei 3 update

April 20, 2015

The KMT announced the results of its preliminary poll in Taipei 3. (For background, see my previous post.) Incumbent Lo Shu-lei羅淑蕾 did not win the poll by more than 5%, so there will be a full-blown primary in this district between Lo, Wang Hung-wei王鴻薇, and Chiang Wan-an蔣萬安.

Lo immediately cried foul, saying there were irregularities in the polling process. According to her, several of her supporters who answered phone calls complained that they were not allowed to answer the survey. When a man answered, the interviewer asked to speak to a woman. When a woman answered, the interviewer asked to speak to a man. Sounds bad, eh? Actually, not at all. This is called “in-house sampling,” and it is a standard part of the KMT’s survey protocols. The basic idea is that while the telephone number is randomized, the person answering the telephone may not be. In order to ensure randomization, the interviewer first asks how many people live at the residence and then, according to a predetermined table, asks to speak to the second oldest female, the youngest male, or whoever else the table demands. With in-house sampling, it is quite normal that the person answering the phone is not sampled. Either Lo simply has no idea how this process works (note: they usually brief the candidates on the process, and the candidates are allowed to have observers watch the process), or she is simply making up a fake complaint. I think it is the latter.

(Aside: The DPP does not use in-house sampling. The KMT’s philosophy is that the polls should reflect public opinion as accurately as possible. The DPP’s philosophy is that polling primaries are partially a contest of mobilization capacity, so they encourage candidates to mobilize supporters to go home and sit by the phone, especially if opinions inside their household are divided. Generally speaking, in-house sampling is theoretically superior, but, in practice, it doesn’t affect results all that much. In this case, since Lo reportedly won by 4.2%, it is conceivable — though certainly not obvious — that in-house could have driven her lead under 5%.)

Lo hasn’t lost yet; why is she crying foul? More than most candidates, Lo needed to win in the first round. Over the next six weeks, her three biggest advantages will all fade. First, now that she has been shown to be vulnerable, her organizational base will start to crack. She has built fairly close ties with all the neighborhood heads, going to all their local events and representing their demands to the bureaucracy. This organizational base was one of her main advantages. However, now that she is not an overwhelming favorite to get the nomination, some of these neighborhood heads will reconsider their affiliation. Many of these loyal KMT footsoldiers probably were never that happy with her in the first place, due to her tendencies to openly criticize party leaders. If Chiang looks like he will be the local legislator for the next four years, many will decide that the smart thing is to change sides, and that will happily allow them to support a more reliable party member. Second, Chiang Wan-an somehow succeeded in garnering a substantial level of support in only 17 days. Most voters only know one thing about him, that he is John Chiang’s son and Chiang Kai-shek’s great grandson. Some voters may have been uncomfortable supporting someone whose last name was his primary (only?) appeal. Now he has about six weeks to introduce himself to voters and flesh out that picture. If he does this wisely, he should be the favorite to win the nomination. It is instructive that almost none of the media reports mentioned Wang. If Chiang can frame the election as a contest between a loyal KMT member who seeks to better the country by improving the party from within versus a loose cannon who doesn’t hesitate to damage the party’s reputation for the sake of making a splash on TV, he will win the nomination easily. However, if Chiang fails to define himself appropriately to the media, this could easily become a contest between Lo and Wang. Lo’s third advantage in the first round was that Wang’s support was heavily concentrated in a small part of the district. Only about a third (the parts in Songshan District) of the legislative district falls within Wang’s city council district. In the other two-thirds (Zhongshan District), Wang is relatively unknown and has little organizational support. Wang now has another six weeks to work on getting votes in Zhongshan. A fourth advantage for Lo could also disappear in a hurry. Right now, the anti-Lo vote is roughly split between Chiang and Wang. If a neutral media source, such a TVBS, were to publish a poll of this race that showed either Chiang or Wang as significantly ahead of the other, this three-way race could quickly become a two-way race. Lo would almost certainly lose that contest.

As of today, I no longer think that Lo is the favorite. As I see it, Chiang is now most likely to win the nomination and the seat. It will be interesting to see if Lo or Wang turn to negative campaigning to try to take him out. Because he is so unknown, he is the perfect target for mudslinging. With an established politician, you know enough about him or her that it is nearly impossible for any single new bit of information to fundamentally change the way you think about him or her. With an unknown, every bit of information can completely rewrite the story. If I were in the Lo, Wang, or DPP camp, I’d be thinking about how to redefine Chiang Wan-an as the 2016 version of Sean Lien. If I were in the Chiang camp, I’d be trying to build up a more robust image of him as someone who has not relied on the family name, who has lived a modest lifestyle, and who is earnest and down-to-earth.

In the end, Lo has no one to blame but herself. She simply could not discipline herself. Time after time, she lambasted President Ma and other KMT leaders on TV and in print, and she seemed to love being in the limelight and willing to say anything to attract attention. Many people have observed that she sounded more like an opposition politician than one from the KMT. It should not be all that surprising to her if the KMT voters who dominate her district want a legislator who represents the values, ideas, and interests of the KMT.

Eric Chu declines … maybe

April 17, 2015

This morning Eric Chu said he would not run for president in 2016. I have a few thoughts.

First, this wasn’t really an announcement. It was more like something that just slipped out. Chu was touring a temple, reporters were badgering him about whether he would serve out his mayoral term, and an exasperated Chu spat out, “I won’t run in 2016, is that good enough?” In other words, this was not something that came out at a carefully planned press conference, and it might not be his final decision. He might have been trying to get the media to stop asking him that same damn question for the n thousandth time!

Second, it sounds like he means it, and today’s slip (if that is what it was) will make it a little harder to backtrack and accept the KMT’s nomination. It might also cost him a handful of votes from people who won’t trust him.

Third, Chu’s strong point is supposed to be his coolness. He is not supposed to get rattled. I don’t care if he was having a bad day. Dodging routine questions about future plans is basic politics 101. If he can’t handle this sort of minor pressure, how is he going to hold up in a full campaign?

Fourth, this is a signal to the rest of the KMT to start the high pressure tactics. Chu is the only viable candidate who isn’t hated by a large part of the party and who is acceptable to the general electorate. Wang is detested by a large chunk of the party, including the Ma group and the military Huang Fu-hsing system. If Wang gets the KMT nomination, the best case scenario is that Ma and Huang Fu-hsing will smile politely and stay seated. At worst, they might decide to go down swinging and back a minor party candidate representing the “true spirit of Sun Yat-sen.” There is no chance that they will thoroughly mobilize to elect Wang. Wu has the opposite problem. He is too closely associated with Ma, and he is extremely unpopular in the general electorate. Hau is not exactly in the Ma camp, but his family background labels him clearly in the Chinese KMT camp. If either one of those (or Hung Hsiu-chu) is at the top of the ticket, the KMT is going to suffer massive losses in the legislature and Tsai is going to win in a landslide. The KMT needs Chu. If I had clout in the party, I would be using every tactic possible to put pressure on him to run. In the party chair race, he seemed to want the party to beg him to run. Now is the time for massive, shameless, overt, craven begging. They’ve got about two weeks until he makes a final final decision. Apparently, he is planning on not running at this point. It would be a disaster for the KMT if they can’t get him to change his mind.

A side note while I’m on the topic of the KMT presidential nomination. Yesterday the KMT announced that of its 350,000 members, only 90,000 or so are eligible to vote in the party primary. There are two large blocs in this 90,000: Huang Fu-hsing (military) system members and people over 75 years old. (Longtime members over 75 are exempt from paying party dues.) This means that while President Ma has very little support in the society at large, he and his faction will be very powerful in any vote of party members.

Currently, the presidential nomination is to be decided by 70% polls and 30% party member votes. Wang and Chu both favor changing this to 100% polls. I think they want to cut Ma out of the process. Wang’s only chance of winning is to draw on his support in the general electorate. If Chu runs, he is favored to win no matter what the process is. However, with 100% polls he wouldn’t have to go to Ma and ask for support. There are always costs to things like that.

One of the downsides to the KMT’s culture of waiting for the rest of the party to beg you to take the crown rather than actively and overtly pursuing it is that no one has prepared for the party vote. Since no one is officially a candidate, no one has done the dirty work of making sure that their supporters within the party bothered to pay dues. As a result, the KMT expression of “party will” will reflect the preferences of old soldiers and older geriatrics.