Posts Tagged ‘Changhua 2’

LY race in Changhua 2

November 29, 2011

The race in Changhua 2 looks fairly simple – it is a straight contest between the KMT and DPP.  However, it almost got very complicated, and the story behind this race allows me to emphasize a couple of points.  First, while we always focus on the people in the race, the people who don’t enter the race can be just as important.  Second, there is a reason that the KMT announces its party list so late.

This story is all about the KMT.  The DPP challenger this year is a county assembly member who I know almost nothing about.  This district should probably favor the KMT slightly, though it’s hard to know exactly.  At any rate, Tsai Ing-wen should run well ahead of the local DPP candidate, so this is the KMT’s district to lose.

Changhua 2 includes Changhua City and two much smaller towns.  Changhua City is one of the older cities in Taiwan.  It developed a bit later than Lugang and it was overtaken by Taichung decades ago, but for much of the Qing Era, Changhua was the preeminent city in central Taiwan.

Changhua City currently has two representatives in the legislature, Lin Tsang-min 林滄敏 and Chen Chieh 陳杰.  Chen’s career starts earlier, so we’ll start with him.  Chen won a seat on the Changhua town council in 1986, and then served two terms in the county assembly.  In 1998, he was elected Changhua mayor.   In 2001 he was elected to the legislature, where he is now finishing his third term.  Most Changhua politicians have power bases in the farmers associations, but Chen is more active in labor unions.  Chen has been the head of the Changhua branch of the Chinese Federation of Labor.  The CFL is a corporatist organization, intended more to keep labor docile than to aggressively represent their interests.  Taiwan and Mexico are the two classic examples of this kind of state corporatist labor union.  Anyway, this organization can still deliver some votes, so it is a valuable source of power for whoever is at the top.

Chen’s move to the legislature meant that the mayoral seat was open, but rather than letting this power base slip away, Chen’s brother Wen Kuo-ming 溫國銘 became the new mayor.   Wen was re-elected in 2005, and after Wen’s two terms were up, the family tried once again.  In 2009, Wen’s wife ran for mayor.  It was a particularly nasty campaign.  Wen’s wife and another KMT candidate filed lawsuits against each other for dirty tricks, and on the last night, Wen’s wife 溫吳麗卿 shaved her head and begged voters to unite around her.  She did defeat the other KMT candidate, but because they split the KMT vote, the DPP won the mayoral race with a plurality.  I can’t think of an example of a single family transferring an office to three different members of the same generation, so the Chen-Wen family nearly accomplished something unique.  However, after 12 years, they lost control of the city government, one of their most important power bases.

In the meantime, another county assembly member was moving up.  Lin Tsang-min ran for the legislature in 2004.  We see the first signs of tension between him and the Chen family earlier that year, when Mayor Wen accused Lin of blocking some funds earmarked for Changhua City in the County Assembly.  Then, in the final days of the campaign, Mayor Wen announced that the city government was forming a team to prevent vote buying.  In most cases, such a team is not intended to prevent all vote buying, just vote buying by other candidates.   Since you usually buy votes in your own home base, and Chen and Lin shared a home base, the anti-vote buying team was probably aimed directly at Lin.  And indeed, after the election, one of Lin’s supporters was indicted on charges of buying votes for Lin, though this case seems to have disappeared soon after.  At any rate, the election was a great triumph for Lin, as he won the most votes of anyone in Changhua.   Chen also won, coming in second, about 12,000 votes behind Lin.

In 2008, with the new single member districts, the KMT had to choose one of them as its candidate.  Both registered for the nomination, and neither one would yield.  Suddenly, about a week before the KMT was to hold its telephone surveys, Chen withdrew from the race and announced he would work in Ma’s presidential election campaign.  A few months later when the KMT announced its party list, Chen’s name was high enough to assure him a seat.  Lin went on to win the district seat easily over the DPP candidate, getting over 60% of the votes.

Fast forward to this year.  Chen did not contest the district nomination, and Lin was re-nominated with little ceremony.  Instead, Chen lobbied actively to maintain his spot on the party list.  However, when the list was announced, his name was not on it.  Chen immediately put out word that he might run as an independent.  Then his family decided that his brother, Wen, would be the candidate.  However, on the last day of registration, they decided not to file the paperwork.  Thus, Lin was left with a simple one-on-one race against the DPP.

What happened?  The rest of this is all speculation, of course, but I think we can make educated guesses about some of the things going on behind the scenes.  It is pretty clear that Chen and Lin have been struggling against one another for most of the past decade to establish primacy in the Changhua City area.  With the old electoral system, it was possible for both of them to survive.  However, with the new system, the struggle took on added urgency.  Lin clearly won the struggle in 2008.  Chen wanted the district seat, but he must have seen that Lin was going to beat him for the nomination, so he withdrew.  Of course, Chen got a side-payment, the party list seat.  That is a pretty good consolation prize.  Let’s remember that the KMT only had a few of these seats to give away as consolation prizes to losers, so why did they give one to Chen?  Chen had blackmail power.  He was a proven candidate who had won every race for many years.  His brother was the mayor and could mobilize the city government (and all the neighborhood heads) on his behalf.  In other words, even if Chen couldn’t beat Lin, he could still cause enough trouble to cause the KMT to lose the seat.  In 2012, the KMT didn’t feel the need to give Chen a seat on the party list.  What was different?  Chen had not run a successful campaign since 2004, so it wasn’t a sure thing that his network was still in top form.  In fact, his sister-in-law hadn’t even been able to win 30% of the vote in the 2009 mayoral election.  And with the family out of the city hall, Chen didn’t have the resources of the local government on his side.  Chen and Wen simply didn’t have as much blackmail power in 2012 as in 2008.

There is one more thing.  After the KMT announced its list, Chen and Wen only had a week and a half to figure out their next move.  It looked a lot like they simply ran out of time before they could get everything straightened out.  This lack of time is not an accident; that is one of the most important reasons the KMT waited so long to release its list.  The KMT’s delay puts people like Chen in a dilemma.  It takes a bit of time to organize a campaign, so you need to start early.  However, you can’t start early if you are trying to win a spot on the party list.  Any organizing is easily spotted by the party leaders and is a clear signal that you are planning to be disobedient.  With such keen competition for spots on the list, any black mark is sufficient to disqualify you.  So people hoping to get on the party list have to sit and wait until the list is announced.  When they are not on it, they often don’t have time to put their backup plan into motion.[1]

If delaying the announcement of the party list is so effective, why doesn’t the DPP do it?  We political scientists like to model parties as interchangeable,[2] but this is an instance in which different parties behave differently because they are not interchangeable.  Renegade campaigns are much more of a problem for the blue camp than for the green camp.  For whatever reason, green camp voters have repeatedly demonstrated that they will not vote for someone who does not sport the party label.  A DPP politician who quits the party and runs as an independent is almost certainly terminating his political career.  This is not the case on the blue side.  There are plenty of examples of KMT politicians who ran as independents and were able to prolong their careers.  Since the KMT has to worry a lot about this problem, they release their party list very late.  The DPP has other things to worry about, such as having time to heal rifts caused by factional fighting, so they prefer to finalize their list as soon as possible.

Who knew that such a simple race – Lin will probably win by about 55-45% – could teach us so much about Taiwanese politics!


[1] Another possibility is that Chen and Wen got a payoff of some sort for not registering.  There are often rumors that the candidate who is running pays a secret bribe to the other candidate for dropping out.  Of course, the bribe theory and the time theory are not mutually exclusive.

[2] For example, in articles with spatial models you often see something like, “Consider a two party system along a single issue dimension.  Without loss of generality, suppose that party A is on the left side of the spectrum.”