Sunday, December 06, 2009

DPP Gets Shot in the Arm in Local Elections

Conventional wisdom: DPP did well in the elections, taking back I-lan County and coming close elsewhere. Rounding up the reporting:

CNA report:
Su Chih-fen, incumbent magistrate of central Taiwan's Yunlin County and a member of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) , grossed 65.37 percent of the ballots cast by Yunlin voters in Saturday's elections of administrators in 17 counties and cities around Taiwan.

Su became the biggest winner in terms of ratio of votes, according to the Central Election Commission.

Election results released by the commission indicate that the DPP has secured the administration of Yunlin County, Chiayi County and Pingtung County - traditional DPP strongholds - and clinched one more county - Ilan.

Incumbent Yunlin County Magistrate Su and Pingtung Magistrate Tsao Chi-hung successfully won re-election. In Chiayi County, Chang Hwa-kuan's victory over the Kuomintang opponent Wong Chung-chun assured the continuity of DPP rule in Chiayi.

With a plus of winning Ilan County after DPP nominee Lin Tsong-shyan beat the incumbent KMT magistrate Lu Kuo-hua, the DPP had the highest ratio of votes in has ever enjoyed in local level elections -- 45 percent of all the votes cast for magistrates and mayors in the 17 counties and cities.

Reuters says the Anti-China Opposition Gains Ground:
Taiwan's China-friendly ruling party lost a county vote to the opposition on Saturday in elections seen as a first test for President Ma Ying-jeou's policy of engagement with Beijing.

The Nationalist Party (KMT) lost the magistrate job in Ilan county to the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which supports Taiwan's formal independence from China and upset Beijing when it controlled the presidency from 2000 to 2008.

Although the KMT kept its large overall lead as expected, holding the opposition to four of the 17 cities and counties that voted, the ruling party was muted in its reaction.

Ma, also the KMT chief, conceded at a news conference that election results "did not measure up to ideals."

Polling followed 174 arrests covering more than 2,400 cases of vote buying and election-related violence, the Taiwan justice ministry said on Saturday after an aggressive crackdown during the campaign.

The elections, involving 38 percent of the electorate, were to select county magistrates and city mayors, county and city councillors and township chiefs.

Peter Enav reported for AP:
Taiwan's pro-independence opposition put in a strong showing in local elections Saturday, clawing its way back to respectability after two crushing defeats.

With almost all the votes counted, the opposition Democratic Progressive Party held onto its three county magistracy positions — equivalent to governors in the United States — and won back one other from the ruling Nationalists.

It also closed the gap in a number of other localities, including a traditional Nationalist stronghold in suburban Taipei. The Nationalists held onto 11 of their 14 county magistracies and mayoralties, losing one to the DPP and one to a Nationalist rebel, disowned by the party because of corruption convictions.

One magistracy race — on the offshore island of Penghu — was too close to call.

The results will give a big boost to DPP Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen, who took over the party last year after it lost badly in presidential and legislative elections. Tsai, a British- and U.S.-educated jurist, used the campaign to hit hard at the Nationalists' China-friendly policies and the perceived failure of the government to address the day-to-day concerns of ordinary Taiwanese.

Kudos to Enav for saying that Tsai is a US/UK educated jurist -- after all the times the media has emphasized Ma's Harvard education, it's about time that the DPP leader was given her due.

Taipei Times:
At a post-election press conference last night, Tsai said the results were a major confidence booster and motivation for the DPP to improve in the coming days, urging party members to continue to stand united in the future.

“We are encouraged by the results, but we are not necessarily content. We still have a long road ahead of us with many things to be done,” Tsai said after taking a deep bow to show the party’s gratitude to those who supported the campaign.

Tsai said that yesterday’s estimated turnout for the DPP was its highest ever, apart from the 2004 presidential race.

Although the DPP only won four of the 17 county and city heads, many DPP candidates managed to narrow the gap — an indication that the public is fed up with the Ma administration and that the DPP is recovering from tough times, she said.

“We call on the government to stop ignoring public opinion. No matter how much the KMT hopes to dissociate the election results from the government’s performance, it is impossible,” she said, calling yesterday’s results a no-confidence vote in the KMT.

These polls were widely viewed as a mid-term election for Ma and Tsai, but Tsai said for the DPP it was a group effort from the beginning. She declined to say whether it would affect her status in the party or her chances of running for president in 2012.

Some things that strike me:

1 -- the media keep framing the Hualien election as a "loss" for the KMT to an "independent." Fu is a career-long KMT politician, Deep Blue, and a local machine leader, who won in a landslide, beating the KMT candidate in the election, and crushing Ma's handpicked pal in the primary. He's an ardent supporter of the east coast highway project, which is always positioned as a way to bring "development" to Hualien although it is actually merely a convenience for gravel trucks. There's no way someone as linked into the System as Fu is going to be "independent." He's going to align himself with the KMT because that's where the money flows are coming down from and that's where his constituents belong.

2 -- The Taoyuan loss was a moral victory for the DPP, as were the close elections in the Penghu and Taitung. Great work there. Penghu looks like it might flip next time around. It will be interesting to see whether this puts its legislative seat in play as well.

3 -- no question the greatest benefit from this election was not the pickup in I-lan or the close elections elsewhere but the tremendous boost to DPP morale from this election and the perception that is has come back from the dead. This will bring in support and cash.

4 -- Vindication for Chairman Tsai's patient strategy of holding the party together and letting the KMT (inevitably) shoot itself in the foot, and for Tsai herself. For a detailed explanation of why the KMT lost I-lan, see this excellent, detailed Taiwan News editorial.

5 -- It will be tempting to follow the KMT/Ma Ying-jeou spin that the economy is to blame. Certainly that is an issue. But the government's incompetent, indifferent response to Morakot was a major factor in changing minds -- Ma's Katrina moment, when the foreign media published its first negative views of the President, who had previously been its darling, and the local media had a field day with the President's inept, arrogant responses to locals in affected areas. Tsai should also be given credit -- the DPP performed well in all the special elections this year and last, and the rallies that took place in the summer and fall of 2008, culminating in the tough response to the visit of the PRC Chen Yunlin, helped revive the DPP. The KMT gave the DPP the opening, and the DPP did not fumble the ball.

6 -- Ma continues to claim that the public supports ECFA -- "Enabling China's Formosa Annexation" -- as a witty friend of mine labeled it -- but the election will go far in enabling critics to attack that claim.

7 -- In a way President Ma is right -- it was only a local election, and only 38% of the electorate was involved. The DPP may have won 45% of the vote, but Green areas were overrepresented in the election. As another friend pointed out to me, at the local level the KMT dominated the vote getting, showing the continuing power of its local networks, but as the election rose away from the local, the DPP's performance improved. The DPP won places it had dominated in the past, and others, such as I-lan, where it plausibly could have won, but there were no real shocks. As one perceptive friend of mine put it, the DPP has recouped lost ground, not occupied new territory. Nor will it be able to grab new seats until it finds a way to counter the KMT's advantages at the local level.

The upcoming elections for the municipalities will be be another test, much harder for the DPP.

Lovely weather this week. Hope you enjoyed election weekend as much as I did. DPP Chairman Tsai's complete statement:

“I would like to first offer my sincere thanks to the people who voted for the DPP today. You [the voters] made the right choice. Every vote represented a vote of encouragement and it also gave us the power to move forward. I guarantee that will work even harder in the future,” declared Democratic Progressive Party Chair Tsai Ing-wen.

“In this election, the DPP’s three incumbent candidates were successfully re-elected. In addition, the DPP once again regained the administration of Ilan County. In regards to the support rate, there was a considerable increase from the past elections (the support rate in the county and city elections four years ago was 38.2% and 39.5% in last year’s presidential election). This time, the DPP achieved a support rate of approximately 45% to 46%. Even though we lost some counties and cities, the difference between each opponent was very close.

“For the DPP, this represents a positive result, which is also an important step forward for a renewal of the DPP. We must take special note that, with the KMT’s frequent vote buying and smear campaign, the unequal amount of resources and party assets that the KMT holds, we fought an “asymmetric war”. With this kind of improvement, we won a hard-earned victory, showing that society is reaffirming their support for the DPP in local governance and their approval of our reform and reflective spirit.

“From top to bottom, we will take the humblest approach to welcome this new result. The victory in Ilan County is of especially great significance because it showed us that the people are ready to trust us again and that the DPP is able to regain its passion and grow in self-confidence.

“However, this election result is only a small step, and we must become complacent. We took the right step up from the bottom, but we have not gathered enough power to shake the entire pan-blue structure. There is still a long way ahead to achieve our goals.

“I would like to emphasize that unity is how the DPP has been able to get through this difficult period, and, in the future, we must remain even more united. The road to the future is still far ahead and we must treasure this time’s progress in order to achieve the next victory.

“The most significant factor in this election is the vote of no-confidence it shows in the Ma administration during this past year. It doesn’t matter that the KMT is trying to separate government efficiency from election results because even with their majority governance, they weren’t able to increase their seats. In the past year, the failure of the Ma administration’s economic policies, the damage done to our country’s dignity and the inefficiency of senior government officials have exceeded the limits of what the people are willing to accept. We believe that the KMT must carefully interpret the results of this election and understand the message that the people are sending them. If Ma’s administration continues to separate itself from the people, relying on financial resources and factional politics to buy elections, the people will respond with an even larger-scale counterattack.

“Lastly, we must thank all the people that came out to help in this election, including Former Chairpersons Lin, Hsieh, Su, You, Vice President Lu and our legislators. This election achievement was the result of a united front. Without unity, there is no victory. Solidarity is the party’s progressive energy.

There are other friends of the DPP to thank, so many I cannot name them one by one. They gave their all in this election. I must thank them all from the bottom of my heart, especially those who worked in campaign offices and walk the streets campaigning. I simply must thank all these terrific volunteers and tell them that they give us the determination to continue to work with all our strength.”
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David said...

I think one of the most interesting results was in Taidong County. There was a 20% swing to the DPP in an area that always strongly supports the KMT. It was obviously a clear rejection by voters of the previous commissioner's malfeasance. More generally some of the increase in the DPP vote may have been due to a rejection of black and gold politics at the local level.

Another factor in the DPP's success may have been their response to the typhoon. The DPP had many volunteers that turned out promptly and efficiently compared with the government's slow response.

Marc said...

Michael, you also forgot to add the sea-change in votes among aboriginals, long KMT supporters. We heard on the local news that many indigenous votes went to the DPP in places like Taitung.

Anonymous said...

Enav refers to the DPP "clawing" its way back, when clearly it glided back.

The China-brown-nosing media wants the world to think of the DPP only as the "Anti-China" party, which it clearly is not, although it certainly has its hardcore fringe just as the KMT does.

The KMT still has more influence over the media, so the DPP certainly has its work cut out for it. Hopefully, DPP leaders with iron-clad reputations like Tsai, Hsiao Bi-Khim and Chen Chu will steal more thunder from the KMT by creating its own dialogue with Beijing.

Anonymous said...

I'm not THAT excited. It was dismaying seeing Tsai Ying-wen stumping for Chang Huakuan in Chiayi. Chang is the widow of a former KMT legislator, a powerful local business tycoon whose REAL loyalties were with the Bamboo Union. There's no reason to think that Ms. Chang's loyalties are any different. Hurrah for the DPP. :rolleyes:

Tim Maddog said...

Michael, you wrote:
- - -
As another friend pointed out to me, at the local level the KMT dominated the vote getting, showing the continuing power of its local networks, but as the election rose away from the local, the DPP's performance improved. The DPP won places it had dominated in the past, and others, such as I-lan, where it plausibly could have won, but there were no real shocks.
- - -

No real shocks?

Here's some info from today's Taipei Times [bold emphasis mine]:
- - -
Compared with 2005, the DPP won 21 seats in the 17 counties and cities while the KMT lost 22.


In Keelung County[sic], all of the DPP’s nine candidates for the city council were elected, in Hsinchu City, its seven candidates for city council were elected, while in Yunlin County, its 13 candidates for the county council were elected.

At present, the DPP holds six seats in the Keelung City Council, five in the Hsinchu City Council and five in the Yunlin County Council.

In Miaoli County, a KMT stronghold, four of the DPP’s five candidates for the county council were elected.

The DPP has two members in the Miaoli County Council.

In the township mayor elections, the DPP increased its number of seats from 20 to 35 — including the party’s Miaoli chapter director and Yuanli Township mayor-elect Tu Wen-ching (杜文卿), who ran as an independent and won the party’s first mayoral office in the county — while the number of township offices under the KMT dropped from 122 to 121.

For the first time in history, Saturday’s elections saw the DPP take KMT strongholds including Gueishan Township (龜山) in Taoyuan County and Hualien City (花蓮) in Hualien County, while the party also won the mayoral race in Yucih Township (魚池), Nantou County, for the first time.

The DPP’s Tien Chih-hsuan (田智宣), former mayor of Jian Township (吉安), Hualien County, also won the Hualien City mayoral race with 22,031 votes, the first time the DPP won a Hualien mayoral seat. Tien won against the KMT’s Lin Yu-chih (林有志) by labout
[sic] 900 votes.
- - -

So it looks like the DPP did pretty well, even though it's still not good enough.

Tim Maddog

Michael Turton said...

Sorry, maddog, hadn't gotten around to looking at the town and township elections yet. I'll do that today.

BIT said...

I believe many of the English bloggers in Taiwan help many people uncover the true color of the KMT as well. I don't know how big the reader population of these blogs is but I hope there are more and more people who will read English blogs like this to get a more wide range of analysis in addition to the local media. You get a more objective view of today's Taiwan.