Monday, May 24, 2010

Tsai for Xinbei

Taiwan is abuzz with DPP Chair Tsai Ing-wen's announcement that she will stand for election as mayor of New North City, the City Formerly Known As Taipei County. Taiwan News has the call:

At her first news conference after announcing her bid, Tsai, 54, said the result of the Sunday election was a sign that the party stood behind her.

The fact that “I found that there was sufficient unity inside the party and that it was stable gave me even more confidence to move forward,” she said.

The party announced on Sunday evening that Tsai had won re-election with 90 percent, while her only opponent, former Taipei County Magistrate Yu Ching, received 9 percent.

About an hour after the election results came out, Tsai issued a news release to announce she had decided to run for mayor of Xinbei, the administratively upgraded successor to Taipei County.

At her Monday news conference, she said the region was a microcosm of all of Taiwan’s society and the right place to begin implementing the ten-year policy master plan the DPP was working on.

Tsai also responded to accusations that she was only using the Xinbei election as a springboard for the 2012 presidential election.

“If we are elected, we will bear responsibility all the way,” she said.

This means that two of the most powerful figures in the DPP are running for positions in the north. Both of them are said to harbor Presidential ambitions. If both of them win, which is a possibility, then who will the DPP run for President?

Interesting, I had heard scuttlebutt from those in the know that Frank Hsieh was under consideration for Taichung. They decided instead....

Apart from Tsai for Xinbei, the other major move was the nomination of DPP Secretary-General Su Jia-chyuan, 54, to run for Taichung Mayor against incumbent Jason Hu, 62.

The party also confirmed that ex-Premier Su Tseng-chang, 63, would run for Taipei City Mayor against incumbent Hau Lung-bin, 58. Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu, 60, and lawmaker William Lai, 51, already won poll primaries for the Kaohsiung and Tainan areas respectively.

If the election were held tomorrow, the KMT's Jason Hu would win big in Taichung, the DPP's Chen Chu in Kaohsiung, and William Lai is probable for Tainan. Tsai would probably get beaten in Taipei County, but I suspect Su would actually defeat Mayor Hau in Taipei City. But the election is months away....

The FT "blog" -- I hate it when the media attempts to annex the authenticity of real blogs by renaming their columns "blogs" -- writes:

Tsai, a graduate of National Taiwan University who got her masters in law from Cornell and a doctorate from the London School of Economics, has been the opposition Democratic Progressive Party’s answer to president Ma. The two share many similar characteristics - both are internationally educated, have a clean, slightly academic image, and are politically more centrist than segments of their supporters would like.

Unlike Ma, however, Tsai has a glaring gap in her otherwise impressive CV: she has never run in a public election. Her political career began when the DPP was in power and she rose quickly to ministerial rank. Winning the year-end vote, therefore, would significantly boost her credibility as a serious contender for the presidency in 2012. Tsai said in an open letter to her party that she looks forward to the challenge. “Although this is my first time running, it also means that I don’t bring any baggage with me into the election. I will realise my dreams through this election.”

I think this analysis is wrong. She can't contend for 2012 if she wins in Xinbei, because DPP rules presently prevent candidates from stepping down from briefly occupied positions to run for new ones, and because the DPP has pledged that if elected, the mayors of Taipei and Xinbei will serve out their terms. Of course, that could change....

Rather, I suspect the strategy here is for Su and/or Tsai to lose but do well, showing that they are serious contenders and keeping them in the public eye, and for Tsai to get some experience in the rough and tumble of electoral politics. The prospect of them performing well but losing is good -- the DPP county chiefs of Taipei County (including Su himself) did capable work, and the last KMT chief of Taipei County left a big stink behind. In Taipei, KMT Mayor Hau does not inspire and Su has a good chance of performing well. As I pointed out before:
Another way to look at is look at the DPP vote peak in 1998 -- 688K, and the KMT vote last time around, 692K. That is a difference of just 4,000 votes. Hau Lung-bin, the current mayor and probable candidate, lacks the popularity Ma enjoyed, and there is no reason at present to think we will see a significant gain in KMT voters for this election. If Su reaches the DPP high, and the KMT performance is lackluster, just a couple of thousand voters have to switch to make Su the mayor. And the DPP has been doing well lately.....
It is also wrong to label Ma a "centrist". He's an ardent Nationalist Chinese/Chinese Nationalist ideologue who regularly deploys the KMT colonial/ideological vocabulary and its faux Confucianism and Chineseness in ways that suggests he has deeply internalized that mentality, groomed from birth for the position he now holds, with initial strong support from the Deep Blue rank and file (though not party elites) in the first Chairmanship election. The disenchantment that certain KMTers on the far right and center-right feel about Ma does not mean he is a "centrist". It just means they are disappointed.

By putting powerful candidates in the north, the DPP forces the KMT to commit meaningful resources to the Taipei area elections, reducing its ability to impact Kaohsiung and Tainan.

What are the effects of Tsai's decision? FT says:
Should she lose the year-end elections as well, it would all but seal the fate of the 2012 presidential elections and guarantee another four years of rule by Ma’s Kuomintang party. However, a Tsai victory would put pressure on the government and perhaps force Ma to slow further cross-Strait liberalisation before the 2012 elections to avoid any backlash.
Apple Daily took a totally different position:
Tsai's decision to run for mayor of Xinbei City is a clever political strategy because if she wins it will reinforce her leadership of the party, and if she loses it will be no big deal because it is well known that the city is a traditional stronghold of the ruling Kuomintang.
I tend to agree with Apple Daily. How Tsai's losing in the City Formerly Known as Taipei County "seals the fate" of those elections is unclear to me (I still see Ma winning in 2012). Similarly, how a Tsai victory there would force Ma to slow down the cross-Strait sellout is also unclear -- it seems more logical to argue that if the DPP sweeps the north, Ma would accelerate the program, since the danger of a DPP win in 2012 might rise.

Can anything stop ECFA? The DPP has won six of the last seven elections, and the pace of ECFA "liberalization" has not slowed one iota. Further, poll after poll has shown that Ma has poor satisfaction ratings and that a majority of the public does not support ECFA (either they oppose or don't know). Has ECFA slowed at all because of that? A centrist who was interested in his party's fate would probably slow the cross-Strait sellout. But an ideologue would probably stay the course irrespective of what it meant for his people at the local level.

Time will tell....

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Ben Goren said...

Excellent post. I agree with your analysis.

channing said...

Tsai seems like a true progressive. She seems to have the talk to back it up, which is a fresh sight in the DPP. I actually look forward to what she can deliver if elected to this new lofty position.

Michael Turton said...

I don't know if Tsai can get elected. mostly she projects this schoolmarmish image that makes her seem like the teacher you hated in junior high. I know in person she's great, but her handlers need to find ways to get that out. hopefully the contact sport of elections will polish her, like a gem in a tumbler.

Robert R. said...

And she has to change her hair style once in a while... Saw part of a bio of her... same hair back in high school.

Thomas said...

I agree that Tsai's main problem is her image. I would also note that I think that there is a half-way mark between FT and Apple Daily. If one wins and the other loses, then the KMT will find it harder to pick up momentum going into 2012. However, if both lose, even by a little bit, the KMT will get a lot of momentum, and Ma will win in 2012 handily.

Look at how the debate was spun. Did Tsai do so bad? No. But the perception that she lost has had its effects.

The good thing about the nomination of Tsai, Su and Su in the north and center is that the KMT will have to expend a lot more time and money to win in any of the places, meaning that the chance of winning in at least one of them is higher.

On a completely different note, the Word Verification box asked me to type "bling" this time. I think that's kind of cool.

frozengarlic said...

I don't think the Taipei City gambit of losing well will work in Xinbei City. The DPP has won four of the last five elections there, and, reasonably or not, they expect to win again. If Tsai wants to run for president in 2012, her best bet is to (cynically) promise to serve a full term in Xinbei City, win the election, break her promise, and dare Ma "I've said 100 times that I won't run for mayor" Ying-jeou to call her out on it.

Marc said...

She needs Hilary's image coach!

Taiwan Echo said...

FT: "Her political career began when the DPP was in power and she rose quickly to ministerial rank."

Another big error of FT. Before DPP took power, Tsai was already involved in politics. She is the mastermind behind Lee DH's famous "special state-to-state" policy (特殊兩國論), which took her 2 years of research and planning. FT missed this very critical role of Tsai's in Taiwan politics development completely.

Mike said...

Interesting analysis! There seems to be the slim possibility that Su and Tsai will [or could, whichever way you look at it] both win, but note that the word "slim" can never by fully stressed. I have a gut feeling that Ma will be re-elected in 2012 by a slim majority but that the KMT will suffer quite a defeat in the Municipal Elections, (which will exactly as you say accelerate his Mainland policies, to ensure his second term).

Whenever I look at the the formation of the five municipilaties, however, I find myself questioning the political motives of the KMT. Some of the decisions made have just been bizarre - e.g. the formation of the New Taipei Municipality which completely surrounds Taipei Municipality? Or choosing to elevate Tainan County + Tainan City, when other rejected candiates such as Taoyuan County, and Hsinchu County + Hsinchu City seemed pretty viable too.

New Taipei Municipality (Taipei County) a traditional stronghold of the KMT? I'm afraid not... Taipei County had been under the control of the DPP for 16 years (since the lift of the martial law until 2005), whilst the KMT won the 2005 Magistrate Election.

With Kaohsiung and Tainan being under the control by the DPP for a considerable length of time, as well as recent polls showing that there seems to be great satisfaction in both regions regarding their current DPP administration, there seems to be no reason as to why the DPP will not continue to dominate there. It will be most probable for Taichung to elect Hu, although this is no longer a free ride after the recent gang/ police incident, and oh, the current KMT administration of Taichung county hasn't been particularly pleasing to its residents either. Possibilities still lie open.

But the focus of this election seems to lie in the grey areas of uncertainty - Northern Taiwan (for once the grey area is no longer Central Taiwan!), where the 50/50 scenario seem to be the case in both Taipei and New Taipei. At present it seems to me that the DPP and KMT will share the success - i.e. one each? Though I have to admit, the media coverage has been particularly "focussed" upon the DPP lately.

But whatever the result, the KMT victory in 2012 still seems inevitable, unless for whatever unforeseem reason the DPP happens to take out all five, which still seems to have an even slimmer possibility, or should the superlative be adopted? And yup for that to happen, Tsai needs to show that she isn't just the typical academic, who gives "public lectures" every now and then.