First, with the exception of Su Tseng-chang's defeat in Taipei, things went pretty much as I expected. Su Chia-chuan did extremely well in Taichung, but then DPP internals had him close. I did, however, expect things to be a lot closer in Taipei. Su's loss was a disappointment, but its magnitude was a defeat.
The local commentary on this election is excellent.....
Turning first to some of the analysis, Nathan Batto from Frozen Garlic had powerful and insightful review of events in, of all places, the rabidly pro-China WantChinaTimes. I quote:
The KMT won a majority of the mayoral seats, but it did not win a majority of the votes. In fact, the DPP nearly won a majority of votes, and its 49.9% outpaced the KMT by over 5%. To put this into context, the KMT won these same areas by a margin of 57-43% in the 2008 presidential election. The only time the DPP has gotten a higher percentage of votes in these five cities was in 2004 when the DPP got 51% and won the presidential election.The China Post, the pro-KMT English paper, made the same point:
This year's elections covered areas with roughly 60% of all voters in the country. In last year's local elections, which covered all the other areas, the KMT won a narrow majority of the votes, 48%-45%.
Putting the two elections together, DPP candidates actually won more votes than KMT candidates. This is an enormous swing from the KMT's 58%-42% landslide in the 2008 presidential election. Granted, many of the votes that went to independent candidates in the 2009 and 2010 elections were drawn from the blue camp's pool of votes, but this is still a frightening result for the KMT.
Granted that large portions of swing votes were swung towards the KMT by the injuries former Vice President Lien Chan's son suffered in a Friday assassination attempt, it means the DPP could have even bigger potential in future elections.The entire piece is basically a warning about the rising power of the DPP. Just as important as the DPP's lead in the overall vote count was the striking decline of the KMT in the city councils. Batto points out that in the previous city council election the KMT took 183 seats; this time around it took just 130. The DPP rose from 118 to 130, continuing its steady chipping away at KMT dominance in these areas that has been taking place over the last few election cycles. The Taipei Times reports:
Despite the defeat in Xinbei and Taichung, the DPP's strong performance in the two cities have actually come as a strong boost not only to the main opposition party, but also to its chairwoman, Tsai Ing-wen personally.
Tsai, who lost to KMT candidate Eric Chu in Xinbei by only about 110,000 votes, has further established her leadership firmly in the party and will now have strong claims to the DPP's candidacy in the 2012 presidential race.
Since taking over the helm of a party that slumped to the nadir in the 2008 presidential race, Tsai has since managed to guide it to victory in several local and national elections.
She has also steered the party towards a more centrist platform that avoids political ideologies — particularly those thorny issues centering around the possibility and necessity of Taiwan's independence. The shift has apparently convinced many neutral voters.
Elections yesterday to select a total of 314 city councilors in Taipei, Sinbei, Taichung, Tainan and Kaohsiung ended in a tie between the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), with each winning 130 seats.However, despite the "tie" in total numbers, excepting Tainan, the city councils remain controlled by the KMT and its allies. These councils, especially the Speaker position, are fonts of patronage funds to local factions allied to the major political parties, and control of them is essential in maintaining control of local political bases. Still, this augurs well for the future.
Non-partisan or independent candidates garnered 45 seats in the five city councils, while the pro-unification New Party won three seats — all in Taipei City — the People First Party (PFP), another pan-blue party, won four. The pan-green, pro-independence Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) took two seats.
Overall, 2,642,846 ballots (35.34 percent) were cast for the DPP, while 2,889,210 (38.63 percent) were cast for the KMT.
A couple of points. First, the amazing performance of Su Chia-chuan in Taichung. Su began light-years behind popular incumbent Mayor Jason Hu, and it is clear that if the election had been in two more weeks Su would have won. Su was parachuted into Taichung from down south and did not have local faction connections. He ran a low key, positive campaign that patiently chipped away at Hu's massive initial lead. Fantastic work!
That said, I am not as certain as everyone else that this represents a permanent gain for the DPP in Taichung. Recall that the Taichung municipality is being formed from a blending of Taichung county and Taichung city. Su's gains in Taichung stemmed in part from several not-to-be repeated factors. First, Hu ran a terrible campaign out in the county, partly because as the incumbent he simply didn't have the time. Will that really happen in the next election? Second, the outgoing county chief, a KMT politician, was accused of basically going AWOL from his job since his position was disappearing, hurting the KMT in the county. Third, some of the local factions out in the county and Hu had a falling out. With Hu now in charge of the flow of resources for local patronage jobs, expect relations to be patched up in many areas. Fourth, Su Chia-chuan ran a great campaign. Will the next candidate do that? How many times has even the same candidate had two excellent campaigns in successive runs for the same office? As always, we'll have to wait for the next election to see how stable all this is.
Here are some things to take away. Despite not winning major seats the excellent performance of the main DPP candidates had an across the board boost for the DPP at the local level. For example, the number of city councilmen wearing DPP colors rose from 16 to 28 in Taipei County/Xinbei as the DPP turnout was large (the KMT turnout was even larger) as a result of Tsai's excellent campaign (overall turnout was just over 70%). The million votes that Tsai got in Xinbei actually exceeded the number of votes Chen Shui-bian received in that same area in 2004.
And the shooting incident? KMT legislators are claiming that it gave the KMT a big boost. The CNA says:
Commenting on the election-eve shooting of Lien Sheng-wen, KMT Legislator Sun Da-chien said it certainly shifted the course of the elections and contributed to his party's narrow win.To their credit, publicly DPP heavyweights have not blamed the shooting incident in public. I suspect its effect was not very great.
Many KMT supporters who may have been reluctant to vote were shocked by the incident and empathized with Lien Chan's visible pain and agony after his son was shot, Sun said.
"We would not have secured the win without Lien Chan, " Sun said, adding that at least 3 percent of the KMT votes resulted directly from the shooting.
He however did not explain how he had arrived at that estimate.
KMT legislator Hsu Shu-po expressed a similar view, saying that there are only two kinds of votes that could affect election results overnight -- bought votes and sympathy votes.
"Taiwanese people are extremely nice, and it's very easy to get them to vote for the candidates by creating sympathy for them, " he said.
He said the media coverage of Lien Sheng-wen's shooting Friday helped bring unity to the KMT. Lien is not just anybody -- his father is a man who has a lot of connections and political influence, Hsu said.
Hung Yu-hung, a political commentator, said the shooting incident had a major impact on Saturday's elections, especially among undecided voters in Taipei who want greater stability.
How you read the effect of the shooting incident may influence your analysis of Su Tseng-cheng's presidential hopes, which everyone says took a big hit as a result of the extent of his defeat. Tsai is clearly now a dominant figure, not merely the chairman, she has proved she can run an excellent campaign and get out the vote, as well as sweep DPPers into office on her coattails. Su Chia-chuan has also been catapulted into prominence. But the Presidential election is two years away, and anything can happen. Frank Hsieh is still out there, and the gods alone know what effect Chen Shui-bian will have on things if he is ever released. Once again, my heartfelt thanks go out to the KMT for muzzling him and making sure he could not disturb the focus on the DPP's future.
Finally, as I've noted before, the new municipalities are going to cause new factional and local party re-alignments as new resources pour into these communities and are distributed through the patronage networks. The KMT is utterly dependent on its relationships with local factions for its power base, but the DPP is also involved with them. Moreover, these new regional amalgamations will formally bring together local factions in regional political systems, local factions that KMT policy for many years kept apart -- KMT policy in the glory days was never to permit local factions to form large-scale regional and national relationships.
Antonio Chiang, the editor of Apple Daily, speculated in his paper that the new municipalities will lead to the development of new fiefdoms and new power bases. The new mayoralities are powerful positions -- recall that in the ROC administrative system, the municipalities are equal to provinces in their clout and their mayors are like governors of provinces. Chen Chu has already lead the way with independent diplomacy in her visit to China. Who will follow, and how?
ADDED: The rabidly pro-China WantChinaTimes says scholars in China are unimpressed by KMT performance:
Wait...people in China see the election as signaling a lack of support for Ma's China policies. What about the western media?
Chinese scholars see the overall result of Taiwan's municipal elections as a victory for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) although the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) won three seats out of the total of five.
"Because the DPP won more popular votes than KMT (approximately 3.42 million vs. 3.09 million), the KMT lost in the end," commented Wang Jian-min, research fellow with the Institute of Taiwan Studies under Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, arguing that the election result might lead to a slight revision in cross-strait policies to be more conservative.
Maybe Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou has moved too fast in terms of his cross-strait policies, Wang said, suggesting that Ma's more liberal acts toward China such as the signing of ECFA could be the main reason for the failure.
Luckily for those of us needing amusement after the disappointing election results, the international media is still reporting from its bubble where (1) not even a single sparrow can fall in Taiwan without it being a portent for the cross-strait relationship and (2) all events, irrespective of their nature, confirm that Taiwanese really really love Ma Ying-jeou's cross strait policies. Let us consider the BBC, which states that the election results "are seen as an endorsement of the KMT's push for warmer relations with China." The Beeb, whose reporting "many see" as pro-China, notes:
This should be highlighted: since Ma's ECFA agreement has never commanded majority support in Taiwan, how can this election in which the opposition got more votes overall be read as supporting Ma's China policies? Apparently, if you write for the international media, it's not a problem. [ADDED: Bloomberg made same claim: the results in which most voters preferred the opposition supports Ma's policies. And also VOA! What earth are they living on?]. AP turned in a much better report.... the two opening paragraphs:
The BBC's Cindy Sui in Taipei says President Ma's pro-China policies have been controversial, but many see closer ties with China as necessary for the island's economic survival.[MT: Ma's ECFA agreement has never commanded majority support, as Cindy Sui noted in another BBC report, it is typically 40s-30s-30s for/against/no opinion.]
When the opposition DPP was in power, she says, tension between Taiwan and China ran high because the party favoured Taiwan's formal independence from China.[MT: China, of course, never causes tension. It has no agency nor ability to act on its own. Taiwan is the cause of all problems in the China-Taiwan relationship. Poor China, so put-upon by Taiwan's democracy. Also, the DPP does not favor formal independence "from China." The DPP favors independence, period and does not consider Taiwan part of China at present. In fact, it is the DPP's position that.... oh, never mind. I used to write the Beeb but soon found there was no point in it.].....
The DPP did improve its share of the vote compared to the presidential election results in the same constituencies in 2008 and analysts say the performance of party chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen in losing in Xinbei may give her some momentum for a 2012 presidential nomination.[MT: "improve its share" I'll be charitable and assume the Beeb report came before all the numbers were in. Yet it is hard to see how the Beeb could know the DPP share grew without knowing it exceeded the KMT's.]
The slant is present -- what's going on is "reconciliation", China is "the mainland", Taiwan and China split in 1949 in AP's alternate universe. And of course, the election victories signal support for Ma's policies. That almost goes without saying. If the entire populace of Taiwan rose as one, drove to Taipei, had Ma drawn and quartered, burnt the ECFA agreement, and deported every Chinese citizen in Taiwan, somehow the international media would say that this showed support for Ma's China policies (I can see the headline now: "Taiwanese Express Anger at the Slow Pace of Mainland Reconciliation"). Nevertheless, despite the Establishment slant there is some excellent reporting in the AP piece. For example:
Taiwan's ruling Nationalist Party won three out of five mayoral races Saturday, providing a boost for President Ma Ying-jeou's policy of improving relations with China ahead of the island's 2012 presidential poll.
But the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party, which wants to slow the process of reconciliation with the mainland, won about 50 percent of the overall mayoral vote, signaling that it will provide strong opposition to Ma's expected re-election bid — stronger by far than seemed possible only six months ago.
Acts of violence are uncommon in election campaigns in Taiwan, which began a gradual transition from a one-party dictatorship to vibrant democracy in the late 1980s. Violence by Taiwan's gangs is also limited, though they exercise considerable political influence, particularly on county governments.How many international media pieces would include mention of the gangsterism at the local level? Kudos to AP. AP also took care to balance the "Harvard-educated Ma" with the "American and British-educated Tsai". Good work there too. The AP has a good focus on the emergence of Tsai and the DPP's growing strength for 2012, along with details on the DPP vote count:
The commission said the DPP's overall share of the mayoral vote stood at 49.9 percent, against 44.2 for the Nationalists and 5.9 percent for independents, compared to the 43 percent the DPP candidate garnered in the five constituencies in the 2008 presidential poll. Much credit for the comeback goes to party Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen, who while losing in Xinbei — by about five percentage points — now emerges as a credible candidate for the party's presidential nomination in 2012.Overall, it is has a commendable conservative tone and gives many important details. One outrage in the AP piece lies here:
In contrast, the DPP wants to slow the pace of economic convergence across the 100-mile (160-kilometer) -wide Taiwan Strait and would likely close the door on political dialogue with China's Communist government.The DPP has never closed the door on political dialogue with China's Communist government; it is always interested in dialogue with Beijing. This kind of dramatic statement is simplistic and misleading.
One unusual report was from the DPA. Note its summary in the lead:
Taiwan's China-friendly Nationalist Party KMT won local elections Saturday, but analysts said the narrow margin of victory should be a warning to it.That short article contains no mention of the effect of the election on the KMT's China policies. Clearly these guys have no future in international reporting.
The irony is that the election, as far as the KMT's China policies are concerned, is absolutely meaningless -- Ma will carry them out, as he has repeatedly demonstrated, whether or not they have public support. No doubt he can spin the 3-2 victory as a boost for KMT policies, at least to outsiders, so to that extent the international media reporting is right. But the reality is that Ma's unpopular China policies are one of the major drivers of the DPP's rebound.
It's been a long, long election campaign. I've become mentally exhausted just following it, can't even imagine what it must be like to have been involved in the campaign. There are plenty of positives -- the DPP is back and in fighting trim. It has a number of strong politicians and is clearly able to run savvy, successful campaigns despite its lack of resources. The party is looking strong for 2012. Good luck to them.
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