Thursday, January 09, 2014

Early Taipei Mayor Election Prognosticatin'


The Taipei Times ran a short piece on Sean Lien, the son of Lien Chan, the former Presidential candidate of the KMT and Honorary Chairman, etc, who is one of Taiwan's wealthiest human beings. The piece hinted at a couple of important issues that a longtime politics watcher in Taipei explained to me over dinner this week. For the first time in a while a victory for the pro-Taiwan side in Taipei may be within reach. The article observes:
Recent opinion polls have suggested that Sean Lien is the favorite to win the Taipei mayoral race, while showing that support for Ko, an independent, is much higher than for other candidates in the pan-green camp.

For the younger Lien, his wealthy background and complicated political and financial connections are issues to be considered in his candidacy bid, in addition to personal safety concerns.

In an interview with FTV on Tuesday night, Lien Chan said he would support his son’s candidacy bid if he decides to run.

As to the KMT reportedly urging Sean Lien to move out of his residence in The Palace (帝寶), a luxury apartment complex in Taipei, Lien Chan said that he and his wife had purchased the apartment unit and asked Sean Lien to move in for security after he was shot in the cheek in 2010 during a campaign rally in New Taipei City (新北市).

In response to concerns that his wealth would have a negative impact on a campaign, Hsu said the apartment was registered under Lien Chan’s wife’s, Lien Fang-yu (連方瑀), name and that Sean Lien did not own the property.
This sequence neatly captures the problem Lien faces. He's fabulously wealthy and The Palace is Taipei's premier address. He's a classic one-percenter, totally out of touch with the experiences of everyday people, apparently lacking in people skills, and owes everything he has to the influence of Dad. The nepotistic transmission of power in the core of the KMT is illustrated by the two Deep Blue sons of security state politicians Hau Pei-tsun (current Mayor Hau) and Lien Chan (likely future mayor Sean Lien) both becoming mayors of Taipei and thus, almost automatically, potential presidential candidates. The KMT core is replicating itself and the mainlander elite's grip on power in the current generation.

Current KMT Mayor Hau is stiff and unprepossessing, but Sean Lien is probably even less appealing. Sean Lien, as my friend pointed out, is an ideal target for a pro-Taiwan, pro-people campaign, an out of touch one-percenter with no people skills.

Enter Ko Wen-je. The discussion has been over whether Ko should join the DPP if he wants its support (for example), but my friend is among the many arguing that this would be an error. By not joining the DPP Ko can campaign as an independent and angle for the votes of "independents" who are by and large light Blues, my friend points out. My own view is that this demographic can be induced to vote non-KMT because it sees itself as a technically capable and educated elite with an open mind voting for the "best" candidate which it pretends to itself that it views largely in technocratic/capability terms, and thus occasional voting for a non-KMT candidate can validate this self-image in the mind of such voters. It can also collect this vote as a protest vote against the lackluster administrations of Hau and predecessor Ma Ying-jeou, as well as a protest vote against the KMT -- it allows them to vote against the KMT without voting for the DPP. Pro-green voters in Taipei can be reassured of Ko's ultimate loyalty -- he's Chen Shui-bian's doctor, after all.

As a doctor, he has a certain visceral appeal -- the island has a long tradition of doctors being political leaders dating back to the Japanese era. Ko also has another angle -- he's casting himself as the future, and the previous lawyer-led generation of the DPP as the past.
"I do not mean to criticize lawyers, but we have to put an end to Taiwan's 'lawyer era.' A lawyer's mission is to stand against injustice and fight an authoritarian regime. They have their value to history and no one should forget their contributions and sacrifices. But this has to go, and Taiwan should enter a civilized era when people start to deal with issues reasonably," he said.
Of course, he can also play the "I am not a politician" card, which is always useful.

The stars are aligning in other ways as well, I should add. Monday I went to a funeral -- not for a person, but for an agency. The Ma Administration is carrying out reforms of the bureaucracy and two key agencies, the RDEC and the CEPD, are being folded into the revamped Ministry of Economic Affairs as the National Development Commission (NDC). No doubt this will centralize delivery of red envelopes lead to increased efficiencies. However, lots of mid-level manager type bureaucrats are seeing their jobs eliminated, and as the reform program unfolds across the government, uncertainty is being created throughout the bureaucracy, whose managers have always opposed the DPP.

Another factor we might see emerging in the next decade is the arrival at middle- and upper-level bureaucracy positions of individuals appointed after the end of martial law, who are likely to be relatively more pro-DPP than their predecessor generations (which were politically vetted to ensure that they had the right pro-KMT politics). This election may be the first to feel the impact, however slight, of this factor.

It would be wonderful if we could see a non-KMT politician in charge of Taipei, Taiwan's gateway to the outside world. I am cautiously optimistic about Taichung, for reasons I will adduce in a later post.

A victory in Taipei hinges, however, on the ability of the DPP to professionally run a real pro-people campaign and then stick to its promises. The DPP has a sad history of riding to power on social justice movements and organizations and then spurning them once in power. Someone should also make sure that Ko has a professional campaign manager who is not a serving politician and has only one job: win the f@cking election.

This year's elections will provide the opportunity for the DPP to campaign on real bread and butter issues: stagnant incomes, the island's insane conditions for ordinary workers, the government's service to big development companies, and so on. The DPP will have the opportunity to craft a positive policy platform and not run merely negatively as Pepsi to the KMT's Coke. Lets hope the DPP can come with some winning ideas and more importantly, erect the kind of local infrastructure it needs to win Taichung and Taipei. Controlling those cities will benefit the Party enormously for 2016....

UPDATED: A friend observes:
Per the comments on your blog about Ko's income, he mentioned that he is losing NT$200,000/month in income while campaigning because he has had to take leave from his jobs as a resident physician and professor of medicine at NTU. That sounds about right since a resident physician makes around NT$100K and as does a full professor. I suspect he draws both salaries but that is probably about it. No he is not allowed to rake in the big bucks on the side by operating a clinic.

That's a pretty good income for a salaried employee, but it hardly makes him a member of the 1%. He's a working stiff like the rest of us.
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Jenna Cody said...

I guess you could call 小兵兵 "stiff and unprepossessing", but the descriptors even my blue-leaning Taiwanese friends use to describe him the most often are "stupid", "a moron", "a fucking moron", "idiot", "dumb", "not too smart", "silly", "just an idiot guy" and "like a puppet".

Michael Turton said...

Ha. Well, I've never thought Hau was as stupid as he appears to be. But they would know better.

Anonymous said...

As a high-profile doctor I think you'll find that Ko is also a one-percenter. Or if not, then he's very close to it, maybe a 5 percenter at worst.


Hans said...

The way Ko has been gaining momentum is very surprising. He takes over front page media whenever his month opens. I wonder how long would this last, and more importantly, has he reached his peak yet? Once the real election campaign begins for both sides, that's when the real test will begin. Finger crossed, and like you say, "win the f@cking election!"

Michael Turton said...

As a high-profile doctor I think you'll find that Ko is also a one-percenter. Or if not, then he's very close to it, maybe a 5 percenter at worst.

That brings up a point I should have thought of....