Thursday, December 14, 2006

Election Reflection

"Why do the Gods of the City fail to stop this thing?"
"I feel it is because they are weakened, if that is what you want to hear, Lord. Since the disaster by the Vedra they have been somewhat afraid to squelch the progress of mechanism with violence. It has also been said that there is internal strife in the City, between the demigods and what remains of their elders. Then there is the matter of the new religion. Men no longer fear Heaven so much as they used to. They are more willing to defend themselves; and now that they are better equipped, the gods are less willing to face them."
"Then Sam is winning. Across the years, he is beating them."

Another fun-filled Taiwan election has come and gone, with the usual allegations that the ruling party will be tested, Taiwanese dislike corruption, and swing voters will determine the outcome. The BBC has the CW:

Mayoral votes in Taiwan's two largest cities have ended, with the opposition winning in the capital Taipei but losing in the port of Kaohsiung.

The governing Democratic Progressive Party's candidate narrowly held on to the party's stronghold of Kaohsiung.

But the opposition Kuomintang party's candidate won a huge victory in Taipei.

A BBC correspondent says the result is not the crushing blow some had expected the government to suffer. The vote was seen as a key test for the government.

Many had portrayed the elections as a public referendum on President Chen Shui-bian's administration, following a series of corruption scandals.

The elections had been presented in the international media and in the local Blue media as a test of the President. They were not. They were about local politics, and were decided on voter identities as each party scrambled to get out its base. The DPP was successful in maintaining its vote, and the KMT recovered some of the base in Kaohsiung that had fallen away in 2002. Each party can take away successes from this election. Congrats are due all around.

The BBC, which is, at the moment, pro-KMT, regards Hau's victory in Taipei as 'huge.' It is true Hau won by 13 points, but the previous election saw Ma win by 28, and this time Frank Hsieh, a smart and energetic political campaigner, gained a 3 point increase over Lee Ying-yuan in 2002, while garnering 40% of the vote.

On the other hand, with his ascension to the throne of Taipei, Hau must be taken seriously as a presidential candidate a few years down the road, just as Ma was after he became Taipei mayor. This is especially true in the KMT, which does not have many strong candidates with appeal beyond the local level or beyond certain segments of the party.

The big loser in Taipei was not the DPP, but the PFP, which has melted away in its stronghold of Taipei, losing 4 of the 6 seats it held in the city council. The importance of these seats should not be underestimated -- by controlling city council seats, the PFP has a say in how the funds are doled out to local Taipei firms and organizations. Without one's hands on the money wheel, the ship of state tends to take a direction away from one's supporters (longtime Taiwan-watcher Lawrence Eyton's article on the Kaohsiung City Council election that was bought by Chu An-hsiung is a great introduction to local money politics on the Beautiful Island.)

Followers of the local politics will recall, of course, that in Taiwan politics is ruthlessly local, ruled by local faction arrangements often centered around local temple and benevolent associations that bring together politicians, business, and local organized crime. It always pays to give attention to what happens at the local level, and there we can see some surprising changes. In Taipei the DPP and its allies gained three seats; in Kaohsiung the KMT gained 5. That is in part the result of rampant vote buying, a chronic problem in Kaohsiung, since the DPP has slowly but surely been gaining ground on the KMT at the local level.

In Taipei Hsieh's strong showing, combined with gains for the DPP and the TSU, as well as the crushing blow to the PFP, amount to a DPP success -- certainly morally, if not in fact.

David said, "Of these, twenty-four thousand are to supervise the work of the temple of the LORD and six thousand are to be officials and judges.

In Kaohsiung, things were just the opposite. Chen's Chu's narrow victory was almost certainly the result of the presence of the TSU candidate in the race. In 2002 the DPP won by more than 25,000 votes, 386K to 361K, with no TSU or PFP candidates in the race. In 2006, the KMT gained 17K votes to reach 378K -- which looks like a huge gain, until one recalls that in 1998 they spiked at 383K. Had they merely reached their 1998 levels, they would have won handily.

By the same contrast, the DPP's 379K vote was 7K less than 2002. One might argue that the DPP has fallen off, except that the TSU took 6,500 votes. The 2006 TSU + DPP total is 386K votes. Hence Chen Chu's showing was not some statistical blip or DPP failure, but the direct result of the TSU poaching votes from the DPP; the number of Green voters remains unchanged. Meanwhile the KMT gain was due entirely to success in getting out the vote, not to voters switching parties due to some putative disappointment with the DPP. Again, had the KMT reached its 1998 level, it would have won.

Another note: the invalid ballots, all six thousand of them. The majority of them have turned out to be ballots that were intended for Chen Chu, chopped incorrectly. Unlike the KMT, the DPP has not developed a system for mobilizing its voters and training them to vote properly. The same thing happened in the 2004 Presidential election, when the majority of the 300,000 invalid ballots that had recognizable votes appeared to be for Chen. Lots of people out there, especially seniors, who just don't get the system yet.

Meanwhile, lets think about these numbers. Two elections in a row, the Greens get 386,000 votes. The KMT gets 361K followed by 378K, down from a peak of 383K in Kaohsiung. The so called "light blues" or "light greens" don't exist. There is no middle. There are no swing voters. There is no segment of the electorate that policy arguments have to impress -- on many policies, everyone already agrees. Why are politics in Taiwan so identity oriented? Because victory doesn't depend on moving toward the middle to grab the swing voters, the way it might in the US. Victory depends on the simple ability to mobilize one's own base. Thus, the question Bruce Jacobs asked in an excellent piece in today's Taipei Times is answered:

This being the case, why has Ma since then courted the far-right of conservative politics? Why has he tried to do deals with People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) and gain the small minority of Mainlander votes rather than going for the localist Taiwanese center?

Why can't Ma move toward the middle? Because there is no middle. Where could Ma go that he wouldn't leave his Deep Blue base behind?

"This is the writing that was inscribed: MENE, TEKEL, and PERES. These words mean: MENE, God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it; TEKEL, you have been weighed on the scales and found wanting; PERES, your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and Persians." Then by order of Belshazzar they clothed Daniel in purple, with a gold collar about his neck, and proclaimed him third in the government of the kingdom. The same night Belshazzar, the Chaldean king, was slain:

Who was tested? Well, the international media thought it would be Chen Shui-bian, but it looks like the big losers were James Soong and Ma Ying-jeou. The Taipei Times reported:

While a number of party legislators have voiced their frustration, lamenting the party's poor performance in Kaohsiung, and urged the party to place more emphasis on promoting localization, KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) interpreted the election results as a confirmation of the status quo and argued that the party expanded its support base in the southern city by attracting almost half of the votes.

What does this reveal? Well, one can hardly blame Ma for the loss in Kaohsiung. Candidate Huang lost by 1,000 votes and came within 5,000 votes of the KMT's peak Kaohsiung performance, gaining 17,000 votes on the 2002 total. In tightly-fought Kaohsiung, that's not too shabby, especially considering what a good job the previous DPP mayor, Frank Hsieh, had done there. Ma's spinning of the higher number as "expanding" the KMT's support base is completely bogus, but the effort in Kaohsiung almost paid off in victory. More importantly, the KMT added five seats on the all-important city council, which will enable it to make trouble for Chen Chu -- just as the KMT did for Chen when he was mayor of Taipei, and later, when he was President and the Blues had a majority in the legislature. If I were the KMT I wouldn't be overly unhappy.

I suspect that the legislators' attack on Ma reflects the ongoing, quiet campaign against him conducted by the politicians allied to Lien Chan and Wang Jin-pyng. The Kaohsiung loss is just an excuse for another iteration of calls for Lien to join Ma in the election. One of the analysts noted:

Failing to defeat a DPP embroiled in multiple troubles was nonetheless a frustration to the KMT and a serious setback for Ma, said Wang Yeh-lih (王業立), a political scientist at Tunghai University.

"Ma's leadership will be questioned, and he may have to compromise in choosing his partner in the 2008 presidential election in order to please the southern residents," he said.

In addition to being more "localized," Shih suggested that Ma should work on his relationship with former KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平), as the party's pro-localization faction has questioned Ma's leadership and suggested Lien pair up with Wang in 2008.

"Integrating different voices in the party is Ma's job. But he thought he could rule the party without Lien and Wang ... I don't think he is reflecting properly on his and the party's strategy judging from his reaction to the elections," Shih said.

Cultural note: when you screw up in Chinese culture, you are supposed to "reflect" on what you have done. One of Shih Ming-teh's constant accusations against Chen Shui-bian was that he had failed to "reflect" on his behavior.

The spectacle of the KMT attempting to campaign on the corruption of the Other Party was certainly interesting, especially to manufacturers of irony meters, who were no doubt filling orders by the gross. It simply highlights one of the KMT's major problems: its inability to offer clear and bold policy solutions that capture voter imagination. Ma's reliance on negative campaigning is the inevitable outcome of the KMT being hamstrung by its own anti-Taiwan stance. A sophisticated understanding and offering of public policy would tend to reinforce positive governance on the island, which in turn tends to support Taiwan's ability to be independent -- an anathema to the KMT's ally, China. Thus, the easiest solution to the contradictions inherent in being a party dedicated to the elimination of independent governance is negative campaigning.

To be fair, as I noted earlier, since there is so often broad agreement on fundamental policies among supporters of both parties that the only real differences relate to the struggle over the island's identity. Everyone simply defaults to the constant negative campaigning on both sides -- still ongoing, as the anti-DPP ad below shows:

You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?

Meanwhile, Soong. In the wake of his feeble showing in the Blue stronghold of Taipei, PFP Chairman James Soong announced his retirement from politics...

Having enjoyed a record-high 4.7 million votes in the 1994 Taiwan Provincial Governor election, People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) yesterday announced an end to his decades-long political career after failing in his Taipei mayoral bid, garnering just 53,281 votes, or 4.14 percent of the total ballots.

Hahahaha. How many times have we seen this little play performed? Remember when Ma Ying-jeou wasn't going to run for mayor of Taipei, and his father had to "beg" him? Right on cue, Soong's followers tripped over themselves to fawn and clutch at his robes....

People First Party (PFP) lawmakers yesterday urged Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜), who announced on Saturday that he would quit politics, to change his mind.

"It would be a loss to Taiwan and the Taiwanese people if Soong were to leave politics," PFP Secretary-General Chin Chin-sheng (秦金生) told a press conference

Calling Soong "indispensable" to the country and the party, Deputy Legislative Speaker Chung Jung-chi (鍾榮吉) called on Soong to stay with the party at this "crucial moment."

Soong will be back, if for nothing else, then for revenge. Meanwhile the small parties, everyone agrees, are on their way out. If the PFP melts away after the 2007 legislative election, what then for Soong?

Every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods. -- H. L. Mencken.

Who won? Taiwan won. Another successful democratic election was held. The close vote in Kaohsiung will motivate large turnouts in future polls. The good showing of Hsieh in Taipei reminds us that voters there have not given up on the DPP. The KMT's eternal complaining notwithstanding, the recount in Kaohsiung is a reasonable request for such a close election. Procedures were followed. The public once again becomes used to the normality of a world where it has a choice.

Life goes on.


Anonymous said...

Great post, Michael! I was so sure Clara Chou and Li Ao were going to join forces and take everyone by surprise. Did I guess wrong?!

Anonymous said...

Oh, as for reaching for the middle in American politics, I'm not sure I agree that's a winning strategy in America either. For Democratic Party strategists, that has meant not taking Bush to task for his terrible policies, not opposing the Iraq war, not making an issue about the domestic spying, not making an issue about torture, etc etc etc.

Michael Turton said...

Great post, Michael! I was so sure Clara Chou and Li Ao were going to join forces and take everyone by surprise. Did I guess wrong?!

No, you were right! But the pro-Blue media keeps reporting that Hau won! The truth will come out sooner or later!


Tim Maddog said...

MIchael, interesting to see that BBC hasn't updated their Taiwan Timeline to include the miserable failure of the third recall attempt or the results of this election, despite how quickly they did so after the second recall attempt failed. At this moment, the timestamp on that page still reads "Last Updated: Friday, 27 October 2006, 09:43 GMT 10:43 UK."

Tick tock!

Tim Maddog

Taiwan Echo said...

James Soong announced his retirement from politics...

From my point of view, this is a common misconcept.

He didn't say that he wants to retire from politics. What he SPECIFICALLY announced, was his retirement from Taiwan politics.

Ok, slow down here. If, say, President Bush, in the middle of no where, decides to retire from politics, will he say, "I am retiring from American politics?"

No way. He would just say "retiring from politics."

So, when someone says "retire from Taiwan's politics," that means he has something other than "Taiwan's politics" in his mind.

What it is, we don't know. It could be PROC's politics, or even ROC's politics.

So, don't think Soong is out just yet.

Anonymous said...

Interesitngly enough, it was not just the PFP guys, who would be nothing without him and his warchest, that were begging Soong not to retire from politics. Wang Jin Ping (sp?) also chimed in and said that he should not retire - which caught me a little bit by surprise.....