Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Harbinger? Tiny Bit of progress in Irrigation Association Elections

A one-off, or a signal of a growing trend that could impact the November local elections? For the first time in many years several pan-Greens have been elected to head Irrigation Associations in Taiwan, a system that has been under a KMT death-grip since the early 1970s. To understand how important this could be, see this post from a few years ago on farmers associations and rural politics.

UDN says (Chinese)(Liberty Times in Chinese):


Of the 14 irrigation association directorships up for grabs, the DPP or pan-Greens were elected to 4. The KMT snatched back Nantou, which had been DPP for the previous eight years. The overall DPP increase was three seats, from one to four. The pan-Greens now control the irrigation associations of I-lan, Kaohsiung, Pingtung, and Taoyuan. The total number of individuals who are association members is 1.3 million; the election was spread over 147 precincts in 15 irrigation districts (more stats from the TJIA). UDN supplied a nifty chart on the elections:

Irrigation District Elections

As a friend of mine remarked when we were talking about this, the drive for ECFA has meant the neglect of farmers, whose locked-in KMT support is now wavering in fury at the government's escalating sell-0ut of their interests. The KMT is shifting its power base away from its rural networks. This aspect of ECFA has not been well-discussed in the English language articles about ECFA, but agreements with China, with their inevitable destruction of Taiwan's smaller businesses, farmers, traditional industries, and local construction -- just wait 'til the big boys from China start bidding on local development projects -- mean that many local Taiwanese who had supported the KMT for years are going to be getting their throats slit (what did they expect?) while at the same time, those businesses that supported the DPP are going to take an economic hit, which may well impact the flow of funds to the DPP. This implies that down in the trenches, there may well be a shift among voters to the DPP, especially in rural areas.

The KMT's answer to this has really been to simply ignore it while locking in Chinese support, and the backing of the US foreign policy and global financial establishments, as well as the support of the cross strait corporate, financial, and organized crime nexus. Another answer it has pursued is its traditional one of scattering money in rural areas to develop patronage networks -- in this case, it has sprayed Chinese tourists about the landscape the way it once sprayed cement, for similar reasons, and with similar effects. The presence of Chinese tourists pumps money into local areas and creates new constituencies committed to the KMT's China policies.

Of course, if this is a trend, much will depend on how well the DPP diagnoses and exploits it.
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