Sunday, November 28, 2010

KMT takes 3 of 5, DPP gets more votes

It's hard to know where to begin with this election.

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.

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.
The China Post, the pro-KMT English paper, made the same point:
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.

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.
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:
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.

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.
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.

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.

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.
To their credit, publicly DPP heavyweights have not blamed the shooting incident in public. I suspect its effect was not very great.

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:

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.

Wait...people in China see the election as signaling a lack of support for Ma's China policies. What about the western media?

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:

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.]

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:

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.

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:
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.
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums! Delenda est, baby.


vin said...

I've been too busy recently to read even a tenth of the stuff on Taiwan I'd like to be reading. This excellent summary-plus-insights thus saved me so much time. Thanks, Michael. Posts like this one remind me again of what an invaluable service you're providing here.

Anonymous said...

Jason Hu couldn't be in the county because he's half a cripple and can't move around easily. The media totally covers this up for him and tries not to expose how bad his physical mobility is now.

Anonymous said...

The AP bit that you quoted ("Acts of violence are uncommon ... particularly on county governments") comes from this Taipei Times article--see the bottom of page 3 (unless the TT is quoting from the AP).

Ben Goren said...

I second anon's comment ... thanks.

Anonymous said...

Great comments on Taichung. These next four years will be critical in determining the long-term political orientation as local factions adjust to life without power.

As for writing in Want China Times, I don't limit my forums as longs as they don't change my content through editing. And as you can tell from the typo in the first sentence, they didn't bother to edit me at all!

Okami said...

Am I the only one disturbed that you should feel the need to congratulate AP for reporting simple important facts about the background to help inform their readers? Has the MSM fallen so far that we have to notice when they do their job correctly? The fact that they still don't get it really bothers me.

I was shocked at how much Su lost in Taipei City and how close Tsai came to winning. I didn't expect that and that will give me something to think about.

The Taichung election was mystifying to me as how do you just parachute a guy in and he not only isn't local, but comes close enough for everyone to take notice.

The shooting is odd. There's so many ways you can lay a conspiracy theory behind it, yet the most obvious answer is that it was a simple screw up.

I'd love to be a fly on the wall in the next KMT/CCP meeting. I don't really see how the CCP can't use this as an edge to negotiate better terms for themselves. Nothing better than reminding the guy that you are negotiating with that in 2 years he may not be where he is now and for certain favors can have a back up position available if such a misfortune were to happen.

jerome in vals said...

兩岸連手逮要犯 大陸公安明年初駐台

Would any body care to put this in plain English for us, barbarians?

Anonymous said...

One big factor, as we saw in 2006 and 2008, is that the Taiwanese electorate has become increasingly fickle regarding incumbents.

Everything that goes wrong over the next year will be placed at the KMT doorstep, fueling calls for a change in the party in power. This was one major factor that led to Chen Shui-bian getting elected the first time.

I think the KMT victories will actually add more pressure to Ma as he knows the public is likely to swing back in the next election cycle.


Anonymous said...

Even if we accept that the shooting had a big positive effect on KMT votes, how does that explain the complete mis-polling of Taichung? And the futures markets were totally off on Taichung as well!

Taipei City is another mystery. Sympathy votes are one thing, but the polls and futures markets had Su winning by a hair up until the election. Why was Hau's margin of victory so large?

Exercise for the reader: are there any polls that were anywhere close to the final results (you can fiddle a bit given the effect of the shooting)? My guess is none.

Polling in Taiwan needs to be completely rethought. Not even close! And it's not just underestimating Greens (Taichung); it's also overestimating them (Taipei).

Anonymous said...

If the DPP were more like the KMT they'd be out having "angry" riots in the streets over the shooting. Remember Lien's great leadership when he declared that, "we are not going to accept the result."

yankdownunder said...

A quote from WSJ about the elections

"China and Taiwan separated in 1949 when the KMT fled to the island after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong's Communists. Beijing officially claims sovereignty over Taiwan although the self-governing island has de facto independence."

Separated in 1949? Were they one nation in 1949? I guess according to WSJ Taiwan is part of China.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dr Turton,

Thank you very much for another of your very good analysis of the events in Taiwan and your insight on the elections. Also many thanks for the fellow commentators to share their very interesting views. I know that you mentioned that it might be too early to predict what happens in 2012 and 2016 but speculations in the media and among academics here in HK are already running wild and I would like to know your view and that of fellow commentators who are based in Taiwan.
Unfortunately I had to watch Phoenix TV (PRC channel) for the election reporting as my Cantonese is not good enough for the maybe more neutral reporting of Cable TV (TVB and ATV in HK are pro China anyway). Nevertheless the reporters and commentators made some very interesting remarks on the future elections and the prospects of the different candidates.

How are the chances of Su? He holds no position in the party and wasn’t elected to a mayoral position. Plus his election result was disappointing. However he has a great campaign team (which actually helped Tsai in Sinbei) and maybe still grassroots support plus he is already over 60 years old so it would be his last chance in 2012.

As you mentioned Tsai is more popular with undecided voters, she also managed the factions of the DPP well and has very good relations with the media plus is as the chairman in a very strong position. I am afraid it will come to a conflict within the DPP over this issue which would hurt the party’s chances in 2012. An academic even mentioned the strong possibility of a DPP split in 2011/12 over this issue.

In 2016 Tsai should have a good chance, but the likely contender Eric Chu would also be strong because of his administrative abilities (possibly 6 years in Sinbei) plus he could be considered a ‘local boy’.

What will happen if Ma get’s reelected with a narrow margin? I believe he himself would wish to move ahead with political negotiations to firmly link Taiwan to the PRC which is in line with his political stance and Chinese identity and create a situation which would make independence of Taiwan as one of the options of the Taiwan people forever impossible (arguably after ECFA it is already impossible). The PRC would of course also pressure him massively and in his second term he does not have to care about public opinion. Both sides would see it as unique chance to create hard facts. The likelihood of what you called the ‘Hu-Ma Nobel Peace Prize love fest’ would thus be great. This could lead to massive protests in Taiwan, especially if the 2012 elections were close, which results are unpredictable. What do you think about this scenario?

Thank you very much for your attention and I apologize for the long post.


Mike said...

Frozen Garlic certainly made many important points in his commentary in the "China Times", and Michael, your comments are Taichung are insightful. [Though I certainly did not agree with everything that Frozen Garlic had to say about the Xinbei election in his blog - but his blog and yours have always been a pleasure to read :)]

I have to say that Tsai Ing-Wen was really unlucky and so was Su Su Chia-chuan. I wasn't expecting them both to win, but expecting one of them to - after all the partisan balance does lean towards the KMT in these municipalities, yet the thing is that both areas have "swung" and flunctuated a lot in the past, and I really thought the DPP had a chance in both. [I never believe or take seriously most of the polls.]

Taipei however, was not at all surprising. However c**p a KMT mayor can be in Taipei, there would be no way that the KMT candidate could ever loose in Taipei, unless there is a split in the Pan-Blue coalition, and that splinter needs to be very, very strong (James Soong was clearly not enough in 2006); whilst the KMT candidate be very, very weak. It's just frankly ingrained in Taipei to be a strong Pan-Blue stronghold. I could hardly believe the media reports prior the election saying that Taipei was the most "fiercely-contested" city; it was clear that Xinbei and Taichung would be a much closer race, however great Su appeared to be doing in the "polls". [Which previously in July meant that DPP would lose in Xinbei and Taichung and lose heaps in Tipaei; but in late October meant that Xinbei and Taichung were tossups and Taipei was clearly still in favour of the KMT.]

That said though, the election results shouldn't be taken optimistically by either camps. The DPP have clearly lost out in the number of posts they hold, and the KMT didn't make too much of a breakthrough anyway.

Ben Goren said...

My bad. I didn't second anon's comments, it was Vin's remarks )the first comment) that I agreed with ... an excellent post Mike.