Friday, January 13, 2012

Taiwan's Elections

Taiwan's parliamentary elections are January 14th. APP member, Michael Fonte is the opposition party's man in Washington. Last week he was in Taiwan observing the campaign and has written a number of interesting essays on his experiences with the Democratic Progressive Party, Taiwan.

With his permission we are sharing one he wrote on January 6th:

Visiting the DPP's main campaign headquarters yesterday just outside Taipei was a pretty amazing experience. Volunteers were hard at work counting the donations that came in from all around Taiwan via multicolored piggie banks.

Kicked off inadvertently when a grandfather brought his triplet grandchildren in with three piggie banks to donate to the campaign, only to have the government's Control Yuan declare that this was illegal because only persons of voting age are allowed to contribute to a political campaign, the "little piggies campaign" took off with the DPP overwhelmed by the response. The final tally is now in: the “three little pigs” fundraising campaign raised more than NT$200 million (US$6.6 million) in political donations from 143,000 piggy banks returned, the party said yesterday. Counting the money was a difficult task. It required 150 volunteers to work on 12 hole-punching machines, 52 coin sorting machines and six coin counters 12 hours a day — a total of more than 3,000 man-hours — for 20 consecutive days.

The sentiment behind this campaign is nicely captured in the short video [featured above] which shows a grandma, the grandfather with the triplets, several small shop owners, and a waitress going about their daily rounds with Tsai Ing-wen's voiceover and her final statement: "I am Tsai Ing-wen, I will not forget you and your desire for a fair and just Taiwan."

The DPP hopes that this piggie campaign represents not just an income source but a participation by "little" people around the island that binds them to the party and will ensure their participation in the Jan. 14th elections.

All well and good, I can hear Washington political circles saying, but is it enough to bring political victory?

Still hard to say. I've heard opinions that vary greatly on the election outcome.

Several recent events that might have an impact:

1. The KMT has generated support from big business types with the sometimes direct, sometimes indirect, warning that the a DPP victory would jeopardize their, and Taiwan's, interests in China. Included in the more direct group are: the chairmen of Delta Electronics, Hon Hai Precision Industry, Ruentex Financial Group and Yulon Group, as well as Formosa Plastics Corp’s president. More obliquely, the chairmen of the General Chamber of Commerce of the ROC and the Far Eastern Group said they supported the candidate who won’t take any “risks with peace and stability across the [Taiwan] Strait.”

2. Chen Shui-bian was allowed to go to Tainan for his mother-in-law's funeral. His every move filled the tv screens, from the blaring red lights and sirens of the police cars in the caravan carrying him to Tainan, to his crawling from the van to the entrance of the site in a traditional sign of grief at the passing of his mother-in-law, to his long statement of being an "son-in-law who was unfilial because he did not visit her before she died".

Chen also expressed his gratitude to his late mother-in-law for supporting his marriage to her daughter, former first lady Wu Shu-jen. He said his wife inherited her sense of justice and “Taiwanese consciousness” from her mother, and had encouraged him to enter politics. Chen said she was not a money-hungry person, as has been claimed. He said that it was his wife who advised him to cut his own salary in half soon after he assumed the presidency in 2000.

The former president said he “definitely did not do the Taiwanese people wrong” or let his supporters down and expressed the hope that the judiciary would prove his innocence and see that justice is done in his various cases.

There were Chen supporters surrounding the site, chanting that he was not guilty and denouncing the KMT for persecuting him.

How will this play in the election? Will it generate more support for the DPP among the darker green base? Will that be countered by anger and mobilization by the darker blue KMT base? Hard to say.

3. The I Want a Good President Alliance — which is comprised of several civic groups concerned with a variety of issues — yesterday released its recommendations as to whom different groups of voters should cast their ballot for in the Jan. 14 presidential election.

Representatives from the Alliance for Fair Tax Reform, the Anti-Poverty Alliance, the Judicial Reform Foundation, Amnesty International Taiwan, the Taiwan Association for Human Rights and the Youth Wants to be Rich — all member organizations of the alliance — announced their recommendations for voters concerned with different issues.

The groups examined the policy platforms of President Ma, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Tsai and the People First Party (PFP) presidential candidate James Soong, and also used the results of a survey it sent to the candidates, which asked for their opinions on various social issues, such as judicial reform, tax reform, cross-strait relations, growing national debt and employment conditions.

While both Tsai and Soong returned their surveys, Ma did not, the alliance said.

Based on the survey responses, the alliance recommended Tsai for voters who are concerned about youth employment issues, dispatch workers, social assistance and raising taxes for the wealthy.

Soong was recommended for those who are concerned about dispatch workers and raising tax rates for the wealthy.

Interestingly, the groups stated, “We don’t recommend anyone for cross-strait relations, judicial reform, public childcare, resolving the growing national debt and media reform because none of the three candidates gave satisfactory answers."

My sense is that this alliance is not very powerful in terms of numbers and influence. But will these "endorsements" matter enough to tip a large number of voters in any direction? Hard to say.

4. The Miaoli District Prosecutors’ Office’s decided on Thursday to indict a pro-green political commentator Hsu Yung-ming and Ho Po-wen, a DPP legislative candidate, on charges of public defamation of Miaoli County Commissioner Liu Chen-hung.

Ummm, ok but isn't this part of the normal process of prosecuting people for misdeeds.? Perhaps, but the funny little catch is that the date of the supposed public defamation was June 23, 2010 - a year and a half ago. The two are being charged for describing Miaoli County Commissioner Liu Cheng-hung as an official without moral principles and a bully on political talk show The Talking Show.

You can guess that the DPP is angered by this indictment of one of its legislative candidates. Will it matter much to the voting public? The fight for the Hakka vote has been intense and Miaoli is a heavily Hakka area which has traditionally supported the KMT. Tsai is from a Hakka family and her campaign has tried to capitalize on this.

In short, the beat goes on here. It is exciting and dynamic - a full throated democracy roaring along.

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