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Legislative campaigning in Kaohsiung: A view from the 7th district

Taipei and Kaohsiung are not only first and second biggest cities in Taiwan respectively divided by Tropic of Cancer that cuts Taiwan in half and making both places feel like they are located on two distant continents. These two cities also represent the geographic division of  the Taiwanese political landscape. North is blue, South is green, people say in Taiwan when they talk about the political basics. Although there is a great deal of oversimplification in that, it is to a considerable extent true that Taipei stands firmly as KMT stronghold while Kaohsiung is a safe haven for DPP. To a considerable extent, not absolutely though. In 2008, the KMT was extraordinarily successful and secured 6 mandates in Legislative Yuan (LY) elections out of 9 in the area that now constitutes Greater Kaohsiung. In 2008 presidential elections Kaohsiung County still supported DPP candidate Frank Hsieh but Kaohsiung City voted for Ma Ying-jeou.

The setting for 2012 is clear: is DPP about to reclaim Kaohsiung and how does the KMT plan to defend its gains deep inside “hostile” territory? This was my first question for representatives of both major competitors. The second addressed the influence of parallel presidential and legislative elections on campaign strategy. The third was about specific campaign issues related to Kaohsiung and the fourth question challenged both representatives to answer why should voters cast a ballot for their party.

The following text is a brief summary of both interviews. It needs to be noted positively that unexpected visit of a foreigner curious about election campaign was in both cases met with somebody willing to take questions. I can imagine completely different situation in the Czech Republic where I come from. Yet, it needs to be also said that if openness was to be measured, then the DPP scored considerably higher, with district office campaign director Gary Lin willing to take additional questions and going a little more beyond more or less official campaign proclamations.

The KMT legislative candidate in Kaohsiung 7th district is incumbent legislator Chiu Yi (邱毅), known for his close relations with the media and frequent use of legal charges against political opponents. I met and interviewed his office assistant Mr. Ching-Wei Huang and a campaign volunteer who did not reveal his identity. Chiu’s DPP challenger is Chao Tien-lin (趙天麟), former magistrate councilor with considerably lower profile (for good or bad) compared to Chiu Yi. As noted above, Mr. Gary Lin who is head of the Chao’s election office answered the questions.

How were the expectations of the candidates? I addressed this first to the KMT HQ. Mr. Huang answered that loss of any seat out of 9 available would be regarded as defeat. This appears over ambitious considering that KMT can hardly hope to repeat its gains from 2008 and that securing all seats is unlikely even for the DPP. The volunteer who assisted the interview gave me more realistic estimate of 5 mandates. How were the concurrent elections influencing campaigning for the KMT? According to Mr. Huang, the two elections are tied together in any case and rather than addressing differences in campaign strategy, he took care to highlight achievements of KMT administrations which should secure victory for KMT in both elections. This actually answered third question too. KMT achievements on a local level were reiterated and confidence expressed that the party will secure victory based on these achievements. The overall impression and conclusion is that main KMT campaigning tool in this particular district is Chiu Yi’s popularity and the playing card of achievements is employed more strongly on the central level. Mr Huang also stressed that the party put an emphasis on convincing abstainers to come to vote this time.It remains to be seen if this will be good enough to secure at least 5 seats in Greater Kaohsiung.

Interviews in the DPP office brought out some interesting points. Perhaps the most interesting one came up with the questions on the combination of presidential and legislative elections and their influence on campaign strategy. Mr. Lin pointed out that one of the visible effects are campaign posters/billboards where LY candidates are together with Tsai Ing-wen. Lin referred to her rising popularity which may help to boost popularity for less known DPP candidates for the LY. This may have implication for KMT, yet, in opposite manner. KMT candidates may prefer not to link their campaign with Ma Ying-jeou’s reelection bid due to his low approval ratings. KMT candidates may simply feel that linking their candidacy to presidential election is striping them off advantages of a locally built support base. Indeed, it has strong logic in South and during my visit of Kaohsiung I saw only a small number of posters where local candidates were pictured together with Ma. Observations from Taipei seem to be similar so far. One can see considerably more posters where Tsai is together with a local LY candidate.

When talking about how the DPP is going to get their voters back, apart from naming alleged KMT mismanagement (those in social policy area are the most important), Gary Lin mentioned that DPP will appeal to voters to return from Taipei where many people from Kaohsiung work to come to their hometowns in Kaohsiung area and elsewhere. On a local level, one of the central issues of Chao’s campaign (and DPP’s in general) is to make Kaohsiung a greener (environmentally speaking) city which may have an appeal in a city known for its industrial pollution. What are the DPP’s expectations? According to Lin, the party is quite confident in securing 7 seats, while the remaining 2 are considered undecided (including the 7th district). At this point, NCCU’s Exchange of Future Events for Kaohsiung shows that the DPP is closer to reaching its goal when predicting that 6 seats will go to DPP and remaining 3 are still undecided. It also gives nearly 67% to Tsai Ing-wen and only 37% to Ma Ying-jeou. Thus, it seems that Kaohsiung after 4 year-long intermezzo is set to become green again.

Michal Thim is currently enrolled in the International Master‘s Program in Asia-Pacific Studies at National Chengchi University in Taipei and research fellow at the Prague-based foreign policy think tank, Association for International Affairs. This report is based on interviews conducted by Michal at the election headquarters of the DPP and KMT in Kaohsiung’s 7th election district for Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan on December 5, 2011. The views expressed in this article by party officials are their personal opinions which do not necessarily correspond with the official position of the respective political party. Michal  wishes to thank Mr. Richard Lin for his invaluable assistance. A large range of associated images are available here.

Published inInternational PoliticsTaiwan 2012

12 Comments

  1. Michael Stainton Michael Stainton

    Thank you for this helpful report on the legislative election. We need more on the ground local reports. M

  2. New prediction for Greater Kaohsiung:

    7 seats for DPP, 2 undecided

    7th district:

    Chao Tien-lin (DPP): 64.8% of votes, 87.3% probability of being elected

    Chiu Yi (KMT): 54.3% of votes, 15.4% probability of being elected

    Since percentage does not reach the ballance (i.e. exceeds 100%), 7th district is one of the two undecided in Greater Kaohsiung area according to Exchange of Future Events. See:
    http://nccupm.wordpress.com/2011/12/19/%E6%9C%AA%E4%BE%86%E4%BA%8B%E4%BB%B6%E4%BA%A4%E6%98%93%E6%89%80%E7%9B%AE%E5%89%8D%E5%B0%8D2012%E5%B9%B4%E9%AB%98%E9%9B%84%E5%B8%82%E7%AB%8B%E5%A7%94%E9%81%B8%E6%83%85%E9%A0%90%E6%B8%AC-%E7%AB%8B/ for more details (in Chinese)

  3. Hans Hans

    Interesting, but considering the author makes a mistake in the very first sentence (he didn’t take the time to even check the latest census to find out Taipei no longer, by a huge margin, is the largest city, more like number five), I don’t know what to think about the credibility of the remaining information…

    • Michal Thim Michal Thim

      Hans, If you talk about large margin then you surely consider New Taipei City as a city which is clearly not (i live in Xinbei perchance), the drop down of Taipei happened only due to last year’s creation of special municipalities. I would like to see your source but if you consider census available here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_municipality_(Republic_of_China)#Taiwan_Era then I must insist that you missed that whereas numbers for Tainan, Taichung, Kaohsiung are combined populations of city propers and former counties (hardly can have a city area of 2,946.2527 square km as in case of Kaohsiung) and Xinbei City is renamed Taipei County which combines everything that surrounds Taipei City (yet at the same time connected to it in terms of infrastructure) except of Keelung and as a state above is not a city per se, Taipei City is clearly a different case.

      To put it simply, what you consider as cities bigger than Taipei are not cities but special municipal areas. You should also consider that measuring population in cities brings necessary ambiguity taking into account what should be counted and what not. I may very well claim that Taipei metropolitan area has population more than 6 million and i will be correct.

      To conclude, I dont really know what to take from your comment. This article is not at all about geography.

      • Hans Hans

        Sure, I take administrative units into account, because election happens on them. The Xinbei and Taipei just happen to be geographically close, but I don’t think that’s a reason to count them together, especially as they are administrative-wise separated. Simply put, you might have easy time traveling to Taipei, but that doesn’t qualify you to vote for a Taipei politician.

        My numbers, although you seem to have guessed it:
        http://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/臺灣行政區人口列表

        And I was wrong too, Taipei City is number four.

        What to take from my comment? That there’s at least one person who’s annoyingly allergic to “Taipei number one, Kaohsiung number two” myth, it doesn’t have any other value really. I just hope I didn’t waste too much time of a fellow Czech to reply it. 🙂

        • Michal Thim Michal Thim

          Yet, it is not a myth! That is the point. What you call cities are not cities but much larger administrative areas whether you like it or not. Administrative unit Kaohsiung now includes former Kaohsiung County, in what sense is this a city? Xinbei has absolutely no justification to be called city in a traditional understanding of it (it is like to call Central Bohemia a city). It is just that they did not find a better way to call it. And elections are happening on much smaller units in single mandate districts or on one proportional ballot that consists of whole ROC. It concerns special municipalities only in the sense that single mandate districts respect their borders. You have administrative units and administrative units. My reference to metropolitan area was just an example how population of the city can be approached and easily justified.

          Being a fellow Czech slightly excuses you, but admit you were wrong 🙂

          • Hans Hans

            As long as you insist on vague ‘city in a traditional understanding of it’, we can’t talk about it.

            City is a man-made concept and if someone with the required power decides Moon will be one city, for all purposes, it will be one. The same with both examples you gave, I agree that those units also contain a significant rural area, but once have been pronounced cities with all privileges cities have, so why ignore that?

            As soon as Central Bohemia is promoted to a city (and former cities redefined as districts), I’ll be happy to call it so 🙂 After all, many current Prague districts are former separate cities, too.

          • Michal Thim Michal Thim

            Oh well, ceasefire? I will stick to being traditionalist though, city is man-made concept indeed but it does not mean that it cannot develop naturally and it actually does (like inclusion of former cities into many bigger ones during the process of urbanization) but that is not the case of above discussed special munucipalities. In any case, to say the least we both are right from our respective point of views but i would rather see you challenging something more substantial related to article than this.

          • Hans Hans

            Haha, sure, time to take a break. Like I said, I’m even surprised you took the time to react to my nitpicking 🙂

            Either way, leaving aside the first paragraph, thanks for the rest of the article, it sure contains more insight than I would be able to provide.

          • Michal Thim Michal Thim

            No problem at all, as you can see I am passionate discussant 🙂

  4. Dear readers,

    I feel I should clarify this claim: “Observations from Taipei seem to be similar so far. One can see considerably more posters where Tsai is together with a local LY candidate.”

    What i meant is that what i witnessed during several few weeks ago is that DPP LY candidate were almost exclusively pictured with Tsai whereas KMT candidates were comparatively more often “abandoned”. Yet, as campaign has intensified with the official beginning of electoral campaign, the observation now is rather different in terms of KMT candidates in Taipei. Yet, “seperation” still has a strong logic in South. I would like to learn whether readers who are in Taiwan and are in other parts of Taiwan other than Taipei have the same or different observation.

    MT

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