Written by Chia-hung Tsai
2014: A New Episode
In Taiwan, the Taipei mayor election is probably the most eye-catching contest among all local elections. Before 2014, KMT ran the Taipei City Hall for sixteen years. The last non-KMT mayor was Chen Shui-bian. Mr. Chen won a three-way election in 1994, in which the KMT supporters split their votes between the KMT and a challenger nominated by the Chinese New Party. Although Mr. Chen was a popular mayor, he lost his re-election in 1998 as he faced Ma Ying-jeou, a law professor trained by Harvard, and a united KMT. Mr. Chen moved on to join the 2000 presidential election and won, again, in a three-way competition. Eight years later, Mr. Ma also won the presidential election by defeating the DPP that were in the midst of scandals. Ko Wen-je, a medical doctor and professor of National Taiwan University, ran as an independent even though he won the DPP primary in which he defeated Yao Wen-Chih, a DPP lawmaker. Ko’s grandfather was one of the victims of the white terror in the 1950s, so Ko’s father, a primary school teacher and engineering consultant, advised Dr. Ko to stay away from politics. Therefore, Ko was regarded as a strong supporter of the DPP. However, Dr. Ko insisted on being independent and pledged to go beyond the Pan-blue and Pan-green. His described himself as “white force,” not leaning to either Pan-blue or Pan-green. Dr. Ko’s idea attracted people who are tired of party struggles and the moderate KMT partisans, even though the DPP backed up Dr. Ko. The DPP, led by chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen, sensed the anti-KMT sentiments and decided to cooperate with Ko. Sean Lien, son of former vice president Lien Chan and J.D. of Columbia University, won KMT’s endorsement by defeating KMT’s lawmaker, Ting Shou-chung, in the primary election.
Many polls predicted that Ko would beat Lien, and the election result showed a margin of sixteen percent. Along with Ko’s victory, the DPP won thirteen and KMT won six out of twenty-two mayor elections. Ma’s handling of cross-straight relations took the blame, and the high voting turnout of young voters was another important factor.
2018: Consolidation of Independents?
After Ko won the mayor election, he recruited a Chinese New Party’s veteran member as his vice mayor. Later on, he recruited a former DPP lawmaker as another vice mayor. Ko also reached out many professionals through open interview. For example, he hired an architect as the chief of the Department of Urban Development. Ko struggled to cooperate with a bi-partisan city council. City councilors criticized him for failing to deliver his campaign promises, such as revealing the truth of major scandals left by the former KMT mayor. To slash the budget, Ko cancelled the annual pension for every senior citizen. Instead, he allocated the budget to public services for these citizens. He also criticized city/county governments that had high liabilities, which irritated DPP supporters in southern Taiwan. Ko also promoted citizen participation in public policy. For example, he held a referendum for residents to decide how to develop the Shezidao peninsula. To be sure, Ko is very unique in terms of his experience, personality, and context: Taipei City. It may be too early to assume that his popularity will not fall out. However, Ko is not alone. About 42 city councilor candidates nationwide signed up Ko’s “affinity card” in which there are sixteen principles. One of the principles of this card is that there should be no annual pension for senior citizens. Some of those candidates are independents and some are from minor parties. Ko also campaigned for one of the mayoral candidates of Hsin-chu County.
Our national opinion polls also show Ko has enjoyed high popularity among all respondents, KMT and DPP partisans, and independents on three time points. About sixty percent of respondents nationwide are satisfied with his performance. In September of 2017, around seventy percent of KMT supporters, DPP supporters, and independents are satisfied with his performance. Three months later, more than eighty percent of independents are satisfied with him, while about seventy percent of those who identify with the KMT and DPP are content with him. In June of this year, however, the percentage of the KMT identifiers who are satisfied with mayor Ko’s performance dropped to 25 percent after KMT decided to nominate Ding. At the same time, only 42.6 percent of the DPP partisans appreciated mayor Ko’s performance. However, the percentage of independents who are satisfied with mayor Ko stands at 73.8 percent. It thus implies that no matter how the KMT and DPP decide on their nomination, Ko remains very popular among people who do not like either party.
After the KMT nominated Ding Shou-chung in early May, the DPP also endorsed Yao Wen-Chih at the end of May. Since Ko remains popular, the DPP seems to fail to form a winning coalition against the KMT. Instead, DPP partisans split between Yao and Ko, which may lead to strategic voting of some voters. It is apparent that Yao was far behind Ko and Ding, who were very close, ten days prior to the election. Will Ko and Yao’s voters coordinate to make sure Ko can win? Or will they vote sincerely so that Ding will win the majority of votes? A post-election panel survey may be able to answer these questions.
Chia-hung Tsai is distinguished research Fellow at Election Study Center and professor in Graduate Institute of East Asian Studies, National Chengchi University at National Chengchin University, Taiwan. Image Credit: Flickr/zhenghu feng