Regional elections have in the past been rife with allegations of corruption, but this time the government dedicated itself to investigating all such allegations, turning the situation around. Over the past year several political figures have had their elections ruled invalid due to vote-buying, and the Ma administration is making strides in their determination to clean up government. This photo shows Minister of Justice Wang Ching-feng seeking the support of voters for her anti-vote-buying policies. (photo by Ni Guoyan, Central News Agency)
On December 5th 2009, the Republic of China held its 16th "three-in-one" regional elections. The Kuomintang took 12 of the 17 cities and counties involved, with the Democratic Progressive Party taking four and the final seat-that of Hualien County magistrate-going to former KMT candidate Fu Kun-chi.
While these results may not be especially surprising, the actual vote tallies for both KMT and DPP candidates were closer than ever, constituting a strong warning for the KMT when considered in the light of their stellar showings in the regional, legislative, and presidential elections over the previous four years. It has also seen both parties quick off the mark to prepare for the 2010 "Five-City Battle," the elections for the mayoralties of what will then be Taiwan's five "special municipalities."
These "three-in-one" elections-so called because they include elections for city mayors/county magistrates, city/county councilors, and township mayors-came in the wake of the announced 2010 elevation of Taipei County, Taichung City and County, and Tainan City and County to special municipalities, along with the integration of Kaohsiung County into the Kaohsiung City special municipality. This left only 17 city mayor and county magistrate positions to be filled, only seven of which were not won by incumbents. Due to the clearly different goals of the KMT and the DPP, despite each party's best campaign efforts there was only so much excitement they could stir up for these elections.
When looked at purely in terms of seats won, the KMT walked away winning three times the seats the DPP won (12 to four). But in terms of actual votes cast, the KMT narrowly squeaked past the DPP with only a 2.56% lead (47.88% of the vote compared with 45.32%)-a massive drop from the 2005 year-end elections, where they led by 9%.
One example of the warning being sounded was Yilan County, considered a battleground county. KMT incumbent Lu Kuo-hua lost to DPP challenger Lin Tsong-shyan, returning Yilan to green-camp hands, where it had been for 24 years previously before a brief four-year "blue-sky" interlude under the KMT. This also made Yilan the only green seat in a sea of KMT blue across northern, central, and eastern Taiwan.
Experts believe that the main reasons for this loss of confidence in the ruling party include:
1) With the anti-Chen Shui-ban protests receding into memory and Chen himself having been in jail for over a year, thus being "punished enough," dissatisfaction was no longer a sufficient motivator to get large numbers of people to vote KMT as they did previously. This is a sign that the DPP may be out of the wastelands and on the rise again.
2) The KMT has recently emphasized reform, actively investigating allegations of vote buying, distancing themselves from traditional regionalist factions, and cutting off those accused of misconduct. While this has cost them votes, that is a risk they deemed worth running.
Take for example the race for Hualien County magistrate: When locally popular legislator Fu Kun-chi was implicated in an insider trading scandal, the KMT chose not to nominate him for the seat. After being expelled from the party, Fu ran as an independent under a "true blue" banner, winning the seat. Merely days later, Fu announced that his "ex-wife" would serve as his deputy, much to the dismay of the electorate. While the KMT's decision left the party with no candidate in Hualien County, their dedication to "clean government" earned them much applause.
3) In order to avoid the DPP rallying voters against them, the KMT chose to run a low-key campaign in safe seats like Taitung and Penghu Counties. This also had the unforeseen effect of not mobilizing KMT supporters in significant numbers, leading to only narrow victories.
4) Most crucially, the past year and a half under KMT leadership has seen a succession of disasters. First was the global recession, which created the greatest economic contraction in Taiwan's history (with the economy forecast to have contracted by 2.53% in 2009) and record unemployment (approximately 6.0%). Then, just as the administration's efforts to stabilize the economy began to show signs of working, Typhoon Morakot's devastation of the south and the controversy over the renewed importation of American beef gave them a one-two punch. On top of this, the reservations of some regarding the speed and style of the developing rapprochement between Taiwan and China also impacted voter preferences.
Regrettably, while local autonomy is the cornerstone of democracy, in this land of constant political controversy we heard virtually nothing from the candidates in these local elections regarding fiscal policy, taxation, attracting investment, employment, public security, social welfare, healthcare, urban planning, or any other such topics. Politicians merely painted grandiose pictures for the public, who then voted on the basis of impressions, feelings, and guanxi. If we want to develop true local autonomy, we clearly have a way to go yet.
With the dust barely settled from the three-in-one elections, seven legislative seats now face by-elections. Couple this with the fact that over 60% of Taiwan's electorate will have the opportunity to vote in the 2010 battle for the new municipalities, and it is clear that both the blue and green camps still have significant fights ahead of them.
Not long after the elections, Chin Pu-tsung, one of President Ma's closest advisors, was appointed KMT general secretary, while former interior minister Su Jia-chyuarn was appointed DPP general secretary. As the bell rings on this next round, we can only hope that both parties will continue this amicable competition and both strive to create a better tomorrow for Taiwan.