DPP must not become too confident

    By Paul Lin 林保華
Taiei Times 2022.1.20

The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) threw all of its weight behind last month’s four referendums — all of which it initiated — as well as a by-election in Taichung’s second electoral district and a recall vote for independent Legislator Freddy Lim (林昶佐) in Taipei’s fifth electoral district, both on Jan. 9.

In a key test of public opinion, the KMT lost everything: each referendum, the recall vote and the by-election.

However, despite the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) being victorious in all instances — having opposed all four referendums and the recall vote, and successfully installing its candidate, Lin Ching-yi (林靜儀), in Taichung’s second electoral district — the party should take care not to get ahead of itself.

Why? Because in Taipei, New Taipei City, Keelung, Taoyuan, Hsinchu and Miaoli County, the DPP is on the back foot.

During her acceptance speech after winning her first term in 2016, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) called on party members to remember to “show humility, more humility and even more humility.”

The reason that the DPP is still electorally weak in the north of the country is not because the KMT is all-powerful, but rather because of Chinese influence, the long-running issue of confusion regarding national identity and voters’ dissatisfaction with the DPP’s performance, which many voters view as barely satisfactory.

The night before voting opened for the referendums, a second-generation Hong Kong immigrant told me that tickets were almost completely sold out on public transport, saying that this indicated that many young Taiwanese were returning to their hometowns to vote.

During the referendum, 300,000 first-time voters cast ballots, playing an important part in the overall outcome.

Looking back at Taiwan’s accomplishments over the past few years — the deepening of the roots of democracy, rapid economic growth and the nation’s successful navigation of the COVID-19 pandemic — I remember with fondness the Sunflower movement of 2014. Were it not for the movement, Taiwan would probably be on its last legs now, gasping a few final lungfuls of breath before rigor mortis sets in.

The referendums, by-election and recall vote were one big plebiscite on whether Taiwan would hold fast to its values of democracy and liberty.

Although the DPP came through in a less-than-convincing fashion, new voters are gradually supplanting dyed-in-the-wool older voters who grew up under the propaganda machine of the KMT party-state. It is this younger cohort of voters that is the driving force propelling the nation forward.

Taichung’s second electoral district presents an excellent case study of this phenomenon, and reminds me of Hong Kong’s now-defunct New Territories East legislative constituency.

New Territories East was originally Hong Kong’s most staunchly conservative constituency and the home turf of the pro-Beijing Heung Yee Kuk council.

However, with the construction of the Sha Tin neighborhood, which began in 1973 under the New Towns Development Programme initiated by the then-British colonial administration, a large number of professionals moved into the area, so it became a voter stronghold for the pro-democracy camp.

Taiwan and Hong Kong’s politics are more closely linked than many Taiwanese realize. For instance, the anti-extradition bill movement that swept Hong Kong in 2019 reversed the political situation in Taiwan at the time, pouring cold water over former Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu’s (韓國瑜) presidential election bid and helping the DPP to secure a second term in office.

On Dec. 19 last year, a new National Security Law imposed by Beijing was used by the Hong Kong authorities to round up and arrest many key figures in the territory’s pro-democracy camp.

Last year, Beijing rammed home the advantage by imposing amendments to Hong Kong’s Basic Law to change electoral rules for Legislative Council (LegCo) elections.

Last month’s LegCo election was the first following the changes. Predictably, the candidates were all cut from the same pro-Beijing “Chinese patriot” cloth and the result was a foregone conclusion.

Young Taiwanese voting in the referendums last month saw what was going on in Hong Kong and quite naturally concluded that they were not going to let a similar anti-democratic through-the-back-door takeover happen in Taiwan.

At the end of last year, the Hong Kong government closed down two more independent media Web sites in the territory. How could young Taiwanese, who are extremely active online, not be affected by this?

The Sunflower movement’s impact on Taiwan has been overwhelmingly positive, but Taiwanese should not overlook several flaws that were either created, or not resolved, by the movement.

One such flaw currently being pursued by certain underhanded politicians is to turn the KMT into an agent of the Chinese Communist Party.

Another is that some of the young leaders of the movement became complacent as a result of their early success. People do not take kindly to their votes being taken for granted, and this explains why some of Taiwan’s young politicians have struggled to maintain support.

Radio talk show host Clara Chou (周玉蔻) wrote online that former Taiwan Statebuilding Party legislator Chen Po-wei’s (陳柏惟) eyes welled up with tears on the eve of Lim’s recall vote on Jan. 9, as Chen recalled his own recall ordeal in October last year.

Chen had been taught an important lesson by Taichung voters and had improved greatly as a politician as a result, Chou said, adding that there are still some politicians who appear haughty and out of touch with voters.

Lin’s success in Taichung’s second electoral district on Jan. 9 was down to a number of factors, not least her unique personality: gentle but resolute.

I have met Lin on two or three occasions, and although we only engaged in small talk, I found her to be amiable, sincere and not a bit like the stereotypical calculating politician.

During televised political debates, Lin comes across as earnest and serious, and after she was selected by her party to contest the by-election, she threw herself into the fight with gusto.

On the campaign trail, Lin successfully portrayed herself as a plucky woman standing up to an obstinate and avaricious old crony seeking to protect his local stronghold.

The DPP needs more politicians like Lin. The party should consider setting up a school to improve the conduct, manners and behavior of its politicians, to avoid the kind of bad table manners or other embarrassing incidents that have occurred in the past.

The party must focus on producing more rounded politicians, otherwise it will find it difficult to score the knockout blow to the KMT that would allow Taiwanese to finally unite against the nation’s enemy.

Paul Lin is a political commentator.

Translated by Edward Jones


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