Lien Sheng-wen's Campaign Crisis
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
June 26, 2014
Summary: Election day is still some time off. Extrapolating from the present in an attempt to predict the future, will only lead to baseless conclusions. Lien Sheng-wen must not become overly-reliant on traditional blue vs. green voter thinking. He must not conclude that being overly cautious and avoiding mistakes will ensure his election. His campaign committee must not adhere to the superstitious belief that history must repeat itself. He must assess his situation, and find a way to win back public support.
Full Text Below:
The ruling and opposition parties have completed their nomination processes for the capital city mayoral election. Public support for Wen-Je Ko and Lien Sheng-wen has quickly reversed, and the gap has significantly widened. More and more, Wen-Je Ko is expected to win. By contrast, support for Lien Sheng-wen continues to decline. This is merely late June. Election day is still some time away. Many uncertainties still remain. But past election experience suggests that Lien Sheng-wen, who has just begun his race, is already looking bad. This is indeed puzzling, and deserves further exploration.
Early last year Lien Sheng-wen enjoyed more support than all the other Taipei Mayoral candidates. It was precisely this high degree of support that made Lien Sheng-wen consider entering the race. It was also the reason he defeated veteran Ting Shou-chung during the party primaries. A majority of blue camp voters abandoned veteran blue camp politician Ting Shou-chung. They opted instead for political novice Lien Sheng-wen. Lien Sheng-wen is young. He has the blessing of Lien Chan. But there must be other reasons why so many voters had such high expectations of him. These expectations were highly subjective, During his past appearances in campaign activities, Lien Sheng-wen conveyed a certain image. This image was appealing precisely because it was so unorthodox.
Why characterize Lien Sheng-wen as unorthodox? Because although he comes from a political family, he has remained in private business. He may have paid attention to politics. But he has never held any executive or legislative branch office. This shortcoming has deprived Lien Sheng-wen of needed political experience. But it also made him stand out from traditional lukewarm, overly cautious, and conservative blue camp politicians. Since Ma's advent, all areas of the political arena have become filled with Ma faction elites. The vast majority are academics and technocrats who exhibit this very trait. That is not necessarily bad. But when it comes to checking and balancing the green camp, these people are often helpless and indecisive. This behavior is precisely what has crippled the Ma administration in spite of its vigorous efforts. Even blue camp supporters are deeply disappointed. The Ma administration is dogged by this image of weakness. Recently a Tokyo Museum poster omitted the word "national," when referring to the Ma sponsored exhibit at the National Palace Museum. Ma took an unusually tough stance on the matter, which took many people by surprise. Hardline Taiwan independence advocates and hardline Chinese reunificationists alike proposed all sorts of conspiracy theories.
Lien Sheng-wen debuted as an unorthodox KMT candidate. But after his nomination, under pressure to reconcile with party elders, his unorthodox image quickly evaporated. Since his nomination, Lien Sheng-wen has appeared before TV cameras on a daily basis. He has become the living embodiment of the lukewarm, overly cautious, and conservative Kuomintang politician. The once young, forthright, and outspoken Lien Sheng-wen, the one who criticized Ma Ying-jeou for exhibiting the traits of the Ming Dynasty, has vanished. He has not regained party elder support. But he has lost those traits that first won him public favor.
Even assuming Lien Sheng-wen still has these qualities, those personality traits alone will not get him elected. After all, he is running for mayor of Taipei. As everyone knows, voters in nation's capitals the world over are picky. Voters in Taipei are no exception. Lien Sheng-wen must prove that he has the leadership to serve as mayor. He must prove that he has the necessary vision and policy blueprint. He must organize a policy implementation team. Unfortunately following Lien Sheng-wen's nomination, this was precisely why people begin to doubt him. As one can probably imagine, Lien Sheng-wen's campaign headquarters is filled with Ma camp people, young, middle-aged, and elderly. Many elders will be eager to help. Mollifying these different groups will be difficult. Acknowleding their seniority and adhering to protocol alone will be a daunting task. Many people are elbowing each other aside in a rush to offer suggestions to Lien Sheng-wen. Lien Sheng-wen has undergone trials and tribulations. His appeal has faded. His charisma has been eroded.
Worse still, he hastily offered a number of policy proposals. He failed to think them through. He underscored his own weaknesses. Take for example his recently launched "New Vision Plan." He proposed that the Civic Center be moved from the Xinyi District to the west end of the Taipei Train Station, as a solution to underdevelopment. Never mind whose idea this was. Anyone familiar with urban planning knows that regional development has nothing to do with where municipal centers are located. Harlem and the rest of Manhattan are regions of New York City. They are poles apart in their degree of development. But no Mayor of New York City is about to move New York City Hall to Harlem. Moving it there would not bring Harlem up to the leve of other parts of Manhattan. The western region of Taipei is underdeveloped. Ma Ying-jeou proposed a solution early during his mayoral campaign. After two-terms as mayor and nearly 18 years time, some of these programs have failed and some have succeeded. But none led to any fundamental change in policy. Lien Sheng-wen needs to do his homework. He must not be in a hurry to offer empty slogans. Doing so will merely underscore his weakness.
Election day is still some time off. Extrapolating from the present in an attempt to predict the future, will only lead to baseless conclusions. Lien Sheng-wen must not become overly-reliant on traditional blue vs. green voter thinking. He must not conclude that being overly cautious and avoiding mistakes will ensure his election. His campaign committee must not adhere to the superstitious belief that history must repeat itself. He must assess his situation, and find a way to win back public support.