Race to the Bottom Election Campaign: Alarm Bells for Taiwan's Democracy
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
October 2, 2014
Executive Summary: The Taipei mayorship has long been regarded as a stepping
stone to the presidency. Recently however, the Taipei mayoral race has
turned into a "race to the bottom." Television and newspaper reports
hardly ever report anything good about Sean Lien and Wen-Je Ko. This
leaves Taipei citizens more anxious than ever. For Sean Lien and Wen-Je Ko, whoever can look into the voters'
hearts, will immediately remove himself from the current "race to the
bottom." He should speak plainly about how he intends to govern Taipei.
He should lead the public towards a happy and prosperous life. He should
win the hearts of the voters.
Full Text Below:
The Taipei mayorship has long been regarded as a stepping stone to the presidency. Recently however, the Taipei mayoral race has turned into a "race to the bottom." Television and newspaper reports hardly ever report anything good about Sean Lien and Wen-Je Ko. This leaves Taipei citizens more anxious than ever. Who will win on November 29? No one can be certain. What is certain is that Ko voters will probably feel little peace of mind, and Lien voters are unlikely to feel much confidence in their candidate.
Many people are voting for Lien, not because they like Sean Lien, but because they cannot accept a blustering, pompous, and sexist Wen-Je Ko. They are afraid that someone like him would be a disaster for Taipei. Those who are voting for Wen-Je Ko do not necessarily believe Wen-Je Ko will be a competent mayor of Taipei. They may simply hate Sean Lien because he represents wealth and privilege.
This election should have been about choosing the best mayor for Taipei. Instead it has become about preventing the worst candidate from becoming mayor for Taipei. Ko has unwittingly become the head of Sean Lien's campaign committee. Lien has unwittingly helped Ko gain votes. Voters are shaking their heads and sighing, wondering how the capital city mayoral election ever came to this?
Past Taipei mayoral elections were not like this. Take former Taipei Mayor Chen Shui-bian, who later became president. Compare him to Ma Ying-jeou, his rival for the mayorship of Taipei. Some voters hated Chen and voted for Ma. Some voters hated Ma and voted for Chen. But most people voted for Chen or Ma because they wanted to, because they believed one or the other would be the best mayor for Taipei. Some were even proud of their vote.
Chen Shui-bian was a star legislator. His interpellations were incisive. He came from a category three impoverished household. Ma Ying-jeou was a Minister of Justice with the courage of his convictions. He never spoke ill of others. His style was more palatable to middle class Taipei voters. These two were political superstars. Even Hau Lung-bin and Frank Hsieh, the loser, or Su Tseng-chang, all held high office. Voters who supported them believed for the most part that they would do a good job if they won. Those perceived as spoilers, Wang Chien-hsuan and James Soong, received few votes. This was not because their ability to govern was in doubt, but because the balance of power among the political parties convinced voters that Ma Ying-jeou was likely to win. Therefore they voted for Ma Ying-jeou.
The election for mayor of the capital has now become an appalling "race to the bottom." What other places are like this? The answer is, give other cities, including New Taipei, Taoyuan, Taichung, Tainan, and Kaohsiung, where all the candidates seem to have been "spirited away." All the news about the Taipei mayoral election has been bad news, but at least there is news, The other five cities are not even being covered. Never mind counties and municipalities outside the six major metropolises.
This shows that democratic elections on Taiwan now face a structural crisis that requires soul-searching by both the ruling and opposition parties, as well as the media and the public.
First of all, the guiding principle of every candidate's campaign committee, in every county and municipality across the island, appears to be "avoid all press coverage." This guiding principle has led to a second guiding principle, "make sure your opponent gets plenty of press coverage." The reason is simple. Any media coverage is bad. Good news is bad news, at least for viewer ratings. Bad news is good news, at least for viewer ratings. Good news does not get reported. Only bad news attracts the spotlight. No wonder campaign committees hope that their own candidate remains hidden in the shadows, and their opponent gets caught in the glare of the klieg lights.
Secondly, this sort of "bad news is good news" norm calls for media soul-searching. Even more importantly, people have lost faith in politicians. All they feel for politics is revulsion or indifference. This is something that all politicians and political parties should reflect upon. More than a few political superstars in the past have been lionized by the voters then swept into office. Have their political records affirmed voter faith? Or have they left voters bitterly disillusioned? Voters have repeatedly lionized candidates and held out high hopes for them, only to be repeatedly disappointed in the end. It is not difficult to understand why they would become deeply skeptical. Any good news about the candidates and their first thought is likely to be, "Here it comes again, more lionization. Spare me."
Say an electric fan is broken. You take it to the appliance repair shop a hundred times for repair. But it never gets restored to working order. One day, you take it to a local snack bar for repair. This seems nonsensical in the extreme. But after a hundred disappointments it may seem like a rational choice. Wen-Je Ko and Sean Lien are political novices. They have generated a political wind, one akin to sending one's fan to the snack bar for repair. But if the appliance repair shop cannot fix the fan, one should not expect much from the snack bar.
Third, on top of voter skepticism, the political parties have failed to cultivate new talent. The mayorship of the capital city is an important position. Yet the candidates fielded by the blue and green camps are novices with almost no municipal level political experience. People cannot help wondering what the ruling and opposition parties have been doing for the past few years?
This may be worrisome, but it is what the year end Taipei mayoral election has come to. No matter how disgusted one might feel, one must face the facts. From a pessimistic perspective, one may not be able to vote for the best candidate. One can only refuse to vote for the worst candidate. Consider this election a costly lesson. The price paid must not be in vain. The ruling and opposition parties, as well as people across the country, must engage in soul searching. Political talent must be cultivated. The political culture must be reformed to inspire public confidence. Taiwan's democratic politics must be rehabilitated. We must restore the core value of democratic elections. We must elect the wise and the able.
For Sean Lien and Wen-Je Ko, whoever can look into the voters' hearts, will immediately remove himself from the current "race to the bottom." He should speak plainly about how he intends to govern Taipei. He should lead the public towards a happy and prosperous life. He should win the hearts of the voters.