Friday, August 27, 2010

Five Cities Election Battles, Retail and Wholesale

Five Cities Election Battles, Retail and WholesaleUnited Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
August 27, 2010

Internal divisions have appeared within the Green Camp over two mayoral races in southern Taiwan. But these divisions have not benefitted the Blue Camp. In fact the Blue Camp appears to have bogged down even in the two mayoral races in northern Taiwan. Some inside the KMT are concerned. If their candidates cannot increase their lead over the DPP by September, they had better be prepared for defeat. The Ma administration is proud of ECFA. Taiwan has experienced two consecutive quarters of double-digit economic growth. Therefore the low morale within the ruling party is surprising.

For the KMT, the chaos of the Five Cities Elections means public opinion has been hard to fathom. It also means the KMT has failed to generate any enthusiasm among the public. Therefore the Blue Camp has not gained as much advantage in the north as expected. Instead of complaining about voter indifference though, the KMT should reexamine its election strategy and ask if it has done enough to cultivate voter support. Sources within the party have revealed that the next round of campaign appeals will focus on cross-Strait and foreign affairs. These and other issues are the "Green Camp's Achilles Heel." The KMT will target Su Tseng-chang and Tsai Ing-wen, and hit them hard. Whether this tactic will work is uncertain, but it is worth exploring.

The Five Cities Elections can be regarded as a prelude to the 2012 Presidential Election. But basically they are local elections. Escalating the debate to the level of cross-Strait and foreign affairs may allow the KMT to check their opponents. But it will not necessarily allow the KMT to inspire a sense of urgency among its constituents. Su and Tsai both served as vice premier. Tsai Ing-wen is the chairman of the main opposition party. The Blue Camp can play their cross-Strait and foreign affairs cards. It can highlight the contradictions and weaknesses in the DPP candidates' election platforms. But in the mayoral elections, voters are more concerned about governance, expansion, and growth at the municipal level. If Su and Tsai can inspire people at the municipal level, voters may not care about their extremist views on cross-Strait and foreign affairs. After all, this is a mayoral election, not a presidential election.

Signing ECFA and improving cross-Strait relations is one of the Ma administration's crowning achievements. Follow-up economic effects can also be expected. But from a political perspective, after two years of setbacks, ECFA's marginal utility is close to exhausted. As the theme of the Five Cities Election, the issue is too old and tired. Besides, what inspires voters on Taiwan has never been glowing reports on the status quo, but shining visions of the future. From this perspective, no matter how much the Blue Camp may play up progress in cross-Strait relations, it is still only playing defense. The Green Camp can easily assume the offensive. It can easily claim that ECFA is merely a "pie in the sky," and will merely "increase the gap between rich and poor." The Ma administration's political achievements can be instantly transformed into public grievances. This is one of the cruel paradoxes of popular elections. It has proven true for the past 20 years, and there is no room for naivete.

By contrast, the DPP has treated the election as a local level campaign from day one. It never intended to make it a central government issue. It adopted a very different strategy. This is the advantage of being in the opposition. One need not lay out a larger framework. One need only zero in on weaknesses in the ruling party's governance. Doing so is enough to create a media effect and attract voter attention. Put simply, the KMT has launched a "wholesale war" at the central government level. The DPP meanwhile, is fighting a one on one "retail war" at the local government level. The entire nation is looking at these elections. But they are elections filled with local color. Who will emerge victorious? That will depend on the wisdom and adaptability of the two parties.

Given voter apathy, the KMT may need to alter its strategy. It may need to fight a "retail war." Only then can it narrow the distance between itself and local voters. The Blue Camp has always been less adept at offense than the Green Camp. It has always been less adept at spinning the issues. If its candidates blindly obey party leaders, they may find it even more difficul to underscore their individual merits. The most obvious example is Su Chih-fen's handling of the Number Six Naphtha Cracking Plant issue. The KMT watched helplessly as Green Camp apostate Yang Chui-hsing hijacked this "anti-business" issue. Clearly KMT candidates are sorely deficient in flexibility. Among the Blue Camp candidates, Jason Hu is is the most self-assured. This has much to do with his personal image. He is a bona fide expert in local retail sales.

There is a saying in American politics. All politics is local. It means one must meet the voters where one governs. One must speak the language they understand. One must implement policies they understand. One cannot say that the Five Cities Elections are not heating up. So why are voters so apathetic? The problem is candidates have yet to fully exploit the local level retail market. The ruling and opposition parties have yet to understand the needs and aspirations of their local constituents. They do not know what they should be selling. Yang Chiu-hsing left the DPP. If nothing else, he issued a bold challenge to the people of Kaohsiung. He offered voters a third way. Meanwhile, voters in the two cities of northern Taiwan have been presented with a surrogate for the presidential election. No one seems to know whether the candidates intend to complete their terms of office. The candidates are unwilling to promise they will not run off in the middle of their terms. No wonder voters are disaffected.

To overcome voter apathy, the KMT must change its one size fits all, wholesale level campaign strategy. It must be more flexible and responsive, closer to its local constituents. If it insists on campaigning on the basis of high-profile issues such as cross-Strait and foreign relations, it may well end up singing to an empty hall.

2010.08.27 03:15 am









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