Tsung Chi on Taiwan Election

Tsung Chi received his B.A. in political science from National Chengchi University in Taiwan and M.A. and Ph.D. in political science from Michigan State University. He is a professor of Politics Department and chair of East Asian Studies Department at Occidental College in Los Angeles.

Sike Wang CMC'21  interviewed Tsung Chi on January 31st, 2019.

 Observers in China argued that the DPP’s loss was primary due to Tsai Ing-wen’s cross-strait policies, which departed from the public’s will. However, many experts concluded that domestic factors like the economy, anti-incumbent sentiment, and organizational shortcomings of the DPP mattered more. In your opinion, what drove the loss of DPP in the 2018 local elections?

Usually, the factors that lead to the outcome of any election should be multi-faceted. There are many reasons that contributed to DPP’s loss in the local elections in 2018. I will start discussing the most popular one. The first factor is related to the economy. For Taiwanese people, especially the southerners in Kaohsiung, people are suffering from low wages. People in northern Taiwan are living in an environment with high living costs and housing prices. This has led to their dissatisfaction with the current party, the DPP. Besides the economy, there also reasons related to policy. The first policy issue was about pension. The pensions of retired civil servants, public school teachers, and the military were cut badly by Tsai Ing-wen's administration. This situation caused a lot of dismay among Taiwanese voters. Another issue related to the labor policy, namely the number of working days per month. The government of the Tsai Ing-wen, or DPP, basically mishandled this labor reform as well. So the DDP has been reducing the benefits of the laborers as well as retired civil servants. The third reason for the loss in the elections concerned relations with Mainland China. Tsai Ing-wen did not manage this well. Her approach was not welcomed by either the Chinese government or many of the Taiwanese citizens. Taiwan's government has been refusing to recognize the “1992 consensus,” therefore totally dismantling the progress of the cross-strait relations between China and Taiwan. All of these factors explain why the DPP has become unpopular. But the economic factors mattered most because this was a local election, which emphasized conditions within Taiwan more and foreign policy with China and the US much less.


What actions did Tsai undertake to address the defeat of her party? Do you expect her to change direction or make major policy adjustments to strengthen the DPPs chances in the 2020 election?

She did take certain actions to address her defeat. For example, on the day after the electoral loss, Tsai Ing-wen stepped down as the party chair, as we all know. The second action was reorganizing the cabinet, which just happened two weeks ago. As a gesture to address the loss, she replaced the cabinet with a new one. Thirdly, she quickly tried to get in touch with the general public through social media, because she had been criticized for being uninvolved at the grassroots level of Taiwanese society. So in my opinion, she has been reacting after the results of the elections came out.


If Tsai does not change course, what are the likely consequences for the DPP in the next election?

Regardless of whether she changes or not, many people think that the DDP will be very likely to lose next time, which is exactly a year from now, when the 2020 general elections are held.  Although I said earlier that Tsai Ing-wen was trying to be responsive to the poor results of the local elections, it is very unlikely that she and her party will remain in power or remain in the majority in the Taiwanese parliament. They will lose.


Han Kuo-yu, the mayor-elect Kaohsiung, has made forceful appeals to disgruntled working-class laborers and farmers and he has called repeatedly for lowering unemployment. Does the mayor have the ability to deliver on his promises, or is this just hollow rhetoric?

A lot of people in Taiwan as well as in China have been watching the new mayor of Kaohsiung. He took over this position only six weeks ago. It might be too soon to evaluate his performance, but for now, we can tell that he has been very eager to act and gained support from the voters in Kaohsiung. The slogan of Han Kuo-yu during the election in Chinese was: “rang huo chu qu, rang ren jin lai.da jia fa da cai.” (Let products sell. Let people in. Everyone makes big money.) It is very simple language. It says that everyone can get rich by selling products out of and by attracting touristsinto Kaohsiung. So in this regard, he has accomplished at least a small part of his campaign promises. A week ago he struck a deal with the Chinese government to import $US700,000 worth of agricultural products from Kaohsiung to Pingtan Island in China’s Fujian Province. Even though the scale of this deal is small, many people consider it a very healthy beginning to improving relations with Mainland China. So simply put, I think he has the ability to deliver his promises, even  it is still too early to tell.


Who will be the likely candidates of the KMT in the 2020 election? Will the KMT be able to learn from its failure in 2016 and make adjustments before the next election?

Many people consider Eric Chu, the former mayor of New Taipei City, to be the front-runner of KMT in the 2020 election.  But I think there's some likelihood, no matter how remote, that the mayor of Kaohsiung, Han Kuo-yu, would be running. But at this moment it is still uncertain because the election will be exactly one year away. From today's perspective, Eric Chu is a likely candidate, but we cannot rule out the possibility of Han running’s running as well.

For the second part of your question, yes—they can learn from their failures. Back in 2016, the loss of the KMT can be primarily attributed to two factors. First, the KMT was very unpopular with its policy toward Mainland China. As we talked about earlier, KMT’s recognition of the “1992 Consensus” was not very popular at that time. However, three years later, we now know the consequences of the mishandling of this policy by Tsai Ing-weng’s government.  It is going nowhere without recognizing the “1992 Consensus”. So I think the KMT would come back to emphasize the importance of the “1992 Consensus” again because that is the only way to go, whether the Taiwanese like it or not. Second, the intra-party struggle among the leaders of KMT is another significant issue. Three years ago this party was dealing with a lot of chaos and dramas during the nomination process. That chaos contributed to the reason that the Taiwanese people largely disliked the top leaders of the KMT, including Eric Chu. Right now they're at the beginning stage of the presidential nomination process. They have been very careful and trying to minimize the level of conflict for the sake of unity. I think they have learned their lesson.


Do you foresee any major changes in policy or in Taiwanese society if KMT is eventually elected?

From today's perspective it seems that the KMT is likely to win next year’s election. By and large, I don't think they will make any major changes, like a breakthrough in the relationship with China, or any other monumental policies. However, it is likely for the KMT to overturn the pension policy. The key KMT supporters are civil servants, teachers, and the military. So the KMT would remedy the problems of the current pension policy imposed upon these people by the DPP. It is almost for sure that they wouldl do it. Secondly, the KMT will likely go back to the “1992 Consensus”. As I mentioned before, this policy would become popular among the Taiwanese because they don't have other choices. Looking at the big picture, Taiwan has been caught in the middle between the two superpowers, China and the US. People call it “a tug of war.” On the one hand, Taiwan needs to side with the US to deal with China. On the other hand, Taiwan is too close to China to be independent, yet it is too far away from China to be a part of it. So this bizarre situation would  continue. They don’t have a choice. They have to deal with China.

Sike Wang CMC '21Student Journalist

Opposition Nationalist Kuomintang Party (KMT) Kaohsiung mayoral candidate Han Kuo-yu celebrates after winning in local elections, in Kaohsiung, Taiwan November 24, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

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