Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Oct 22 2010

It’s that time again

It’s that time again…the five city mayor elections are scheduled for November 27th, and things have already gotten fairly interesting. The cities and counties of Taichung, Kaohsiung and Tainan are consolidating into greater municipalities, while Taipei County is being elevated to municipality status under the new name of Xinbei City, one of the few cities that surround another city, in this case Taipei.

The biggest upset so far happened a while back when two-term Kaohsiung County Magistrate Yang Qiu-xing took umbrage at the DPP’s primary methods and decided to run for the mayor of Greater Kaohsiung as in independent against DPP elder Chen Chu. Yang is a local boy, born and bred in Kaohsiung County, while Chen is from Yilan. Yang has always won handily, while Chen squeaked by after accusing her opponent of vote-buying in the media on election day. But Chen is big in the DPP, so that was the party’s decision, and she’s been leading in the polls so far. The KMT’s candidate is so far behind in the polls that it’s not even worth mentioning her.

Now, however, James Soong has come out of the woodwork in support of Yang, just to shake things up a bit. Whether this will give Yang a fighting chance or not is difficult to say, but Soong’s broadside isn’t hard to understand; the KMT has come out against candidates formerly of Soong’s People First Party, an offshoot of the KMT, campaigning for other PFP candidates. Soong also has little love for the Taipei mayoral candidate, Hau Lung-bin, whom he ran against and lost last time around. Hau’s status as a former New Party chairman doesn’t exactly endear him to Soong either.

The DPP candidate for Taipei City, Su Zhen-chang, took advantage of Soong’s anmity for Hau by announcing recently that “James Soong agrees with me” in his criticism of Hau’s administration. Although this is most likely just part of Su’s strategy, I wouldn’t rule out Soong openly endorsing Su if the KMT continues to piss him off. Between allegations of corruption on an overpass project and being on Soong’s bad side, I’d say Hau’s chances of winning are looking pretty slim.

The Xinbei candidate, Eric Chu, doesn’t have any problem with Soong, but his victory over DPP chairwoman and former vice-premier Tsai Ying-wen is less than certain. She is seen as a moderate and is lagging only slightly behind Chu in the polls. In Taichung, sadly, Jason Hu’s doddering figure still leads, as the DPP didn’t bother to put up a strong candidate there. Either Su or even Frank Hsieh could have handily beaten him, but Su is after bigger fish, and Hsieh’s been busy with his own political troubles lately. Tainan will almost certainly go to the DPP, as always, though for a while there was speculation that mayor Hsu Tian-cai would follow Yang’s lead and run as an independent.

If the KMT loses two of the five contested positions and Yang creates an effective tie by winning Kaohsiung, the KMT will call it a tie and move on. However, if they lose three, President Ma will be in a bad position, probably forced to step down as KMT chairman, and if they lose four of the elections, there is the possibility that Ma will be forced to decline to run in the 2012 presidential election. Of course, in this case, the KMT will be in a bad way, and whomever steps up will have to be ready for an election gift-wrapped for the DPP (if the DPP plays its cards right…Tsai has hinted that she plans to run, and Su Zhen-chang, though he has promised to serve out his term if elected Taipei mayor, is another possibility). Who in the KMT could possibly be up to the task? Premier Wu Den-yi would almost certainly have to shoulder part of the burden of the election losses, and is an enemy of Soong. Eric Chu, while friendly to Soong and half Taiwanese and half mainlander, is not yet 50 years old and doesn’t have enough leadership experience. Vice president Vincent Siew is probably not even well enough to accompany Ma on another election campaign, much less run himself.

My suggestion would be Wang Jin-pyng, the current legislative speaker. He’s got plenty of experience, has kept a careful distance from Ma, is Taiwanese, and knows how to delegate and share power better than Ma has done. Once in office, Ma appointed deep blue New Party people, all mainlanders and his people, to head most of the major government departments, stirring up not a little antagonism throughout both sides of the political fence, and taking the party in a direction with which not all the members are happy, particularly Wu Po-hsiung, whom he replaced as party chairman. Ma trusts only a small group of close associates, and decisions are far from transparent. Wang obviously anticipated this when he turned down Ma’s offer of the VP post in 2008; he didn’t want to go down with the ship.

If Wang, with the support of once-again-best-friends-forever Lee Teng-hui and James Soong, chooses Eric Chu as his VP candidate, the KMT might just have a shot at making a reality of at least some of the reforms it talks about making. It won’t be easy, though. And in politics, anything can happen at any moment. Something could happen tomorrow that turns this whole analysis on its head. But that’s all part of the game, I guess.

posted by Poagao at 10:14 pm  
Mar 23 2008

A historic day

Prince Roy wanted to watch me vote, for some reason. He was touring polling stations around town with his AIT pass, so he came down to Bitan and came to the station down here to talk with some of the officials while I cast my ballot in the presidential elections. As usual, nobody stared, pointed, commented or indicated in any way that they thought my participation was anything but completely normal.

Afterwards we had a nice lunch at Rosemary’s Kitchen, overlooking the construction chaos, and then retired to the Water Curtain Cave to watch TV news reporters give their Oscar-night commentary about various celebrities at the poll stations for a while before PR had to leave to catch some more hot vote-on-vote action. I, on the other hand, went downtown to while away the hours before the election results were announced at a badminton competition with my friend Xian-rui, who is also into badminton and quite a good player. The finals weren’t until the next day, but I’d never been to a badminton competition so it was interesting to see. Kind of made me wish I’d taken up the sport at an earlier age, though.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the election, however, and kept checking the Central Election Commission’s website for the latest count after the polls closed at 4pm. Ma Ying-jeou got an early lead, but I recalled that that didn’t necessarily mean anything (Lien Chan also had an early lead in 2004), so I decided to log off and wait instead of torturing myself by checking every few minutes.

Xian-rui had to go to the gym to work off some election-day jitters, so I sat outside the Starbucks amid the mosquitoes, looking at the huge screen on the new stadium. On the second floor, a crowd of people surrounded the TV set, watching the latest poll counts. The only last-minute tactic the DPP had left, it seemed, was to drape as many surfaces of the city as possible with banners claiming that Chinese workers bearing AK-47s would be flooding the island and putting everyone out of a job tomorrow morning, and Ma, who is actually an American, would then fly off to his Haight-Ashbury mansion, where he would sip tea with his pinkie in the air just so.

I hoped that such tactics wouldn’t work, as the negative campaign focusing entirely on niggling doubts and minor transgressions allegedly committed by the other candidates’ wife and family members 30 years ago just made Hsieh seem like a petty little man who had nothing to say about what kind of president he would be. I have to admit I was expecting a much better campaign from the DPP.

Apparently so were most other people. I checked the numbers again, and Ma was still ahead. Way ahead. A call to Prince Roy confirmed that it was indeed a landslide, and he was headed over to the Ma-Siew headquarters to case the scene there. I decided to join him. On the way, every TV screen facing the street was surrounded by a crowd of onlookers. When I saw fireworks being set off around the city, I knew that Ma had attained an unassailable lead.

Xiaonanmen Station, I believe, had never seen the amount of traffic it saw last night, as it was the nearest MRT station. I followed the crowds and the noise to the intersection of Zhonghua and Aiguo roads (note the symbolism of the names), where a huge throng surrounded the stage and spilled out across both roads. Fireworks were being set off, and it seemed that every person there had purchased at least one of those irritating air horns you see at baseball games here. I bought three ROC flags for NT$100 and stuck them in my backpack, and then, fingers in my ears to block the noise, accompanied PR into the fray.

Ma winsIt was madness. I half expected to see a huge statue of Chen Shui-bian, dressed in an Emporer Palpatine-like robe, being toppled. People were waving flags, setting off fireworks, shouting and even dancing. KMT officials were making speeches on stage, punctuated by huge applause and more air horns. I looked at the CEC site to find that Ma had officially won by a whopping 2.2 millon votes, or 17%. The crowd went nuts. Everyone was very friendly, even apologizing to each other when pushing through the dense crowd. “That’s a great flag!” a man called out to me, pointing to the flags sticking out of my backpack and giving me a thumbs-up sign.

“It’s my flag!” I called back at him.

After listening to some of the speeches, PR and I retreated, ears aching, back to the little South Gate. As it happened, this was apparently the pick-up/drop-off area for high-ranking officials. We saw chairman Wu Poh-hsiung, legislative speaker Wang Jin-pyng and PFP chairman James Soong getting into their cars. I managed to shake hands with Wang and Soong, while PR snapped some nice shots. It was amazing how accessible these guys are, actually. I refrained from asking Wang if he regretted turning down the vice-presidential spot or inquiring whether Soong was feeling at all jealous. Didn’t seem quite appropriate.

Later, Wayne and Grace appeared, followed by Maoman and Vanessa, and eventually Mark and David. We chatted by the gate while policemen milled around us, unconcerned about the big bag o’ beer Maoman had brought along. At one point a woman who apparently didn’t have any teeth tapped on Vanessa’s shoulder, wanting to express her joy at Ma’s victory to a complete stranger. “Oh, it’s been such a hard eight years!” I’m pretty sure she said. The lack of teeth made it kind of hard to tell. Maoman and Vanessa both turned away from the woman and looked at me, and I wondered if I was expected to come up with some kind of way to get rid of the unwelcome guest. Fortunately, however, she took the hint and continued her search for another stranger to talk to.

We all realized, seemingly simultaneously, that we hadn’t eaten since lunch, so we took the subway to the Shi-da area, where we had some middle eastern food at a place called Baba Kababa. I had two pitas, which were good, but the pitas weren’t on the same level as Sababa. It was sort of like the Wonder Bread version of a pita. But the chicken/potato/eggplant filling was delicious. The table next to us was quite boisterous, but it had nothing to do with the election; they were celebrating someone’s birthday.

Outside, it had finally started to rain. The weather forecasters had predicted rain, and some people worried that it would affect the elections, but the day had been very nice up to that point. We retired, stuffed with pitas and other things, to the park along Shi-da Road. Daniel showed up and pried Mark with computer questions. The rain was coming down harder on the roof of the pavilion under which we stood. As the beers ran out, one-by-one, people left, until only PR, Mark, Daniel and I remained.

Now, of course, the hard work begins. I wonder if the first thing president-elect Ma thought when he woke up this morning wasn’t actually “It wasn’t a dream; I really won!” but rather, “Damn, now I have to actually do all the things I promised!” I guess we’ll find out. Interesting times, to be sure.

posted by Poagao at 2:53 am  
Mar 19 2008

Three Days to Go

electionOk, this incident was really confusing; why would KMT legislators do something so potentially damaging to their own campaign efforts? It just didn’t make sense, so I did a little digging. Apparently, the legislative committee was questioning the head of First Bank about what part of its building the DPP was renting, the rates and so one, and the guy said “The first three floors.” The committee knew that they were also using the 13th floor, and said so, but the bank’s general manager said it wasn’t so.

Now, a week before that, or two weeks ago, the DPP had similar concerns about Ma’s campaign office, which is rented from the city government, so a group of DPP city councilors went to Ma’s campaign HQ to investigate, and were allowed to, but they found nothing suspicious, and the issue was quickly forgotten.

So these four lawmakers said to the general manager and the Minister of Finance, which is the authority concerned for state bank properties, “Come with us and we’ll take a look.” When they got there, they took the elevator to the 13th floor, but were blocked from getting off. So they went down to the 3rd floor, where they were not only blocked from getting off the elevator, the staff cut the power and kept the elevator there for half an hour while the DPP called up a mob of people to come and gather downstairs.

After half an hour, they were allowed to go down to the first floor, where they found a large group of hostile people, and it seems one of the legislators called the police. The crowd attempted to beat the legislators and seriously damaged the police car that arrived on the scene when after they got inside.

Afterwards, the press had a field day with the story. The party whip resigned his position, and the Finance Minister stepped down as a result. Ma issued a formal apology and condemned the violence, but Hsieh took umbrage at Ma’s statement. “It wasn’t violence,” Hsieh said. “Can you say a girl slapping a man trying to rape her is committing an act of violence?”

For a while I wondered if this was our Bizarre Event, but it didn’t seem to be the case, as it was too small in scale and effect, and if the DPP had truly planned it, they wouldn’t have needed to keep the legislators at the campaign headquarters while they called people over. Also, Hsieh is continuing to attack Ma over an alleged green card. We only have three days left, so look for a slew of allegations flying back and forth, some of which are bound to be entertaining, at least. I’m guessing someone is going to “reveal” some scandal or document soon. Let’s just hope we don’t have any more violence.

So far, this election itself is almost a bizarre event. I still maintain that Hsieh could have run a much better campaign had he taken a page from Obama’s campaign and exercised his considerable charisma in convincing people of his own merits rather than continuously harping on Ma and his family. Ma has been remarkably restrained in returning the attacks, but then again he has been promising everything under the sun to everybody and his dog, promises that seem impossible to keep even under the best of circumstances. In my opinion, neither candidate has made it clear that they are up to the monumental task the next leader of Taiwan faces. This election is the closest I’ve come to being an undecided voter in many years. And we have three days left.

So fasten your seatbelts, boys and girls. Something tells me it’s going to be a bumpy night.

posted by Poagao at 4:21 am  
Mar 05 2008

Election musing

packagedIt’s that time again, the always-interesting month before the presidential elections in Taiwan, a time when all sorts of interesting and unlikely things tend to occur. Right now we’re in the usual DPP-is-behind-with-little-hope-of-winning phase, which is in general followed by the Bizarre-Event stage and a Come-from-behind DPP victory. Shortly thereafter we’ll all sit back and enjoy the KMT-protest-drama stage, followed by tea and cakes on the veranda.

What’s a little unusual this time around is just how far behind the DPP is, the seemingly counter-intuitive negative campaigning of the DPP, as well as the lack of ill-advised campaigning on the KMT’s part. All of these were surprises to me, as the DPP has shown itself to be much better at running campaigns in the past than it’s been showing these days, and the KMT has always run clumsy, ineffective campaigns in the past. However, this time it seems that Hsieh is spending all of his time digging through Ma’s past and coming up with allegations that his wife stole newspapers from a school library when she was a student or that his sister cheated on a test in college. He’s been warning against electing a KMT president as the KMT already dominates the legislature, but I’m pretty sure everyone realizes that, had the DPP won a majority in the legislative elections, Hsieh wouldn’t be discouraging people from voting him on the same principle. All in all, it comes across as pretty desperate, and I can’t imagine who would be swayed by these tactics. Ma has shown considerable restraint so far; I’ve heard many deep-blues criticize him for not attacking Hsieh in a similar fashion. To me, however, one of the most encouraging things about Ma is the disdain the more radical elements of the KMT show for him.

And then there’s the whole green-card issue, which is really a non-issue. Even AIT has posted statements reminding people of what everyone already knows, i.e. that green cards do actually expire if you don’t use them, but Hsieh’s response to such statements basically amounts to LALALALAI’MNOTLISTENINGLALALA. The fact that Hsieh is continuing to harp on this issue despite poll after poll, even those by pro-independence organizations, indicating people just don’t care about it, makes me suspect that he has something up his sleeve, something to be sprung just before the election, something plausible enough to sway voters and can withstand scrutiny at least until the votes are counted.

I realize that that sounds a bit mean of me to say. The reason I’m suspicious, however, is because that’s just what happened when Hsieh was elected Kaohsiung Mayor. Just before the election an audiotape was released containing a rather indelicate conversation between a female reporter and Hsieh’s opponent, incumbent mayor Wu Den-yih, who was ahead in the polls at the time. By the time the tape was discovered to be fake, Hsieh was safely ensconced in the mayor’s office, and an underling took the fall. So such an action wouldn’t be without precedent.

Will that be the Bizarre Event? I doubt it, actually. Ma’s already warned against such a possibility, and the only people who would be swayed by this at that point would be the listeners of the illegal radio station network in rural southern districts, and most of that crowd votes DPP anyway.

Still, it’s an intriguing possibility. The DPP’s 2/28 rally was lackluster and didn’t draw the huge crowds that could have turned the tide for the DPP. Everyone was expecting the silver-tongued Hsieh to walk all over Ma in the first debate, but the opposite was the case, to many’s surprise, including my own. That couldn’t be a very confidence-inspiring performance for Hsieh, and there’s no telling if the DPP is harboring any desperate measures for a last-ditch push. All that’s left for the DPP, media-wise, is the events they are planning the week before the election to commemorate China’s anti-secession law of three years ago. It was hugely successful for them in 2005, but I’m wondering if people can be motivated to care that much about it today. It’s their last chance for publicity, though, so I’m expecting them to make as good a show of it as they possibly can.

Another interesting thing is what former President Lee Teng-hui said recently, namely, that if the DPP were not elected, it would put Taiwan back 20 years. On the surface, it sounds like he’s stumping for the DPP, even though he has also said Taiwan elected the wrong person (Chen) in 2000. But if you think about it, why did he choose 20 years, not 30 or 50, back during the martial law era? In reality, Lee himself was president 20 years ago, and things were looking up, politically, economically and socially. As I recall, it was a time of optimism, social order and steady economic development. My take on Lee’s statement is that it is actually a veiled endorsement of the KMT, something he can’t say bluntly due to the criticism he’d get for it. In any case, Lee’s influence is on the wane, and I’m not sure his endorsement would make much of a difference either way.

In any case, there’s only a few weeks left. Whatever the DPP has planned for its “come-from-behind” strategy, it had better be good. Everyone’s waiting.

posted by Poagao at 4:22 am  
Feb 20 2008

Meh

I’ve been wandering around in a haze for the past week since I got back. Last Friday I went to the doctor when my cold wasn’t going away, and he gave me meds for a severe sinus and throat infection, pretty heavy meds, too. So there’s not much to report. Much of my trip detritus still litters the floor of my apartment where I dumped it when I got back, along with my laundry. I’m only getting a few photos up each day.

The weather here is cold -not Tokyo cold, but not exactly beach weather- and grey. There was some occasional sun over the weekend, but I was in no state to go out and enjoy it. My apologies to everyone who has invited me out recently; I’m just not in the mood, preferring to huddle in the Cave drinking hot ginger tea. I’ve been managing to make it in to work and back home each day, but that’s about it. I haven’t been to tai-chi practice in weeks. I stupidly tried some badminton on Monday night, but of course that turned out to be a really bad idea, one I’m still paying for.

So, some observations.

1. The Kenwood C711 in-ear earphones I bought in Tokyo are really good with the iPod, better than the Sennheiser CX300s or the Sony EX71s. The only way I was able to discern this was because electronics stores in Tokyo allow people to try things out, as there are no applicable reviews online, and hearing is highly subjective. The Shure e2cs everyone raves about online sound like utter crap to my ears. It’s a good thing I didn’t buy into the online reviews and tried them myself.

2. The more I think about it, the more I tend to think that maybe a great camera should be something we ignore instead of admire. When you see a fellow shooting with a little older point-and-shoot, maybe instead of thinking, “What the hell is he going to do with that?” we should instead be impressed that he’s trying to get good shots out of such a basic camera. When we see someone with a new full-frame DSLR, instead of being impressed, we should hold them up to much higher standards at the very least. I’m wondering if, before long, cameras will all be so advanced that no one will ever have to worry about exposure, aperture, shutter times, or any of that any more; everything will be taken care of. I can even imagine cameras that automatically compose shots for you or alert you to a photogenic person or situation in the vicinity. What will we think of people who have the first wave of such cameras in the future? Will we look up to them or just curse their relative purchasing power? Sometimes it seems like today we retain the vestiges of an era where only good photographers tended to have good cameras, but is that the case any more? I doubt it.

3. I’m thinking I really should just sell my motorcycle. It’s not that I particularly need the money; someone else would probably enjoy the bike a lot more than I have been, as I simply never ride it. I did just make a large house payment, though. And the trip needs to be paid for.

4. Surely Frank Hsieh has something more on Ma Ying-jeou than the fact that he had a green card when he was a student in the US? Or that his sister cheated on an exam in 1968? All of this hinting around that Ma is actually a closet US citizen just makes Hsieh look like an idiot. I had expected a much better campaign than this from him and the DPP. I am, however, still waiting for the usual pre-election weird thing to happen. We’ve got a month to go, though, so there’s plenty of time.

5. The high-rise apartments above the Xindian MRT station across the river from me have, I believe, finally topped out at a pretty lofty height. They’re huge. I’m wondering just how that monster is going to change the demographics of Bitan, with a large influx of office workers and upper-class families living in this previously mostly working-class neighborhood, not to mention with the ongoing renovation project of the riverbanks and the bridge. Hopefully we’ll at least get a Blockbuster or Asia1 video rental store out of the deal.

In any case, all of this is just semi-addled musing. I hope to be back on track soon-ish.

posted by Poagao at 5:43 am  
Dec 07 2007

Barbarians at the Gate

protest gateI was going to name this post “20 years at CKS Hall”, but it hasn’t quite been that long since I sat for four days and three nights in the large square between the opera house and the concert hall as part of the “Wild Lily” student protest in early 1990. Of course, your perspective changes as you get older, but I couldn’t help but recall those times when I saw the protests against President and DPP Chairman Chen Shui-bian’s moves to change the name of the hall and remove the inscription from the main gate in the run-up to legislative and presidential elections.

I knew about the appropriation of the inane title “Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall” (is Democracy spread out on a slab inside now? Maybe they’ll put it where CKS’ Cadillacs used to be), but I didn’t know about the latest developments in the DPP’s campaign to remove the characters “Da Zhong Zhi Zheng” that allude to the formal title of late President Chiang Kai-shek until the government announced that it now had jurisdiction over the hall and would commence with the move on Thursday. The DPP’s choice to replace the offending inscription is the painfully unoriginal title of “Liberty Square”.

protestI noticed a few protesters sitting under the massive gate as I walked by on Tuesday evening after badminton practice, so I went over to talk to them. A couple of them were dressed in red from head to foot, and they had improvised a small fake “shrine” to Chen Shui-bian with a cardboard sign predicting that anyone who took down the inscription would suffer a stroke, just as controversial Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu did after doing something similar down there. They huddled in the cold wind and sat on cardboard, waiting just in case the DPP was planning to jump the gun and tear down the inscription in the middle of the night.

I didn’t have my 20D on me at the time, so I went back the next evening with it and took some pictures. The number of protesters had grown, but it was by no means a massive crowd. The media practically outnumbered them. The protesters were a motley group and included serious young men, dumpy middle-aged housewives and one dapper elderly gentleman with white hair wearing a black overcoat and red scarf, looking not unlike a Chinese Peter O’Toole. Another man wore camos and boots. “The Second-wave Anti-Chen Movement: Now is the Time for a Million People to Bravely Take to the Streets!” read his placard. Police barricaded the main memorial stairs and milled around, apparently not sure what they were doing there. I went up to one officer and asked, but he looked away, ignoring me. I picked out another, apparently senior officer, and asked him what the workmen were doing. “I don’t know,” he said. “We’ve just got orders to be here to ‘assist’.”

There weren’t even a hundred protesters, much less a million, of course. Most people know that the move is purely for election uses, to gain the support of our deep-green friends down south as well as goad the deep-blue contingent into making themselves look bad on TV. At one point yesterday a small truck ran into the crowd, which had spilled out onto the streets after police put up a barbed-wire barricade around the gate, seriously injuring a cameraman. Police are investigating whether or not it was on purpose.

forbiddenI went back to the gate last night to take another look, and the gate was still behind barbed wire and barriers reading “Safety First”. The politically incorrect characters had been torn off in the afternoon by a couple of workers who took hours and many tools to wrest them from the gate, though their imprint could still be seen on the stone surface. The workers had painted over the company name on the crane before the job.

That night, police and reporters still lingered on the scene, chatting and playing chess on makeshift tables by the TV trucks. Only a handful of protesters remained, however, moving a single ROC flag around in front of the wall of barbed wire and taking pictures of the empty space.

posted by Poagao at 12:20 pm  
Aug 23 2007

If the KMT wanted to win

Somebody asked me the other night who I thought would win the 2008 presidential election, Hsieh or Ma? I said Hsieh.

Here’s why: The DPP is simply better at election campaigning than the KMT. The DPP can take any kind of piss-poor governance record and stand it on its head, while the KMT can (and does) do the exact opposite, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in the last two elections. Poor advertising, poor choice of candidates, just bad management of the whole campaign. The DPP’s Hsieh and Su were forced to recognize that, in the face of a not-guilty verdict in Ma’s corruption trial, that the only chance they stood of defeating him was to put aside their considerable differences and previous conflict and run on the same ticket. If Wang Jin-pyng had agreed to run with Ma, the KMT would stand a very good change at winning. But Wang turned Ma’s offer down, time after time. Some say he was duped by false rumors of a guilty verdict for Ma. I’d think if he were that easily duped, maybe he shouldn’t be in consideration. Most likely, I’m guessing, was that tantalizing vision of his own presidential candidacy.

The DPP gave Yeh Chu-lan the party’s secretary-general position as a consolation prize after Hsieh was forced to pick Su over her. But over on the KMT’s side, Ma doesn’t have a grip on all the party factions, all laboring under the illusion of a certain KMT victory. Wang having basically sunk the KMT’s chances over a matter of personal pride, Ma picked Vincent Siao as his running mate. A better choice would probably have been former Kaohsiung Mayor Wu Den-yih, who, although he has his enemies, is at least on the radar and a good ten years younger than Siao. Perhaps some deal was made to pacify certain old-guard factions of the KMT with a VP position for Siao. I think I see Lien Chan’s icy touch here.

I still think the election is the KMT’s to win, if they really wanted to. The steps are pretty obvious. First and foremost, change the party’s Chinese name to remove the “China” part of it, and make it match the English “Kuomintang” moniker. It would be a big statement of their localization efforts, and they wouldn’t even have to change the English stationary and letterheads. In fact, I have half a mind to march into KMT headquarters and tell them “If you change your Chinese name to just the ‘Nationalist Party’, I’ll sign up right now.”

Another thing they should do, though this could have a limited effect at this point, is invent a “personal crisis” for Vincent Siao and get Wang Jin-pyng on the ticket as Ma’s running mate. Though I personally don’t see much difference between the two as to their abilities, Wang has the greater following in the center and south. The party assets issue needs to be put to rest as well. Also, though I know Ma speaks basic Taiwanese and understands the language, he really needs to improve on this front. The man has lived in Taiwan since he was a baby; he should certainly be able to speak better than, say, I can.

Finally, they need to spend a little money and hire a competent campaign director. Someone who actually knows what he or she is doing. The DPP have run brilliant campaigns both in 2000 and 2004, and there’s no doubt they’re prepared to do everything they can to win this time, and you can be sure that includes paying for a sleek, top-notch, international standard campaign, with moving slogans, compelling commercials and heart-felt exhortations designed to compel anyone and everyone to vote their way. Though the economic angle is a good one, the KMT’s clumsy, cheap and anachronistic appeals have not served them well in the past; it’s really time to retire them. The party needs to stop trying to “balance” the deep greens and play more to the center.

But will they do any of these things? The election is also the KMT’s to lose, and so far it looks like it will be too late before they wake up to that fact.

posted by Poagao at 11:17 pm  
Aug 14 2007

Police station removal protest

meetingI saw on a notice posted in the elevator of my building that a meeting was being held for area residents, government officials and police personnel to “explain” why the only police station in the area is scheduled to be removed. I have some amount of sympathy for this cause and had the morning free, so I hopped on the free shuttle bus along with 30 or so other residents and walked to the activity center off Ankang Road where the meeting was being held.

I was told to sign my name, and was issued a booklet containing the details of the situation, which I browsed through after sitting down to wait for the meeting to start. Apparently the police station has been around since 1973, when less than two thousand people lived in the area. Today we have over 11,000 residents, a number that will certainly rise when the new complex over the MRT opens. I know that there used to be a police station next to the old Xindian Train Station, located where the MRT terminal is today, but nowadays the nearest police station on that side of the river is way up Beixin Road.

I noticed that nobody was sitting in the front row of folding metal chairs, so I moved up and sat there, surrounded by three tables’ worth of various officials, including several country council people, city council people, borough chiefs and a couple of legislators. A glaringly empty seat in the center of it all was reserved for the police representative.

This absence was the subject of much scorn when the meeting was called to order. “I didn’t just tell the chief of police about this meeting yesterday, you know,” the County Councilman Tseng Cheng-ho said. “I told him about it on August 1st. He said he could come, and if he couldn’t come, he’d send his second-in-charge.”

One by one, the officials spoke out against the removal of the police office. Most of the complaints centered around public safety. Some people mentioned that Bitan is a major tourist attraction and that a police presence was necessary. The “Six-Star Healthy Community” plan from a couple of years ago was trotted out and quoted. Some of the speakers were boring, but a couple of guys really got into the protester spirit and whipped the audience’s indignation into a near frenzy.

Then it was time for comments from residents. Most of the people there were older residents who didn’t have day jobs, but they could still shout quite loudly. Many accusations of the police only caring about promotions at the expense of The People were hurled about. I wondered if anyone would ask me to speak, and mentally prepared a few points just in case, including the popularity of the Bitan Suspension Bridge for would-be suicide cases, and the opening of the new complex above the MRT terminus. I wondered how much Taiwanese I should use. Most of the speakers began in Mandarin and only switched to Taiwanese when they wanted to express a more emotional plea.

Luckily, nobody called on me. It was just as well, as the police representative had finally shown up, an older smiling man who seemed to be the assistant chief of police.

The police rep explained that the removal of the station was part of a greater plan that would supposedly increase general coverage and more police on the street. “Because when criminals see police officers,” he said helpfully, “they won’t engage in crime.” So nice that criminals only think about committing crimes when they see police officers, I thought. I suppose they don’t have a problem committing crimes in a neighborhood near a police station. The representative also mentioned a lack of manpower and funding, charges the legislators and council people said could be dealt with. Cries of “OBJECTION!” flew from the residents. The woman behind me was especially bent on having her say, starting in on a tirade about how the police were “keeping her down.” The police rep ignored them. He did go on to say that a station would be built inside the new complex over the MRT station, which would answer at least one of my own objections.

The meeting lasted until after 11am, with nothing really resolved. The legislators said they would take the “results” of the meeting back to the Legislature, and the council people said they would report back to the council. Hopefully someone will be able to do something concrete, but the police administration seems to have made up its mind on the matter.

As for me, I hope the station stays. If the city and county government really want to develop Bitan into a proper tourist destination (not necessarily a good thing, in actual fact, as that would only increase the number of mouth-breathers crowding the bridge every weekend) as they say they do, then you’d think they’d want to ensure its reputation as relatively crime-free. They’ve ordered the destruction of the riverside restaurants, including our beloved Rendezvous, in the name of this objective, after all. So why remove the police station? It just doesn’t make sense. Are they going to implement a “Come See Our Lovely Crime Scenes” tourist campaign? They could sell “Gangster of the Month” calendars and have a chart posted by the bridge where you can bet not only on the number of suicides that month, but also on the number that managed to take out a swanboat or two as well.

The problem might have something to do with the current budget issue. Originally, Taipei City and Kaohsiung City got about 40% of the budget subsidies, while the other cities and counties got the other 60%. Then a draft law was passed elevating Taipei County, due to its huge population, to roughly the status of the two largest cities, meaning that it would receive part of the 40% to make up for the difference in funding. Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin was not happy about this, of course, but it really pissed off Chen Chu, who, despite the fact that her election as mayor of Kaohsiung was annulled by a district court, is still apparently playing the part. She threatened to withdraw her support for the DPP candidates in the upcoming elections if Kaohsiung didn’t get a li’l sumtin extra, so the Cabinet dolled out several billion to its darling political powerbase o’ the south, reducing Taipei County’s budget to a couple of billion more than it had when it was just another county. Upon witnessing this act, both Hau and Taipei County Magistrate Chou Hsi-wei got up and walked out of the Cabinet meeting.

It’s possible that during the Legislature’s review of the budget subsidy allocation that someone will try to do something about the issue, but it seems most cities and counties are ambivalent about other cities and counties. All we can do is wait and see, and hope that someone farsighted enough to realize that more money will be lost due to lack of business due to a rise in the crime rate than would be saved by removing the police station. We might have a long time to wait.

posted by Poagao at 3:24 am  
Jul 18 2007

The DPP’s real candidate

I may be either overly paranoid or slow on the uptake, depending on your political stance, but something just occurred to me last night, something that would explain a great many questions, politically speaking. Mainly, how did Frank Hsieh get the DPP presidential candidate nomination? Why doesn’t he seem to have a concrete platform? Why is Su so down on being his running mate, when it would clearly help the ticket’s chances?

Then it hit me: Maybe Hsieh isn’t the real DPP candidate. Su’s behavior recently mirrors that of Wang Jin-pyng, who seems to be waiting in the wings for the chance that Ma won’t be able to run in 2008. Why would Su do that? I wondered. But when I thought more about it, I realized that Su has more to wait for than Wang in this respect. The DPP never changed its charter to let an indicted candidate run for president, and with Chen and Yu in charge, it’s not likely to. Chen always preferred Su over his rival Hsieh, and the presidential office has been trying to get Yeh Chu-lan off her vp-oriented warpath, with dubious effect. Also, Hsieh’s involvement in a number of corruption scandals is still being investigated, whereas Su is relatively clean.

Right now, the KMT is gunning for Hsieh while paying little attention to Su, who still controls a lot of resources. In the case of an indictment of Hsieh close to election time, there won’t be enough time for the KMT to gather enough political momentum against Su to be effective in time for the election. Not only that, but the DPP can score big political capital points by trumpeting the fact that Hsieh will have bowed out of the election after being indicted, while Ma is still running.

It could also be that this is just a contingency plan for the DPP in the case of a Hsieh indictment, but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense as a main strategy. We’ll see who thinks too much in a few months.

posted by Poagao at 4:24 am  
Jun 08 2007

Hasta La Vista, Costa Rica

So we’re down to 24 allies, as of a couple of days ago. In all honesty, there were warning signs galore that this would happen, mainly the WHO vote at the UN when Costa Rica effectively voted against Taiwan’s bid. That wasn’t entirely unexpected, as even the US and Japan had withdrawn their support for the bid after the DPP decided to apply for full membership under the name “Taiwan” instead of observer status. That decision was made more for domestic political consumption, after all, than out of any actual desire to obtain WHO membership. But Costa Rica was in danger even before that. China has been setting up representative offices throughout Central America, just as the ROC has been setting up such offices in countries where it is not officially recognized. From there, Beijing invites local officials to China, where they can be wooed over to the other side.

Another factor was the fact that Costa Rica is up for a rotating seat on the UN’s security council this year, something Beijing can definitely help them out with. The same situation happened with South Africa, which was going up for just such a seat around the time of its switch from Taipei to Beijing. There was more of an effort made to keep South Africa at that time, however. One of the reasons behind the current issue is the fact that our ambassador to Costa Rica, while an earnest and hard-working man I’m sure, doesn’t even speak Spanish. He is a political appointee, closing in on 70, whose ability to be seen as a friend of the people and the government of Costa Rica has been jeopardized by his lack of language skills. Normally, all of these warning signs would have been flagged and the minister of foreign affairs called in for a report to the Legislature, but the current head of that body’s Foreign Affairs Committee, unlike his predecessor, did not exercise his right to do so, instead organizing trips and letting the situation go unchecked. Granted, MOFA should have known what was going on. I’ve heard some say that Beijing secretly appreciates the DPP’s contribution to their cause of reunification, as it sees Taiwan’s economic leveling off and thus the lessening of the gap between the two sides’ previously massive economic disparity as the product of the DPP administration. The DPP and Beijing also share similar views of Chiang Kai-shek and the Republic of China, and the DPP is pushing more and more people away from the idea of Taiwan as “Free China”, which some argue makes for an easier sell for Beijing.

In any case, it’s likely that Costa Rica is just the first of many, as Beijing has deeper pockets and more political influence than Taipei can afford. Countries like Nicaragua, where Ortega proclaimed that he would switch recognition if elected, are still allies today due to massive Taiwanese-funded textile industries there, but that situation could change. MOFA has its work cut out for it, but after reading all of the self-righteous sputtering and railing against Beijing instead of admitting its errors, I just hope that it can keep its focus on actual results, as in the actual retention of allies, rather than just playing political games for upcoming elections at home.

posted by Poagao at 12:11 am  
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