Lessons from the Kaohsiung poll
The results of the Kaohsiung City Council by-elections were announced on Saturday evening. The poll has been called a prelude to, and a benchmark for, the year-end legislative elections. Of the four parties contesting the elections, the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) was the biggest winner, while the People First Party (PFP), with not a single candidate elected, was the biggest loser. The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won the same number of seats.
Looking at the new composition of the City Council, the green camp now holds a clear majority. Factoring in pro-DPP independent councilors, the green camp now controls at least 23 of 44 council seats. This change from the pre-election composition will allow the Kaohsiung City Government, led by Mayor Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) of the DPP, to dismiss resistance from the opposition and build a more constructive city administration.
That is not all. A more significant effect of the port city's by-election will be its impact on the year-end legislative elections. When voting day comes, the Kaohsiung poll will be a good reference indicator for people at the polls. It will also be encouraging for the alliance between the DPP and the TSU, strengthening the government's confidence in gaining a majority in the legislature. The outcome of the by-elections is further evidence that a Taiwan identity is taking shape at the grassroots level of Taiwanese society, and that this identification is growing stronger. Compared to the pan-blue camp's out dated identification with China, the green camp's identification with Taiwan has already become an unstoppable force.
Small electoral districts in the city combined with good inter-party networking played an important role in the pan-green victory in Kaohsiung. Voters with a strong Taiwan consciousness voted for the TSU, but not at the expense of the DPP, which also strengthened its supporter base. Many voters with less awareness of have become a part of the DPP's support network, and this helped contribute to the DPP-TSU victory.
The expansion of the green camp is in marked contrast to the pan-blue camp's decline. The PFP's drastic failure to win voter support is a wake-up call. The party's radical and irrational actions after the presidential election caused resentment among many voters, and even scared away many undecided voters who were once in favor of PFP candidates.
As a result of their actions, voters now realize the PFP opposes identifying with Taiwan. Thus it would not be a surprise if the PFP is once again spurned by voters in the year-end legislative elections.
Moreover, three of the nine candidates with ties to "vote-buying families" triumphed in the by-election. It is obvious that local grassroots forces and the deeply rooted vote-buying culture still have not been eradicated. There was a curious result to this issue. Among the candidates of vote-buying families, all pan-green candidates lost the election, while pan-blue candidates did exceptionally well. This implies that pan-blue voters generally tolerate political corruption, while pan-green voters, on the contrary, reject it.
It has been said that "politics is the concrete reflection of local culture." Taiwan's political culture cannot be expected to improve overnight, but the by-election results are evidence that Taiwan's democracy is advancing steadily.
The outcome of the Kaohsiung City Council by-election represents a good start for the DPP administration's second term, and it is probable it will influence the year-end legislative elections. A legislature where the governing party holds a minority is undoubtedly the greatest obstacle to an efficient government. We have already endured four years of this scenario, where passing legislation was nearly impossible. Hopefully the year-end legislative elections will bring an end to this nightmare. That is the only way for Taiwan to continue to prosper and develop.