Showing posts with label han_kuoyu. Show all posts
Showing posts with label han_kuoyu. Show all posts

Friday, January 10, 2020

Some words of calm and comfort on election eve

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On the eve of the election I have no new analysis, no specific insights - really I’m just a massive ball of anxiety. 

As my husband pointed out on Facebook, that’s because we all watched what happened with Trump and Brexit - especially Trump - and although Han is not Trump, he hits some of the same notes and it triggers something in our brain that terrifies us. Terrifying xenophobic populists have shown us around the world that they can get elected, but only Trump was not favored to win before he actually did. It doesn’t matter that this fear is probably unfounded - we’re not allowed to discuss polls at this point but we all know who is likely to be elected tomorrow. It’s something deep inside our lizard brains producing this anxiety...that things could go south, because they have before. 

My Taiwanese friends are also nervous. It’s hard not to be, even when the odds are in our favor.

It probably will be closer than we think. Sure, we all know what the numbers say, but older folks vote in greater numbers and that could skew results in Han’s favor. 

So I want to offer a few words of comfort, or at least try. As much to sooth my self as for you guys, my readers. 

First, let’s remember that if the election that produced Trump had happened under Taiwan’s system, Clinton would have won. The system, in that sense, works in our favor. 

Second, let’s remember that Clinton’s lead over Trump was more tenuous than...well, we’re not allowed to discuss the polls. Trump had a greater chance of winning even under the US’s jacked system than I think Han has in Taiwan. 

Third, it’s astounding to me how Tsai has in fact managed to unite a large swath of the electorate against Han (oh yeah, Han helped to do that to himself as well, and various international events haven’t helped him). I have friends and acquaintances who skew blue or blue-ish, who happily voted for Ma. Some of them even grudgingly voted for Chu, knowing he’d lose. Every last one of them (with one exception) can’t stand Han, and many are switching to Tsai. Some are simply not voting. They may not stay green forever, and this is anecdotal evidence, but it’s a promising thing to observe. She hasn’t united everyone, but I’m amazed at how she’s turned her public relations machine into a mechanism that actually works. What’s more, I’ve met hardly any young people who’ve been turned on by Han, but plenty of older folk who still support Tsai. Han may win the Auntie vote, but he’s not going to get all of them, and he’s going to get far fewer of the youth than he needs. 

I also have to remember that a lot of younger people are talking about how their conservative older relatives will vote. Again this is anecdotal, but the discussion seems to have more urgency and underlying it is a more direct, personal call to action. Watching Thursday’s Han rally solidified it: we’ll probably win but this won’t be an easy victory regardless of the numbers, and if we want to win, we’d better turn out in greater numbers. Han’s people may have thought that inflating the number of attendees for his rally (come on, there is no way 800,000 people showed up - we’re not stupid) would make him look good, but it probably had another effect too. That is, to remind his opponents that, as much as he seems like a joke, he isn’t one. Seeing all those ROC-flag-laden aunties on the MRT surely prodded some people on the fence about voting at all to hustle tomorrow.

In fact, reports indicate that Han has lost, not gained, momentum. It's hard to say given the polling blackout, but I don't think he's showing signs of pulling off an upset. 


It doesn't hurt that Tsai has actual experience and qualifications, and achievements to her name, and Han has none. She has platforms, he has rabble-rousing. That may not necessarily matter to the average Chen, but it doesn't hurt. Plus, while older folks may buy the ROC rah-rah, most Taiwanese simply don't. I hope they realize now and not later that they do not want the Taiwan that Han is promising them; they want the one that Tsai is actively building.

I figure, if the older folks will turn out no matter what, higher turnout overall benefits Tsai, as it means younger voters are casting ballots. And it looks - just from public transport and what people are saying, plus a fine weather forecast - that the turnout will be solid. 

Yes, it worries me that, despite all sorts of scandals doing Han real damage, from his luxury housing to his mistress to the Chinese spy case to the fact that Kaohsiungers just aren’t happy with him, he’s still not a joke. In response, there’s not a lot to throw at Tsai that actually sticks. They can say “the economy is bad” but it’s not. They can say she’s just another DPP chauvinist, but under her tenure the DPP has grown more diverse and inclusive, and shed a lot of the Hoklo chauvinism that characterized their earlier leadership. They can throw sexist attacks at her but I don’t think those will win over people who were already prepared to vote for her (although surely there are sexists who just can’t stand that she has the wrong genitals). 

It also worries me that the KMT seems to be taking a social conservative polarization approach in the countryside, which a lot of liberal-but-blue Taiwan urbanites are unaware of (if they fully understood what was going on, some of them might turn away from the KMT). It’s a clear attempt to win over traditionally DPP voters who do value Taiwan’s sovereignty but can be angered by “scary gay people” and promises of a “better” economy (even though the economy, again, is not bad) into voting against their natural allegiance. 

This is why it’s going to be closer than we think, and Han is no joke. 

On the other end, though, the DPP has managed to put forward some popular candidates, a few of whom are giving headaches to KMT candidates who thought they were safe. The KMT’s own actions recently - not just the party list debacle but the Alex Tsai scandal - have blunted its efforts to pull off an upset. And Taiwan tends to give its presidents - even ones with low approval - 8 years, though the country hasn’t been democratic long enough for that to be assured. (And yes, I am aware that politicians with high approval ratings, such as Chen Shui-bian as Taipei mayor, have gone on to lose). 

Speaking of Alex Tsai, nothing could make me happier than to watch the KMT’s absolutely hilarious amateur hour, as it attempted to tease the release of some last-minute surprise (probably what they believed would be a successful recanting by alleged Chinese spy and Australian asylum seeker Wang Li-qiang) only to have it blow up in their face spectacularly thanks to good reporting in the Australian media. Even KMT diehards I know quite literally spit when they hear Alex Tsai’s name. The diehard Han fans will still turn out for their cabbage man, but this may turn a few people away. 

And speaking of China not helping its own cause, I have to remember that the Beijing establishment tried its damnedest to quash the Hong Kong protest spirit, but pro-China lawmakers were crushed. There is video evidence of them paying elderly protesters to vote. Just because China is trying to interfere doesn’t mean they’ll succeed. 

But at the end of the day, while I am girding my loins in case I get kicked in the teeth again as I did with Trump, I do in fact believe that Tsai will win. 

At least, I need to remind myself of this. I need to keep recanting these points, over and over, to stay calm. 

You see, it’s not just another election where if the guy I don’t like wins, nothing too bad will happen. Considering the turn towards authoritarianism and populism that the world is taking, and China’s increasing threats and attempts to sabotage Taiwan’s democracy, I am not at all sure Taiwan, as the country I consider my home, will survive a Han administration intact. If it makes it through at all, it will be broken and tired, as the US is now. 

I do believe this is sort of a “last chance” for the world. After Trump, Johnson, Bolsonaro, Duterte, Modi and more (there are a few in Europe...in fact, the whole world is reeling), Taiwan has a chance to stand up to a Trump-like populist and say “this needs to end”. We can show the world that these people can be defeated. We must. It’ll get the world’s attention at least, and it’s vital for the country. 

So stay calm. If you can vote, do so. Am I confident? No - the 2016 US election taught me never to be confident of these things again. But I'm at the best place I can be. 

Chillin’ at the Freddy Lim rally

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Tsai, Freddy Lim and Lin Fei-fan - and I think that's Lai Pin-yu


Update: now with photos! 

I really admire people who have the stomach to attend rallies for the bad guys - I just can’t do it. As in, it directly affects my mental health and I stay away for my own well-being. Considering this, while everyone was reporting on the big Han rally last night, I went over to Freddy Lim’s rally outside Longshan Temple. 

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Lin Fei-fan takes the stage


First, I urge people not to compare these two rallies. Han’s big rally - which absolutely didn’t reach 700,000 people as they claim - was for a presidential candidate who organized attendees from all over the country (that’s not necessarily wrong, it’s just that it’s a national audience - though it’s worth noting that it seems to be the same people bussed everywhere). Lim is a legislative candidate, not a presidential one, and this was a local rally with local flavor. 


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A cute sign for Tsai
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The turnout was solid


In fact, if you compare Freddy’s rally a few weeks ago on the same Ketagalan Boulevard site as Han’s, you’ll note that a (mere) legislative candidate was able to fill the entire boulevard. A presidential candidate did that, and filled most (but not all) of the Jingfu Gate circle - if you look at pictures, there was still space to move around. That’s actually impressive...for Freddy. For Han, this turnout is good - at least it’s not embarrassing - but it actually compares poorly against Lim and Han’s own previous rallies.

How do I know it wasn’t 700,000? The Sunflowers claimed 500,000 - I’m not sure about that number, but whatever - and you couldn’t even approach Jingfu Gate. We were stuck way back by the National Concert Hall. 

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And people seemed genuinely excited for Tsai and Lim


In any case, I headed to Freddy’s rally. As I got off the MRT, I grabbed my Freddy flag - you’re not supposed to wave those on the MRT as political campaigning is banned there, but it was in the way of my keys and metro card - and asked a bunch of Han supporters in front of the door to please let me off the train. Two women carrying ROC/Han flags quite deliberately not only did not move (although there was space, or they could have stepped off the train briefly), but actively blocked me. One sort of arm-nudged her friend to be more in my way! 

I found this behavior extremely rude, especially as I made a particular effort to sound especially polite to them in the beginning. In the end I was unable to get around them, and had to push through. I gave them a sharp “RUDE!” in Chinese as I did. If this is what Han supporters are like, I’m happy to be on the other side. 

The rally itself had a lot more local flavor than the Chthonic concert on Ketagalan. This was surely deliberate strategy. That concert was for general support, and for the youth vote. This was for the uncles and aunties in his actual neighborhood. The music was very old-school Taiwanese, the speeches were full of piss and vinegar (though some were more exciting than others) and were conducted almost entirely in Taiwanese, with a little Mandarin peeking through. Smoke machines, disco lights, background music - this rally had it all. It was less polished than the previous one, and that was entirely intentional. 

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It was extremely crowded, a good turnout for a legislative candidate


The turnout was good - all seats were taken, plus a large standing crowd along the entire perimeter. Freddy goods - stickers, towels, keychains, t-shirts - sold at a good clip. Crucially, the turnout wasn’t just young people. In fact, I was in a sea of middle-aged and older folks who were all enthusiastic. That’s good news for Freddy, who needs this ‘older’ vote to keep Wanhua. These are the folks Lin Yu-fang could depend on, so it’s good to see that Freddy is netting at least some of them. Hopefully enough to win. The rally took up the entire length of Guangzhou Road outside the temple and towards the market at the far end, spilling onto the esplanade leading to the underground market entrance. I was hungry and thirsty, but there was absolutely no way to get to the Family Mart opposite. 


Speakers included legislative candidate Lai Ping-yu (known for her cosplay-inspired campaign), Premier Su Cheng-chang and his his signature raspy voice, DPP Deputy Secretary General and “guy in charge of mobilizing the youth” Lin Fei-fan, former Kaohsiung governor (now Vice Premier, yes? His roles seem to keep changing) Chen Chi-mai, Freddy Lim himself, and of course President Tsai. One of the musicians, who was very young, also spoke but I missed most of this as I was chatting with another young attendee. All of the folks who’ve been making the rounds speaking - Tsai, Lim, Lin - sounded a little hoarse. It’s been a long season. 

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Really, I couldn't even get to the Family Mart


The speeches themselves were better than one might expect. Lin Fei-fan is known for being a good speaker, and he broke out his Taiwanese more than he has in the past (it is one of his native languages but you don’t hear it from him that often, he’s more likely to do public speaking in Mandarin). The gist of his speech - the Mandarin parts I could follow - were that Taiwan and Hong Kong are concurrently locked in a battle against China, and we are not going to let Taiwan become the next Hong Kong. “We don’t yield, we don’t kneel, we don’t walk on our knees,” he said, and I thought that was just great. 

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Outside Longshan Temple



Towards the end he addressed some of the criticisms he’s received taking a position in the DPP, seeing as he’s so well-known for criticizing them. He said, “we know we haven’t done enough, we know we haven’t gone far enough, but we will, please give us a chance to do so” (not an exact translation). 

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Freddy's speech


Typically, “we’re not good enough, we know that and we’ll do better” is not a great campaign tactic, but there’s something very old-school Taiwanese politics (that whole humility game, though it’s often performative) about it, and he’s the right person to deliver that message considering the criticism he’s endured. 



To be honest, I couldn’t follow a lot of the other mostly-Taiwanese speeches, though I think Freddy’s focused a bit more on local issues than he typically has. Tsai’s (in Mandarin) was pretty clear: One Country Two Systems will never work, Taiwan can never give up its sovereignty, the China threat is real, etc. etc.  She did better than usual, speaking with more clarity and emotion and less detachedness, wonkishness and repetitive call-and-response. This was a somewhat enjoyable speech, far more so than the one she gave on Ketagalan at the previous Freddy rally.

In fact, people seemed genuinely excited to see her, and genuinely energized by her speech. That's a win. 

I think the size of the Han rally gave the speakers renewed passion, and pushed them to speak with energy and emotion (well, except Chen Chi-mai, who always sounds a little removed and dorky, but honestly, I like him.) I wouldn’t call it nervousness, but everyone’s on edge as voting begins in a matter of hours. It felt like a final push, because it was one. 

Notably, after the rally ended, a group of Hong Kong protesters raised flags and shouted “Freedom for Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times” in Cantonese, attracting a sizeable crowd. Someone from the Statebuilding Party also waited for the rally to end to take out a microphone as volunteers lifted large posters and gave out tissues and stickers. He delivered an impassioned speech, and while Statebuilding is a little too close to nationalist for my taste, I appreciated their very grassroots, take-to-the-street strategy. In fact, that Hong Kongers and the Statebuilding Party felt this was a good rally to make an appearance made the whole thing feel very democratic. 





After all, all of these issues are connected - Hong Kong, Taiwan, what kind of country we want Taiwan to be - and the official speeches mirrored that. 

Thursday, December 12, 2019

The KMT desperately wants to be rubber to the DPP's glue, but it's not working

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To be frank, I don't really want to write about the KMT. I'd rather talk about the re-election campaign of President Tsai and what she's doing on that front. Sadly, other than a new song (which isn't bad as Taiwanese campaign songs go and intentionally references the band's 2014 hit inspired by the Sunflower Movement, Island Sunrise), some bomber jackets and holding the line she's taken since 2016, there isn't much to say on that front. She hasn't come out with any exciting policy proposals or new platforms that I've seen. "Hold the line and take no risks" seems to be her entire campaign strategy. Frankly, while I'd like to hear more from her about what she'll do once re-elected, this isn't a bad tactic, even though it doesn't give me much blog fodder.

So, instead let's talk about the way the KMT is trying ever so hard to turn the Su Chii-cherng fake news/suicide case into a big scandal for the DPP, and why it probably won't work. Sigh.

For those who don't know what this is about, here's a rundown of events, mostly from this source. It's long and involved, so feel free to skip anything you already know - I'm putting the whole story here because  it's one of the advantages of blogging that I can go long-form if I want and tell a fuller story. I'll put the whole thing in a different color so you'll clearly see where I pick up with commentary.


* * * 

Last year, posts on PTT insinuated that the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Osaka (Taiwan's de facto embassy) wasn't providing sufficient assistance to Taiwanese nationals in Japan affected by Typhoon Jebi, in contrast to the assistance that China was giving its citizens. New Bloom reports that the Chinese consulate 'stepped in' to help Taiwanese nationals; other news sources say that the inadequate response of Taiwan was merely contrasted poorly with that of China. The News Lens reports that some Taiwanese apparently feigned Chinese nationality to gain assistance from the Chinese consulate. I'm not sure which version is more accurate.

It doesn't matter much, the truth is that the Japanese government arranged all evacuation assistance, and rejected China's request to send in buses to aid its citizens (although representatives of one Chinese airline filled at least one bus with only Chinese nationals). The Chinese consulate reported falsely that they had arranged transport and food for their citizens and were willing to include Taiwanese citizens who "identified as Chinese" (according to an interview with a Chinese traveler). Global Times, a WeChat post and other Chinese media spread this story.

It was then picked up by Taiwanese social media, where the Taiwanese consulate was criticized for not doing enough for its own citizens, to the point that some pretended to be Chinese. Criticism at first focused on Taiwanese envoy to Japan and 2008 presidential candidate Frank Hsieh (謝長廷), who tried to explain the situation but whose statement didn't get much traction on social media.

This criticism morphed into defending Hsieh and placing the blame on the head of the Osaka consulate, Su Chii-cherng (蘇啟誠). Remember, of course, that Su hadn't done anything wrong, as the entire story was fake to begin with. Su committed suicide soon after. It's difficult to say if the fake news blizzard precipitated his suicide, but an investigation was formed (despite the KMT insisting that the DPP and Ministry of Foreign Affairs were "not interested in investigating" the event), and online personality Slow Yang (楊蕙如) was indicted for not only public insult and hiring someone to post disinformation, but for those posts leading to Su's death. Su's widow says the criticism and his suicide are related, although his suicide note did not specifically mention the incident.

Despite Su's family and some media reporting that the government was going to reprimand and demote Su, MoFA says it had no plans to do so.

The person Yang was indicted for hiring was Tsai Fu-ming (蔡福明), although it's not quite clear who made what posts, and I'm not sure it matters much. Yang had previously been close to the DPP and Frank Hsieh in particular, having previously worked for his election campaign. There's also a furor over a company she owns being paid by the Taipei City government - money she was awarded thanks to her ties to DPP and specifically Frank Hsieh-tied city councilors. Suffice it to say, the DPP and Yang have had ties in the past.

Yang is well-known in Taiwan, as an online personality, mostly on PTT. Her reputation, however, is not great - I've talked to a few people about this and the general consensus is that she's always been an opportunist and purveyor of questionable content.

KMT politicians pounced on this, insisting that Yang was a paid troll-master of the DPP who was tasked with spreading fake news and that the accounts used to spread fake news can be traced back to her, as well as to a DPP legislator's office. I'm not quite clear on who is alleging what, but it seems that the Taipei District Prosecutor's Office is indicting Yang for her role in creating these posts, whether by her or by the online troll she allegedly hired, with the KMT embellishing the story by insisting that the DPP was ultimately funding the whole thing.

Last week, KMT politicians held a protest outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) shouting "MoFA kills people!" and insisting that Frank Hsieh and Foreign Minister Joseph Wu both "offer an explanation" and resign. A scuffle ensued, with the KMT lawmakers insisting they were injured due to rough treatment by the police. Video later surfaced of legislator Arthur Chen of knocking off an officer's cap before pushing her. Two other politicians, Chen Yu-jen and Lin Yi-hua (Lin happens to be running for Chiang Nai-hsin's old legislative seat in my district and is something of a rising star in the KMT) got their fingers caught in a door or gate, and Chen apparently fainted. Both went to National Taiwan University Hospital (NTUH) emergency room for treatment.

Their seemingly (ok, definitely) exaggerated reactions, and those of KMT figures insisting they'd been seriously injured, garnered much online mockery - with Han Kuo-yu and other KMTers visiting Chen in the hospital, video of Chen walking slowly out of the hospital as though dazed some time later, as well as Lin Yi-hua insisting she'd been badly hurt and required hospitalization (and apparently limping pathetically and lying on a stretcher like a trauma victim long after the fact - when the worst of their injuries was getting their fingers caught in a door). 


NTUH was accused by some of giving priority in the queue to politicians (which they denied), and the politicians themselves were accused of abusing national healthcare resources.

DPP legislator Wang Ting-yu then released a video showing at least one person - seemingly Chen though I can't tell, personally - deliberately sticking their fingers in the door at MoFA. MoFA has since filed a complaint against the KMT legislators


* * *


tl;dr:

The KMT is screaming about DPP paying "online armies" to spread fake news and then being injured by police when protesting at MoFA, despite there being not much evidence that the DPP was behind the posts, and video clearly showing that the KMT politicians at MoFA were acting aggressively and more than likely exaggerating their injuries.

Got all that?

Great. 


* * *

What strikes me about this whole story is how clearly desperate it is on the part of the KMT.

While it makes sense that the Chinese consulate would spread fake news and Chinese media would pick it up - after all, that's what the Chinese government does - it doesn't make a lot of sense that the DPP would pay someone to spread that news in Taiwan, and then make posts defending Frank Hsieh and criticizing Su under the assumption that the fake news was accurate. 


It doesn't even make sense that the DPP or Hsieh would pay online 'armies' to defend them in this fashion from fake news spread by others, when Hsieh had already released a statement clarifying that the entire story was false. Neither the DPP nor Hsieh are perfect, and they do make PR mistakes, but it doesn't take a tactical genius to see that the truth of the matter would have come out soon enough and if anything, it would just make China look bad, which is always good for the DPP. It should be obvious that adding another layer of fake news to existing fake news is a bad idea.

I also have it on reasonably good authority (not firsthand, but a source I trust anyhow - make of that what you will) that if anyone paid Slow Yang for these alleged actions - which someone or some entity probably did - it wasn't the DPP or Frank Hsieh. You don't have to believe me as it's third- or fourth-hand gossip by now, but I want to put it out there anyway.


Then there's the absurdity of being so outraged by so little proof - it seems likely to me that Yang did do what she's been accused of, although that's just an opinion, but there's almost nothing there to definitively link the DPP to her actions. There's a story concocted out of disparate threads that doesn't make a lot of sense when you put it together, a few old relationships between a person of questionable morals and some DPP figures, and assumptions made based on online behavior that all political parties engage in, and it's become a full-blown conspiracy theory. 


And, of course, there's the conflating of Su's suicide ostensibly being due to facing "humiliation" and a demotion at work, and being humiliated by social media posts. Those are not the same thing at all and although the indictment indicates that the prosecutor's office believe the posts played a role, it's not at all clear from KMT accusations that that's the case. 

The KMT is implicated in a much more thoroughly substantiated allegation of fake news and disinformation linked to Chinese interference online and in the media, with the Association of Taiwan Journalists, the National Security Bureau, foreign analysts and more weighing in. Remember, pretty much every Taiwanese media source accused, with proof, of receiving money from the CCP is tied to the KMT. Every time money finds its way from China to Taiwanese political figures, it's the KMT that's implicated. Every time China spreads disinformation, it favors the KMT.

Considering that, it's a bit rich for them to accuse the DPP of doing the same thing, but with far less evidence to back up their claims.

Or rather, it makes perfect sense, if they want to deflect people's attention from their own disinformation, including blatant untruths spoken by their own presidential candidate.

The KMT's authoritarian roots and the DPP's more activist roots also come into play. It's not just DPP tactics that make them look like the party that's friendlier to activists - they actually are. As a result, they tend to be known for passionate rallies and protests. Having never held full power (both the executive and legislative branches) before 2016, they were usually the ones banging on the doors to the halls of power - halls usually occupied, until recently, by denizens of the KMT.

The KMT has repeatedly tried to harness that same social movement and activist energy, and mostly failing, because it's simply not in their party's roots or ethos. From astroturfed "social movements" and faux protests right up to this spectacle, they've never been victims and so they suck at playing the part.

Let's not forget that it was the KMT who routinely brutalized democracy activists (the people who went on to found the DPP) and who caused real injury to social movement activists just in the past few years - those water cannons, the police beating students with clubs? That was on the orders of a KMT administration. People involved in the democratization movement ended up injured, in jail or dead. The perpetrators of the White Terror? The KMT.

So when they want to claim the same 'cred', and try to turn it around and scream that now that the DPP is in power they are engaging in the same tactics, the best they can do is stage a whole long-winded spectacle around a few minor injuries - injuries that the people involved managed to help inflict on themselves, looking at the video. It's just another way that the KMT takes proven or well-founded accusations against themselves and tries to say it's the DPP who are really doing those things, à la the "Green Terror".

But, as the old rejoinder goes, if there's really a Green Terror, where are the bodies? Where are the missing people and where is the extensive network of shadowy military prisons?

The KMT may desperately wish that they were rubber and the DPP glue - and whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you - but they're not. They keep chucking things off of rubber and watching them boomerang right back on them. (Also I think Ma Ying-jeou might literally be made of glue - he has the right personality and just looks so melty.)

In other words, if you want to know what the KMT has been up to, looking at what they accuse the DPP of doing is a good place to start. 

Sunday, December 1, 2019

What does Han Kuo-yu's strategic baby tantrum tell us?

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The speech bubble says: "I'm 200 times bigger than a standard jelly baby!"

Recently presidential candidate and Kobitos peach Han Kuo-yu likened looking at poll results to 'getting hemorrhoids' and then said that his supporters should stop participating in them (or lie and say they supported Tsai Ing-wen).

I'm not even going to bother going into how childish this is - basically the equivalent of "I'm taking my ball and GOING HOME!", showing what a big fat man-baby Han is deep down - because I think there's more going on there.


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Frozen Garlic already covered this pretty well, pointing out that other KMT candidates might not be so pleased about it, which indicates it was more of him mouthing off than a KMT-planned strategy, which implies that rifts within the KMT are not only deep, but that the cracks spread rather wide. Perhaps wider than the general public is aware of.

His mouth-off might have been strategic or intentional, or not. There is a childish logic to deciding that you're going to try to remove a thing that's not working out for you, rather than dealing with it.  It almost doesn't matter; when commentators liken him to Donald Trump, this is the sort of thing they mean. "The rules aren't working for me, so I'm not just going to throw out the playbook, I'm going to crap all over it so nobody else can use it either!" is extremely Trumpian. And remember, Trump won. It's not a crazy tactic to try and basically neuter a problem plaguing one's campaign, in this case, poor polling results.

But something else struck me while chatting about it with a friend late the other night. This is a bully's move, not the move of someone hoping to attract more supporters. This is what you do when you think you've got everyone on your side that you are going to get, and all you can do from here is try not to lose any more points, and hope for an upset or technicality that gets you in (you know, like Trump).

Voters who are still on the fence between "obvious hotheaded puppet of Beijing" and "cautious person who has run the country competently for four years" aren't going to think "well, Tsai has stood up to China really well, but you know, I like that Han Kuo-yu just sort of gave his finger to the entire concept of data collection. I think I'll vote for him!" This is the sort of thing that riles up an angry base, but does not necessarily expand it.

What we can deduce, then, is that Han has decided to play a bully's game rather than use poll results to try and hone his message and grab more voters who may not love Tsai and are still open to voting for the KMT. He knows he won't be able to. We can also see how little he actually cares about carefully targeted messaging (though to be honest, I think we already knew that).

Interestingly, though, for a man who claims to speak for the people, he doesn't seem very interested in what the people are actually saying when they respond to those polls! Could it be - that he doesn't actually care and thinks swagger alone could help him win? Call me crazy.

But when those polls are conducted - and they surely will go forward - we'll be able to gauge to some rough degree whether Han's supporters are actually listening to him. By that measure, we might have a stronger idea of how many of them are strong supporters and how many are just voting for him because he's KMT and they'd vote for a paper bag if it had a white sun drawn on it, but won't necessarily voice automatic agreement with everything he says.

His tantrum was reminiscent to me of the time he said he didn't want the votes of Taiwan independence supporters, telling them to "vote for Tsai!" An odd strategy, as most Taiwanese support some form of independence, or at least they don't support unification of any kind, ever. 

It's also odd as, in the past, the KMT has at least pretended to want to court independence supporters (not trying that hard, knowing they'd never get the hardcore folks, but trying to get the so-called 'centrists' who might buy a line like 'no independence, no unification, no war', a saying of Ma Ying-jeou's during his own campaign and administration). However, that doesn't seem to have been just an outburst of Han's, as around the same time the KMT started testing out the idea of promoting a "cross-strait peace agreement" (tantamount to some form of unification), and Ma himself changed his tune to "no independence, no war, don't reject unification".

That doesn't seem to have worked, as his poll numbers have been slipping ever since. Hence his latest screamer.

I suppose I could say more about this, but you know what? It's a beautiful Sunday and I could be not doing that. 

Thursday, November 21, 2019

The KMT are intentionally morphing into "family values" conservatives - has anyone else noticed?

Untitled
Why is the Han campaign so obsessed with what goes on below the waist? 


It's a common refrain among foreign political geeks in Taiwan to say that the political cleavages in Taiwan don't map exactly onto those in the US. That the KMT has not always been the more socially conservative party on domestic issues - their main thing is that they are all some flavor of China unificationist (Full-Fat Unification Now or Diet Unification - that is, unification at some point in the future). Or that the DPP has not always been the more liberal party despite having "progressive" in their name.

A quick primer for those who don't know why this is a popular analysis: the KMT passed a spate of laws improving women's rights in the 1980s and 1990s, including legalizing abortion and criminalizing marital rape. Explicitly requiring gender equality in the workplace by law, on the other hand, didn't happen until 2002, when the DPP was in power. The two most prominent women's rights activists of the late 20th century were Annette Lu (yes, that Annette Lu) and Lee Yuan-chen. From what I understand, they were otherwise on two different teams politically: women's rights had no party 'color'. The KMT also used to be the party that was more open to immigration (though this has changed). The DPP, on the other hand, had to push its own people - many of whom are pro-independence social conservatives - to pass same-sex marriage. There are conservative Christians who hold lots of influence in both parties. Neither party favors abolishing the death penalty - although the Chen administration leaned in that direction, they never quite got around to eradicating the practice in Taiwan. Executions have taken place under the Tsai administration, as they did under Ma.

I know socially liberal people who vote for the KMT due to either family identity or some sort of sentiment for ROC symbolism and ideology. I also know socially conservative people who vote for the DPP, many of whom voted only reluctantly for Tsai - not because they disagreed with her, but because she's a woman. At the end of the day their choices were driven by identitarianism, and views on China.


This is still mostly true - I don't intend to challenge orthodox beliefs here. But I do want to argue that that's changing, the change is intentional, and we need to pay attention. 

I think the 2020 campaign has now reached a point where there is clear evidence that, while the DPP doesn't quite want to embrace its (mostly) newfound social progressivism yet, the KMT is trying to paint them as degenerate liberals, while actively attempting to court the socially conservative vote, many of whom have been traditional DPP supporters. 

It became obvious right around the time that Lee Chia-fen - Han Kuo-yu's wife - started up with her Moralizing Mom schtick. First it was "The Megaport festival makes mothers cry" - straight-up patriarchal garbage that could have been spouted by any number of pearl-clutching Republican women. Then it was the fearmongering and easily refuted "children are being taught anal sex and orgasms in schools" (they aren't). She also made vague statements that the new same-sex marriage law was "exploiting" gay Taiwanese and should be "reviewed" if her husband is elected, though she didn't clarify how or why.

To me, such remarks are not only a blatant attempt to scare socially conservative voters into siding with the KMT, but they're also a crude re-enactment of the old gendered conservatism of the authoritarian era. While Chiang Kai-shek symbolized all the militaristic ROC hoo-haa about "defeating the Communists and retaking the Mainland", his wife, Soong Mei-ling, headed up several women's associations and clubs, including the Kuomintang Women's Departmentthe Women's League, the Chinese Women's Anti-Aggression League and the Taipei International Women's Club, all of which were founded with the goals of upholding KMT rule in Taiwan and restricting women's movements to the traditional, domestic spheres.

Since Martial Law, I can't think of any wives of prominent male leaders, or female leaders themselves, who have taken up that mantle of old-school patriarchal conservatism...until Lee Chia-fen.

Both women seek/sought to secure KMT power through the restrictiveness of the patriarchy. Soong Mei-ling did this with the subtle polish and promise of prestige of clubs and organizations that restricted women's political power and segregated them based on social class (some of her clubs and leagues were specifically for educated women - the TIWC required an English fluency test - whereas others taught "basic skills" like sewing and typing and were aimed at working class Taiwanese women).

Lee is doing it much more directly, with pearl-clutching moral panics about Scary Sex Things being learned by The Children (!!!)


You know, just like socially conservative Republicans do. If they can't grab you with visions of being some sort of cosseted upper-class housewife who doesn't get involved in the dirtier aspects of politics, they bash you over the head with a moral panic.

Of course, it didn't start with Lee.

In this campaign cycle, it seems to have begun with the anti-gay, church-backed activists being welcomed by the KMT, including at Han Kuo-yu rallies, all the way back to 500 years ago when the 2018 elections took place. It was clear then that someone in the blue camp was studying the tactics of US Republicans and trying to turn same-sex marriage into a partisan wedge issue in Taiwan, when it hadn't been one before. They had some success: while I don't think the KMT actually cares that much about who can and can't get married, they sure seemed to act like they cared when it came to a vote. And yet Chiang Wan-an, one of their young faces, whom they will probably run for Taipei mayor in the next election, rode up to the marriage equality vote, voted for one provision and left - probably so he can say he did the right thing when marriage equality becomes normalized in Taiwan without going wholly against the party line. There's no way that wasn't a deliberate strategy.

To keep up the anti-gay signaling until that normalization happens, the one KMTer - Jason Hsu - who wholeheartedly supported marriage equality was recently left off the party list for the next election.


And now, with same-sex marriage mostly moving to the past, we have a pincer move with Lee with her scare tactics on one side, and Han offering up big fat slices of money cake with a scoop of Family Values on the other. It's quite clear he's positioning himself as the "family" candidate, with all the soft, cuddly family stuff coming from him and the attacks on the other side - liberal degeneracy, Scary Sex Stuff, Scary Gay Stuff, you know - coming from her so it isn't quite so closely associated with him.

First, Han proposed that pregnant foreign women moving to Taiwan should be immediately covered under National Health Insurance. This is actually a good idea, except it doesn't go far enough. Pregnant women do have special health care needs that others don't, but lots of people have specific health needs. The reasonable thing to do is cover all new immigrants upon arrival, not just pregnant women. Han's policy is a lovely-sounding proposal that will cost almost nothing (I can't imagine it's extremely common for foreign women to move to Taiwan while pregnant).  Of course I believe families should have state-funded resources available to them, but not in a way that idealizes motherhood and leaves child-free couples or singles out.

In addition, Han has proposed to raise the childbirth subsidies that Taiwanese families get. I honestly can't find any clear information on the national subsidies, and what I can find doesn't quite match what the KMT press release stated. What's more, cities and counties also tend to offer subsidy programs to help defray the costs of child-rearing, so how much you can claim in lump sums, annual payments and monthly payments differs based on where you live. None of the amounts are huge, but for lower-income families they do help.

If I'm reading the vaguely-worded press release correctly (and I may not be - they need to fire whoever writes these things) Han is proposing an NT$30,000 lump sum for all firstborn children. Second-borns and onward will get NT$60,000 lump sum payments plus an extra NT$60,000/year until each child reaches the age of six. (And yes, he's calling it the "666" plan, let's not even bother mocking that.)

The idea isn't bad in itself, though it doesn't attack the real problem when it comes to people deciding whether to have kids -  low wages. It struck me, though, how much more money you can get for having additional kids. The goal isn't to support Taiwanese families per se - a program that supported families would pay the same subsidy per child regardless of birth order, and would also take care of non-nuclear and non-traditional families, for example, subsidies to care for one's grandparents, fertility treatment coverage for those who have trouble conceiving - including same-sex couples - or subsidies to pay for raising adopted children. It would include a labor policy aimed at increased wages and lower working hours so parents would have more time to spend with their kids, the latter of which South Korea has managed to make strides in achieving. It would fund developmentally-appropriate after-school and summer programs so that parents wouldn't feel compelled to use cram school as a stand-in for daycare if Grandma isn't available.

I don't see Han proposing any of these - in fact, his plan to 'protect workers' doesn't include any of it, and doesn't address low wages It does increase maternity leave, which I support, while not increasing paternity leave, which is negligible in Taiwan - again, idealizing motherhood specifically, not focusing on families.  


For him it seems to be just 'have more kids, get more money'. For traditional families only. Also, no foreigners (none of these subsidies is ever made available to families with two foreign parents).

His proposal, then, is to encourage women to have more babies (the press release even states this obliquely). It's to idealize motherhood, not help families. It's to position himself as the traditional family man candidate in contrast to that mean, frosty, single, child-free, technocrat professor. I don't think he'll go so far as to dig up old rumors that Tsai is a lesbian, because his strategists must know that that could backfire (it's also stupid, but I don't think that would stop them). But he'll imply it clearly enough, mark my words.


Before you read about Han's proposals and are inclined to think that he actually cares about women's issues and there's nothing sexist about it, consider his most recent remarks about gender


男人的生命是下半,女人的生命是上半 - A man's life is the second half, a woman's life is the first half (translation mine). 

I suppose (?) he is implying that the best part of a woman's life is her youth (i.e. when she is pretty), and the second half is worthless, whereas the first half of a man's life is an immature period of figuring himself out, but he becomes more valuable as an older man - that is, looks don't matter as much for him.  

And this: 


男孩子站衛兵可以一站2個小時,但女孩子站2個小時受不了;但女性在梳妝台上,可以化妝2個小時手不會酸,換作男孩子,手可能會斷掉 - A boy can stand guard for two hours, but a girl can't stand it. Yet a girl can sit and do her makeup for two hours, if a boy does that his arm might fall off (translation mine). 

Do those sound like the words of a man who genuinely cares about women as autonomous human beings, or the words of a man who thinks of us as prettily-decorated egg sacks?


While all this is happening, the crazy Christians are at it again trying to get a referendum on the ballot making abortion in Taiwan effectively illegal. They probably won't succeed, but such a proposal could be dangerous in an election year where the KMT is taking a hard social-conservative turn. 


And whose strategy does all this sound like?

If your answer is Western-style social conservatives, especially American Republicans, ding ding. You win.

I don't know that the strategy has quite come to fruition yet. The biggest cleavage is still Taiwan/China, or ROC vs. "our country is Taiwan". But it's clearly on the back burner and it seems obvious to me that they're going to be doing more with it as the campaign progresses.

The only question is why. If they already have a cleavage to exploit, why not just do that?

Personally, I think it's because they know that the old ROC nationalism is a long-term loser. The youth don't generally think of themselves as Chinese. Many don't explicitly reject the ROC framework so much as they don't care about it. Ask them what their country is, and they'll say "Taiwan". Even older people have been turning this way for awhile. The KMT is basically now a bunch of unificationists, but they must know that "let's sell Taiwan to China" is a losing platform, or at least it will be in the near-to-medium future.

Social conservatism, especially regarding families and "family values" on the other hand? That has a strong pull in Taiwanese culture. They can still get a few votes out of that. You know, like this: "Hey voters, don't worry your pretty little heads about all that China stuff, focus on how we're the party that loves families and Chin--- we mean traditional culture. Unlike those Megaport-going, gay-marriage-doing, anal-sex-teaching people who want to ruin our social fabric, especially that ice-cold single childless woman who runs the show! But Han, he's married and has a kid! You can trust him, he's a real family man!"

And frankly, if you're not noticing the change, perhaps it's time to pay attention. Nothing about it is unintentional. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The KMT's Massive Cracks (and the DPP Firming Up)

One of the two parties has been putting their ears to the ground.
The other needs a hearing aid (perhaps literally). 


Nine months ago, if you'd asked me about Taiwanese electoral politics, I would have told you these things:

1.) The DPP is cracking up at exactly the moment that it needs to come together and show unity. As a result, the DPP are going to continue to be tainted by accusations that they're not good at administering once in power and are, at their core, just populist rabble-rousers (as friend and political analyst Donovan Smith put it) who are prone to infighting. 


2.) The KMT is going to unite behind Big Uncle Dirk, not because they all like each other, but because they see him as their only chance to win in 2020. Terry Gou will be pissed, but that's it. 

3.) Because of this, both parties are going to have trouble shoring up their youth credentials and future leaders, because both are 'older' parties. 

So I guess it's a good thing that nobody asks me about politics, because damn was I wrong. 

Now that the major parties have finalized (finally!) their revised party lists for proportional representation seats and their presidential candidates have chosen running mates, it sure looks to me that the DPP, against all odds, has managed to actually unite. On top of that, tapping her primary challenger, Lai Ching-te, as her running mate was a great way to really bring home that 'unity' message. I'm not a fan of Lai (I think he's a corrupt, self-serving opportunist) but I understand why he was chosen. 

The KMT, on the other hand, are the ones falling apart and come across as terrible, out-of-touch administrators. With Han saying things like "Tsai is fat and white [that is, corrupt and soft] and I'm dark and think [i.e. one of the everyday working people]", the KMT is sounding more and more like "populist rabble-rousers" compared to the DPP's well-considered governance. On top of that, the KMT party list exposes how much they - rather than the DPP as once seemed to be the case - are plagued by factional infighting. It's so bad that Han's own running mate, Simon "Who?" Chang, suggested that people vote for pan-blue third party candidates.

I don't actually want to talk much about the party lists though - plenty of people have already done that. All you really need to know is that the KMT's list, even revised, is such a massive joke, full of ancient 'Mainlanders' (people born in China or who identify as Chinese because they were born in Taiwan to Chinese parents not long after the 1949 diaspora). Revising it didn't really fix that, despite removing the guy who said independence supporters - so, most Taiwanese - should be beheaded, and Wu Dun-yih putting himself lower down on the list (putting himself on the list at all was craven and opportunistic). 


The DPP's list is problematic too, with not that many young candidates who could benefit from the exposure, and an indigenous TV host put at #1 and then revised off the list altogether. But nobody seems to be talking that much about it, because the KMT's absolute insult to the Taiwanese people is sucking up all the attention.

It's also worth noting that other than these blunders, the DPP party list seems designed to send a few clear messages: first, we are unified. Or, less generously, we are making sure all our key 'people' are happy for now. Second, we're tapping (experienced, older) experts. Or, also less generously, we actually aren't trying hard to shore up our youth support (though at least one nominee, Hung Shen-han 洪申翰, is under 40)
. Finally, we are willing to work with the Left (considering the inclusion of someone like Fan Yun). Or, again, less charitably: we are trying to absorb pan-green third parties so they cease to be a threat. 

Regarding that last one, though, I don't think there's a big practical difference between the two interpretations. To absorb those third parties, they pretty much have to accept lefties into their ranks. By recruiting lefties, they undermine those third parties. The difference is...what exactly?


But here's the thing - although the DPP party list doesn't skew particularly young or indigenous, I would argue that the DPP overall has done a solid job of shoring up its overall youth credentials. Hiring Sunflower luminary Lin Fei-fan, when it's well-known that the NPP also wanted him, was a baller move. Importantly, he was the one who chose the DPP over the NPP, for his own reasons - but his choice does send a message. Gaining the support of ex-NPP and now independent legislator Freddy Lim was also a win. In addition to Lin, the DPP has been attracting a fair number of people from the Sunflower generation

It's worth noting that this has been the DPP's plan since the 2014 Sunflower movement - they've always hoped to recruit these younger activists, though they did not immediately run them for office - and what we're seeing now, despite their party list skewing older, is the beginning of the fruition of that policy.

I wouldn't personally know, but I would be shocked if they aren't trying to grab the recent exodus from the NPP, too. I don't know if they'll be successful, but I can't imagine they won't try. With Fan Yun recruited, I'd be shocked if they weren't trying to bring the only Social Democratic Party politician ever elected (as far as I'm aware?), Miao Poya, into the fold. I'm not confident she'll bite, though.

It's also worth noting that, again, there is little practical difference between recruiting the more liberal members of this generation (including poaching or vacuuming up unhappy defectors from other parties) because the DPP is willing to move to the left a bit, and doing so simply to eradicate their pan-green challengers. 


The KMT, on the other hand, seems to have dug in its heels on being the Party of Your Grandparents (and Maybe Your Parents If They're Kind of Awful People.)

I suspect that this is because the DPP's core philosophy was never actually populist rabble-rousing: that sort of political rhetoric may be adopted by any party and is more of a quick-win strategy than a guiding ethos. They've always been the party borne of the Taiwanese democratization movement, which means they're the party more willing to consider a progressive way forward. Although they have their elders and social conservatives and have not always been on the more progressive or liberal side of every issue - and have just as much interest in keeping Taiwan locked into a system dominated by two major parties as the KMT - they've shown the capacity to evolve with the times. Passing immigration reform (unlikely in the Chen era, but one of the first things Tsai did) and same-sex marriage are clear indicators of that.

As a result, they have a core guiding ethos that has the capacity to attract the support of younger generations, even if the party doesn't always live up to its own ideals. Despite setbacks - the delay with passing same-sex marriage being just one - they can shore up their ranks with Millenial and Gen-Z recruits and hang on to youth support. Or at least, the potential is there.

It's not that the KMT doesn't want to attract the youth - I'm sure they'd love to get the votes of some imaginary "sons and daughters of China" (中華兒女). But, despite the occasional socially liberal move (for example, they were once the technocrat party which was actually more open to immigration than the then-Hoklo ethnonationalist DPP), their guiding ethos is one of political conservatism and authoritarianism. That's no surprise given their origin in Taiwan as an occupying force and then a military dictatorship.

What the DPP envisions for the future needs some tweaking, for sure. They really should back off on the useless drug war, and the death penalty has got to go. Same-sex marriage needs to evolve into full marriage equality. But their fundamental principles - a free, sovereign and democratic Taiwan in which everyone enjoys equal rights - is one that can carry to the future. 


The KMT - they want what exactly? From their nominee, you'd think it was allowing Chinese annexation. From their party list, some old-fashioned notion that Taiwanese are primarily Chinese or that the ROC could ever "retake the Mainland". Certainly, according to things Han and his wife have said, they're turning more socially conservative and especially hammering the "family values" and anti-immigrant rhetoric. A shame, as they were not always the more socially conservative party on every issue.

How do those beliefs carry to the future? They don't. The youth won't vote for any of that.

As a result, I can count the 'young' KMT future leaders who are publicly high-profile now on perhaps one hand, one of whom was left off the KMT party list. All of them are older than me (I'm in my late 30s - not exactly young). The DPP, on the other hand, has grown a much bigger stable. They might screw it up - one reason why the NPP fell apart, after all, were the Generation Xers running the show and not giving the Millenials and Gen-Z members enough opportunities or a big enough say. But for now, things are looking fine.

In short, I never thought I'd say that the DPP might actually maintain youth support rather than growing as gray, wrinkled and irrelevant as the KMT, but they're actually doing a pretty okay job of it.

This doesn't necessarily mean the KMT will lose, of course. Young people are not as reliable voters as older ones, and despite it being noxious, populist rhetoric is often effective. They probably will lose, but in this election cycle, their inability to attract the youth probably won't be the reason why. All of the work the DPP is doing to keep itself relevant is going to pay off one generation down the road more than it will now.

What scares me is that if the KMT does pull off an unlikely win, Taiwan is in a precarious enough position vis-a-vis China and the KMT has grown so much more 'red' and unificationist that the vision of Taiwan that the Taiwanese youth (mostly) want will never have time to blossom. Their parents and grandparents will put Taiwan on a road that their children never wanted. Rather than having the ability to build the country they do want once they become the most powerful voting bloc, they'll be forced to fight for their very survival instead. You know, like in Hong Kong.

In other words, I don't think Han will win, but if he does, I'm not sure Taiwan as a sovereign nation will survive it. And it's the youth who don't even like Han or the KMT who will pay the price for that.