Showing posts with label lin_feifan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label lin_feifan. Show all posts

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. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Third Force we needed and the Third Force we got

Untitled
I have no cover image so now is a good a time as any to say that I think my cat looks like Huang Kuo-chang


I said I didn't want to return to party politics for awhile, and I meant it. But then in the span of about 24 hours, Handy Chiu resigned as chair of the New Power Party and legislator Hung Tzu-yung left the party in much the same fashion as Freddy Lim two weeks ago.

There is a lot of speculation floating around about the details of why the NPP seems to be in nuclear meltdown mode, and I'm not able to offer any facts that you can't find elsewhere. What I can offer is bare-faced opinion, so here we go.

In the post-Sunflower era, the nascent Third Force needed two things. The first was to have a more collective structure - lots of people who broadly agree working together with no one 'personality' taking over. The second was to balance idealism with pragmatism. While there are people in the Third Force who would agree with this, unfortunately, they haven't been able to steer the movement in that direction.

The leadership needed to be more pluralistic - at the very least, the stars of the Third Force needed to be people who specifically wanted to cultivate and mentor emerging voices in the movement, so it never got to be too much about a few luminaries but instead continually populated with emerging young talent and new ideas.

There are Third Force public figures who take such a goal seriously, including Lin Fei-fan, the new deputy secretary general of the DPP, who had at one point intentionally stepped out of the spotlight, prioritized connecting with democracy activists across Asia, has shown that the DPP is willing to work with Third Force parties, and has said publicly that one of this goals is to foster and promote new voices so it's not all about certain personalities. (I think that last bit is published somewhere, but regardless he said it publicly at a panel at LSE last summer, which I attended.)

I'd venture that Lim is another such figure - he has sought to work with other legislators in the NPP rather than seeking to control the narrative, has fostered talent within the NPP, and has eschewed power he could have easily grabbed (when Huang Kuo-chang stepped down as party chair, the job was his for the taking. He didn't take it.) He has a slick and well-managed PR machine, but he uses it far differently than Huang. Even Handy Chiu, who wasn't chair of the NPP long enough to make an impression, seemed to seek compromise, discussion and a shared spotlight.

That's the attitude the NPP - and the whole Third Force - needed.

Sadly, that's not what they, or we, got.

Next to these more democratically-minded figures, there's Huang Kuo-chang. I won't sit here blasting the guy, because I don't know him personally (we met once, but only very briefly). But just a quick skim of NPP-related news will make clear that Huang is not only a major personality within the party, but also has a tendency to dominate it. In his lengthy Facebook manifesto, Wu Cheng referenced this explicitly.

I can also say that Huang did (and does) tend to dominate the NPP decision-making process and it did (and does) turn people off. It seems to me - barefaced opinion here - that this is not just that they lack a consensus on better alternatives, but because Huang is a dominant, controlling person. He may have tried to temper this tendency by stepping down as party chair, but it doesn't seem to have worked, and has definitely driven good people away.

So, since the NPP's founding, instead of this lovely utopian vision of collective voices, it feels like there's been a tug-of-war over whether to work towards true consensus, or just let it be the Huang Kuo-chang Show. From whether to push for a host of referendums (too many to link here) that not everyone fully supported to the failed (and pointless) hunger strike to whether or not to cooperate with Ko Wen-je or other Third Force parties, to whether or not to support Tsai's re-election bid, it's been years of Huang wanting to run the show. From what people have told me, there's arrogance aplenty as well.

As you might expect, this has caused people to become disenchanted and walk away. (Lin Fei-fan has said that Huang was not the reason why he didn't join the NPP, and relations between them are strong. I can't say if that's true or just something you say on camera, but I'd argue it doesn't matter - the overall trend is there.) 


That leads us to the second thing the NPP needed to be, but ultimately wasn't: a vanguard for the Third Force that wisely mixed idealism with pragmatism.

I've already said that the central issue with the NPP is a divide not between who supports whom outside of the party, whether that's Mayor Ko Wen-je or President Tsai Ing-wen, or whether or not to push for more referendums or hold a hunger strike or whatever the current 'issue' is, but rather all of these disagreements fall along a fault line of often-foolish idealism (led by Huang Kuo-chang and supported by Hsu Yung-ming) vs. guarded idealistic pragmatism (led by Freddy Lim and supported by Hung Tzu-yung). I could give a hundred examples, but let's just talk about one.

Despite strong arguments for supporting Tsai, Ing-wen for re-election, the NPP was unable to reach a consensus, I gather in great part because Huang was just not having it (he did threaten to leave if the NPP became a 'little green' after all.)

But here's the thing - and I've said this before:

The true progressives need to...realize firstly that not that many Taiwanese are as progressive as they are and their ideas are not shared by a majority of the population. That means more needs to be done to win over society. It means teaming up with the center, even if the center is slow to act. Doing so doesn't mean you have to support the center indefinitely. 
Or, as a very smart friend of mine once said, activists have to realize that change won't happen just because they march, protest, strike, write and occupy. Change happens because they do those things, bring their ideas to the rest of society and show the establishment that their causes enjoy some popularity and can be winning issues. Activism needs friends in the establishment to get things done, and the more progressive members of the Establishment need the activists to get society to care about those issues. In Taiwan, the activists need Tsai, and Tsai needs the activists. 


We're at a critical juncture now, where it's not hyperbole to say "this is do or die for Taiwan". I'll write more about this later, but electing a pro-Taiwan president now, as China is ramping up its disinformation, election interference and aggression campaigns as well as activating its latent networks to bully Taiwan into the fold, is of urgent importance. The top priority now is simple: Han Kuo-yu must be stopped. Lim, Lin and others understand this, and are willing to set aside differences with the less liberal DPP, but Huang and Hsu don't seem to get it. They're clinging to this idealist notion that in 2020, it is possible to undermine Tsai but not have Han win. And that's just not the case. It's fine to keep criticizing Tsai and the DPP, but damn it guys, do that after she wins. 


We needed a Third Force, and an NPP especially, that understood this and took the right side when the chips were down. We needed them to see that Tsai may not be perfect and it's necessary to continue to hold her and her party accountable, but that it would hurt Taiwan far worse to enable Han to win, however indirectly. We needed them to understand that their energy is best spent trying to win people to progressive causes while supporting the best possible viable candidate and establishment ally, rather than assuming they can do what they want because their ideals are obviously the correct ones. (They are, but if most voters don't see it that way, it doesn't matter much, does it?)

Sadly, that's not the NPP we got, and it's unclear that such a consensus will arise from elsewhere. The idealists "won", if by "won" we mean "blew up the party so now it's just Huang And Friends". I don't see a party built that much around one not-terribly-likable personality, which keeps taking hard turns into unrealistic idealism, lasting particularly long. Personality-parties rarely outlast their key figurehead, and overly idealistic ones are likely to perish even sooner.

What have we got, then? A hobbled, bleeding NPP, a few scattered parties that occasionally work together, and a couple of popular legislators who are now independent.

I've said before that the question of whether the NPP would lose relevance if it takes an overly-pragmatic route of becoming a 'little green' by supporting Tsai and the DPP is a moot one: moving away from supporting the DPP at key junctures, turning instead towards more radical platforms, would render it a fringe party, and that's just another kind of irrelevance.

It looks, then, like they're gunning for irrelevance.