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Home Editorials of Interest Taipei Times Hungry factions and corporations

Hungry factions and corporations

Last Saturday, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate Liu Chien-kuo (劉建國) secured a landslide victory in the Yunlin legislative by-election, while the proposal to set up casinos on Penghu Islands was voted down by local residents in a referendum. These results serve as a warning to the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), but are they a sign of local factions and businesses’ waning influence over elections and political economics?

Saturday’s by-election was just a preliminary skirmish before the year-end county commissioner elections. If the effects of last Saturday’s result continue to reverberate, it would be favorable to Yunlin County Commissioner Su Chih-fen (蘇治芬) of the DPP as she launches her re-election bid. This is why Su spared no effort in campaigning for Liu. However, apart from the support of Su and the DPP, the real cause of the KMT’s defeat in the by-election lies in changes in the dynamics of local factions.

The two major KMT factions in Yunlin County are the Chang (張) and Hsu (許)families. No doubt a split between independent candidate Chang Hui-yuan (張輝元) and KMT candidate Chang Ken-hui (張艮輝) from the Chang family, which is led by former Yunlin County commissioner Chang Jung-wei (張榮味), was a key factor behind Liu’s victory. Meanwhile, the Hsu family, which was first headed by another former Yunlin County commissioner, Hsu Wen-chi (許文志), and is now led by his son Hsu Shu-po (許舒博), boycotted the Chang Ken-hui campaign to express their discontent with the KMT’s decision to backtrack on the nomination of Hsu Shu-po as chairperson of Taipei Financial Center Corp in June amid speculation that the nomination was political payback for Hsu Shu-po’s withdrawal from the KMT’s Yunlin County commissioner primary.

In other words, it was the Hsu family’s passivity that contributed to the low voter turnout (45.55 percent) and the low number of combined votes garnered by the two Changs (52,025 votes), which accounted for just 70 percent of the number of votes garnered by Liu (74,272 votes). Neither supporters of the Hsu family nor a majority of voters in general wanted the Chang family to control all political resources in the county. Moreover, given tensions between senior KMT officials and Hsu Shu-po, there was no need for supporters of the Hsu family to back KMT candidates to prevent the party from being defeated in the by-election.

As long as the Hsu family continues its passive protest against the KMT, Su is likely to be re-elected in the year-end polls. No matter how the KMT tries to shift resources to campaign for its candidate or how Chang Jung-wei effectively integrates his family, it would be futile.

As for the casino referendum, with local business interests and KMT elites championing the proposal to open casinos in Penghu, the KMT-dominated legislature approved the Offshore Islands Development Act (離島建設條例) to bypass the stringent requirements for holding a referendum as stipulated in the Referendum Act (公民投票法). The KMT was hoping to produce the same result as the consultative casino referendum organized by the Penghu County Government in December 2003, in which approximately 57 percent of voters backed the casino plan despite a low voter turnout of only 21 percent. If the casino referendum had passed, businesses would have profited from real estate development and gambling in the region. However, Saturday’s referendum showed that the majority of Penghu residents preferred to preserve the island’s natural scenery over promoting casinos.

It is worth mentioning, however, that the majority of residents of Baisha Township (白沙) and Siyu Township (西嶼) — the designated Penghu special casino zones — voted in favor of the casino proposal. Voter turnout was only around 40 percent, with the number of dissenting votes only about 4,000 higher than those who approved the plan. As such, if local residents ever weakened their opposition to gambling, business interests could make a comeback anytime. The Referendum Act stipulates that another vote on the same subject cannot be held for at least three years. That means the KMT and businesses can stage another fight three years from now.

Yunlin and Penghu are typical examples of politically and economically disadvantaged counties — remote and poor agricultural and fishing counties — in which the KMT has held sway by working in cooperation with local factions and corporations. The results of Saturday’s by-election and referendum would seem to show that local factions and corporations have begun losing ground. This is not completely true, however: It was more a case of the factions not working together. The local factions and corporations have not given up their political and economic interests in the elections or in putting up casinos.

Chen Chao-chien is an assistant professor of public affairs at Ming Chuan University.


Source: Taipei Times - Editorials 2009/10/04

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