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Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Swing Voters in Taiwan Redux

The Taipei Times offered up several views of the upcoming election cycle from local analysts yesterday. First it argued that parties are moving toward the "center".

The Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) likely presidential candidate, former premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷), is known for his moderate stance. He has been advocating the concept of "reconciliation and coexistence" and has said that he would be happy to team up with Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) against the Chinese Communist Party if elected.

In a bid to court voters in the middle of the political spectrum, the KMT is expected to revise its party charter next month and include "Taiwan-centered" values in the revised version. The changes will mark the first ever mention of "Taiwan" in the party's charter.

Ma, who is born to Mainlander parents, has been trying to convince Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平), a non-Mainlander, to pair up with him in the presidential race.

In some political theories, movement toward the center is known as the principle of minimum differentiation: since there is some amount of public policy X that is best to have, politicians in rational electoral systems will both move toward that, and after a while, will come to look like each other. That is essentially what had happened in the US until the rise of the Right after the late 1970s perturbed the cozy Republicrat political Establishment. That is also what has happened here in Taiwan: across a wide range of issues, there is broad agreement on what the System should look like. If only it weren't for that pesky national identity thing.....

One of the analysts they talked to appeared to have things down pretty well:

Wu Chih-chung (吳志中), a political science professor at Soochow University, said that it was logical for political parties to take a pragmatic approach, but added that he did not think there would be much room for moderate parties.

Hsieh may be a moderate and the KMT seems poised to change its party charter, but what the two parties do does not necessarily reflect their intention to move toward the center, Wu said.

Citing the recent wrangling over the name change of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall as an example, Wu said that the issue was a perfect example of an ideological battle between the pan-blue and pan-green camps.

As the upcoming legislative elections will adopt a new electoral system, Wu said the DPP and KMT would continue to dominate local politics and smaller parties would find it difficult to survive. In order to win votes, the two bigger parties will continue to use ideological issues as their political leverage to consolidate support.

The Chinese factor also plays a significant role, Wu said. The more Beijing suppresses Taiwan, the more the public resists and the more Taiwanese resist, the less room smaller parties have.

Wu said that many people detest the political bickering between the two camps, but when it comes to elections, voters stand by the two main parties.

This is what I have been saying too. Since only national identity issues separate the parties (along with renewable energy and a few other items), voters can only distinguish between the KMT and the DPP on national identity lines, and respond accordingly even if they do make noises now and then about the political bickering.

What of the other analyst? He noted:

Chao Yung-mau (趙永茂), a political science professor at National Taiwan University, said that it was clear that political parties wanted to move toward the center to win votes because they realized moderate voters played a significant role in elections.

It is a good sign that political parties want to adjust their course, Chao said, adding that they should map out details of their new policies rather than just touting their changes.

Chao said the KMT's plan to change its party charter was a move made in response to the DPP's efforts to tap into swing voters. It remains to be seen whether the two parties can quell the concerns of their party members while making changes.

This analyst is still working with the mental that there is a "political spectrum" out there that voters move along, and the goal is to capture the undecided "moderate" voters in the middle. That one looks something like:

Under this view, people at the ends are basically unthinking robots who simply act out the political demands of their masters, while those smart moderates in the center can be captured by good public policy offerings. Reality is, of course, opposite -- anyone who lies between Green and Blue in Taiwan isn't a moderate swing voter, but someone totally apathetic about the system and not participating in voting. The fundamental assumption of the "spectrum" view above is that moderates shade into radicals on either end, and that there are a lot more moderates who can be captured by offering good public policy aimed at the center. That assumption used to be paradigmatic for the United States, but it doesn't work very well for Taiwan. In my opinion, Taiwan looks something like this:

Under this view, "swinging" takes place only when a voter shifts political identity from one line to the other. On the left end are the core voters who reliably come out to vote Green or Blue, who are generally labeled "deep". On the right end are voters who are meh about their own identities and stay home if they don't like the candidate, usually labeled "light" in the press. My view here recognizes several realities about Taiwan:

  • there is no spectrum. The light voters do not blend into each other at the end since these political identities have no overlap; they cancel each other out. Hence, the lines do not touch.

  • there are a lot more Green voters. More Greens are Light Greens.

  • there are fewer Blue voters overall. Relatively fewer Blues are Light Blues.

  • this works only at the national level. For the local level, apply to your local clan and patronage networks.

  • In this view the distinguishing characteristic of Core and Light voters is willingness to vote. The spectrum is not one of identity vs. policy, but of voter apathy. That is why the "middle" contains people who don't vote at all.

  • This raises the question of why, then, do parties behave as though there is a "center" full of moderates who must be appealed to? Why do they engage in last-minute electoral stunts that appear to assume some voters are undecided, such as Chen Chu's release of a videoing showing alleged vote-buying by her opponent's side the day before the latest Kaohsiung mayoral election, or a similar event in the previous cycle of county chief elections, in which supporters of DPP candidate Su were allegedly captured vote buying?

    In my view both sides get out the vote by appealing to their respective bases, not by appealing to undecided centrist voters. But that base consists of human beings who vote for a variety of reasons. While few voters will switch to the Other Side, the Light voters might not come out unless they are given other sweeteners in addition to appeals to political identity -- public policy and of course, stunts that make victims out of one's own side. Chen Chu's release of the vote-buying video was not an appeal to last minute undecided voters who make up their minds based on whether a politician is "corrupt", it was a statement of victimhood that appealed to her own side: See!? I'm getting the shaft! Come out and help! Such moves ask Light voters to come out and Stand By Their Man.

    I'm still working on it. But any "spectrum" model used to study Taiwan will fail to grasp Taiwan, in my view. As with so many other areas of human life, the analysis used to understand western industrialized democracies won't really work on The Beautiful Isle.

    (cross-posted from The View from Taiwan)

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    Bullets and Elections in Taiwan

    The popular China blog ESWN, discussing the recent bullets flying in Taiwan, observes....

    (TVBS) In Taichung's District #3, DPP legislature candidate Hsieh Hsin-ni lost her primary election but she has filed an appeal on the grounds that one of the polling research companies had an improper business relationship with her opponent and this company gave her really bad numbers that resulted in her losing by 0.28%.

    Yesterday, the office of Hsieh-Hsin-ni received a threatening letter which contained a bullet. The letter told her not to support DPP presidential candidate Frank Hsieh anymore.

    Hsieh Hsin-ni had appealed to the Appeals Committee of five persons, of which three agreed that there was a procedure flaw in the selection of the polling research companies. But there was also no evidence of wrongdoing by that research company. The matter has been referred to higher levels. If the polls should have to be taken over again, then Hsieh Hsin-ni's current public campaign against the nefarious collusion between her opponent and the polling company will in fact be an unfair factor in the public's mind. That is to day, a poll taking back then and a poll next week will differ to the extent that the public has been exposed to blanket coverage of the public brawl. Oh, yes, it is also well-known that bullets can affect election outcomes in Taiwan.

    That last sentence appears to refer to the assassination attempt on Chen Shui-bian by a disgruntled Blue supporter the day before the 2004 Presidential election. It's an article of faith among the pro-Blue crowd that Chen arranged to have himself shot, or dickered the surgery, or something, but anyway, it was all a conspiracy, and of course, it swung the election over to Chen. This theory is on par with alien abduction claims and spoon-bending and other claims of faith that fly in the face of reality -- those same people who constantly claim that Chen and the DPP are hopeless incompetents nevertheless argue that they pulled off a conspiracy involving a cast of thousands at several different locations. The one good thing about, however, is that it makes it easy to sort out who is pro-Blue: pretty much anyone who pushes this theory.

    Reality is a bit different than the pro-Blue fantasies alluded to by ESWN, however. It is an article of faith among the Blues that the assassination swung Chen over the edge, giving him the election, but no evidence exists to support this claim. In fact, Agence France Press (AFP) reported on March 7, 2004, that the pro-Blue China Times had come out with a poll showing that the election was close and that Chen had a slight lead over Lien Chan on March 6, 40-38. DPP internal polls were also showing a very tight election with Lien Chan trailing Chen Shui-bian as well by this time. Two days later the pro-Green Taiwan Thinktank came out with a poll that showed results similar to the pro-Blue polls, putting Chen up 40-39.5. In other words, both sides had the election was tight with Chen leading two weeks prior to the assassination attempt.

    Chen won by less than 1% of the vote, a number that would have been greater if invalid ballots had been counted, as they had in previous elections. In early March he was leading by up to 2%. Any way you cut it, there's no support in any numbers for a claim that the assassination gave Chen the victory. Instead, any rational analysis of the 2004 election results would have to start with the incompetence of the Blues, who thought they had the election in the bag, mailed in their campaign, and blew a 20 point lead from the 2000 election - a lead that shrank steadily from December of 2003 on. They also had no counter for the 2-28 rally three weeks prior to the election that brought together people from all over the island, and apparently pushing up Chen's support. The DPP government thoughtfully arranged for the Taipei-Ilan tunnel to open five days before the election, and several other things, such as a last-minute endorsement of Chen by Nobel Laureate Lee Yuan-tse, also fell the DPP's way. Fundamentally, if you start with a 20+% lead, and lose by 1%, then you're the one with a problem.

    The full irony of the KMT selecting Lien Chan as its Presidential candidate in 2004 is that in 2000, when the Blue vote was split between Lien Chan (24%) and James Soong (38%), enabling Chen to win with 39% of the vote, Deep Blue conspiracy theorists blamed Lee Teng-hui for promoting the candidacy of Lien Chan as a way to split the Blues. Wikipedia records:

    Though more popular and consistently ranked higher in the polls, the outspoken former Taiwan Governor James Soong failed to gain the Kuomintang's nomination. As a result, he announced his candidacy as an independent candidate. The Kuomintang responded by expelling Soong and twenty one of his allies in November 1999. It is a very common belief by KMT supporters that President Lee Teng-hui was secretly supporting Chen Shui-bian, and purposely supported the less popular Lien in order to split the Kuomintang, and this belief was given a great deal of credibility after the 2000 election with Lee defected to the pan-Green coalition. Soong, a mainlander, tried to appeal to the native Taiwanese by nominating pro-independence surgeon Chang Chao-hsiung as his running-mate.

    In other words, the KMT conspiracy position on the 2000 election recognizes, explicitly, that Lien Chan was too unpopular to win. Yet in 2004 that very same KMT went ahead and nominated that very same Lien Chan themselves!

    It is clear that the function of the Chen Asassination conspiracy claim is twofold: it exists to attack Chen Shui-bian, and to more importantly, to divert attention from the incompetence and venality of the Blues.

    On a lighter note, in that same post ESWN observes that

    Late today, independent legislator Li Ao's office received a threatening letter with a bullet in it. The author claimed to be the leader of a criminal gang and he used foul to language to call Li Ao a coward who is taking money from Frank Hsieh. The writer also said that only Ma Ying-jeou can save taiwan.

    Li Ao is a pro-annexation mainlander who ran for President in 2000 on the New Party ticket, the first of the many parties to spin off from the KMT. Li Ao, you may recall, gassed the legislature last year. Li once brandished a knife during a legislative session and told Minister of Defense Lee Jye that he should castrate himself. He has also claimed that the CIA gave him information that Chen arranged his own assassination. Li, who was once a useful public intellectual, has become a clown who told the authorities in Beijing that he hopes they have another 1,000 years of rule....

    This is not the first time for Li Ao to make a bullet claim. A couple of years ago he also reported that he recieved a bullet in the mail. Let's hope the police find the culprit, whom I suspect will not be very far from Li Ao's mailbox....

    (cr0ss-posted from The View from Taiwan)

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    Tuesday, May 22, 2007


    Moderate Hsieh?

    Since Frank Hsieh's victory in the DPP primary, we have been treated to a series of stories about how Hsieh is a moderate on relations with China compared with Chen Shui-bian. The corollary is that Taiwan's relations with China will improve even if the DPP wins again in 2008. This of course is music to the ears of those who are living Jim Mann's China Fantasy.

    Peter Enav's take on the significance of Hsieh's nomination a few weeks back was typical:

    Hsieh's candidacy raises the prospects of a significant improvement in Taiwan's relations with China, from which it split amid civil war in 1949.

    Because according to Enav:

    Unlike President Chen Shui-bian, also of the Democratic Progressive Party, or DPP, Hsieh has tried to trim expectations that Taiwan can ever formalize its de facto independence.
    But let's take a look at what Hsieh actually says himself on these issues. On April 19th, Hsieh's blog posted a scan of a open letter from Hsieh. The letter is structured as a series of questions and answers on core issues facing Taiwan.

    People have asked me about the Constitution's One China.

    When the DPP took power in 2000, it was forced to recognize the Constitution. But to resolve the structural problem of the One China constitution, we have to face this issue and debate it before we can get rid of it.

    I am the only premier to have publicly said before the Legislature that we should amend the Constitution to take out the One China language. I am confident that if we deepen democracy and strengthen consciousness of Taiwan as a community, Taiwan will have a new constitution that comports with Taiwan's current status .

    This is hardly "trimming expectations that Taiwan can ever formalize its de facto independence." Like Chen, Hsieh advocates a new constitution that eliminates One China and formalizes Taiwan's current status.

    What does Hsieh think Taiwan's current status is?

    People have asked me about the issue of normalizing our country.

    Taiwan's road to democracy can be compared to crossing a powerful river. If you cannot cross directly, sometimes you have to go around to move forward. Through the reform of the 10,000-year legislature, direct elections of our president, the elimination of Taiwan Province, the abolishment of the National Assembly, and the creation of constitutional right to referendums, the Republic of China has already been "Taiwanified." The next step is to make Taiwan a normal country. If more than 80% of the people identify with Taiwan, the 3/4 threshhold for amending the Constitution won't be a problem. We need to have confidence and continue applying for UN membership as Taiwan so that the international community will recognize Taiwan.
    First, the Republic of China has been localized over the past two decades of political reforms. The Republic of China has become Taiwan. Now Taiwan needs to normalize. One aspect of that normalization is that the Taiwanese people need to become secure in their Taiwanese identity. A second aspect is that Taiwan should apply to world organizations under its own name.

    Hsieh is unequivocal that Taiwan's current status is that of a sovereign and independent nation.

    People have asked me how I am different from Ma Ying-Jeou

    Ma Ying-jeou and I are different. He advocates keeping the Constitution's One China article. I advocate getting rid of it. Ma Ying-jeou thinks that Taiwan's current status is that of a political entity, not a sovereign, independent country. I think that Taiwan's current status is that of a sovereign, independent country. Ma Ying-jeou also recognizes the right to referendum. But his vote will be for unification with China. My vote will be to defend Taiwan's sovereign and independent status and to make Taiwan a welfare state founded on dignity, justice, and happiness.

    We can now see the cold, hard propositions that Hsieh sometimes obscures with his frothy rhetoric.

    • Taiwan needs a new constitution that reflects Taiwan's current status.
    • Taiwan's current status is that of a sovereign and independent state.
    • Therefore, Taiwan's constitution should be amended so that Taiwan is a sovereign and independent state.

    The question of course is how and when to do it.

    People have asked me about reconciliation and coexistence.

    Taiwan is a country with diverse peoples and cultures. If we do not coexist we have no future. You must be a subject [主體 In the philosophical sense of one who is the master of one's own fate as opposed to an object of the will of others] before there can be reconciliation. You must have your own identity before you can coexist. If we are divided, our enemies will benefit and the people will suffer. If outside forces threaten Taiwan's existence, we need to speak as one to the outside world and demand that China remove its missiles.

    Identifying with Taiwan as a community is the precondition for coexistence. I hold that the new Taiwanese identity should be one of self-affirmation and tolerance so that all of our people can feel secure, free from fear of retribution or discrimination, and feel a sense of being at home. Reconciliation is for the people and coexististence is for Taiwan. This day will come to pass. I am sure of it.
    Hsieh's concept of coexistence 共生 is an originally Buddhist term that is now the standard modern translation for symbiosis via Japan. It is also an important term in modern Japanese and Korean thought that has both Buddhist and biological overtones. Hsieh's use of the term is simplified in the English-language media as meaning that Taiwan needs to find a way to get along with China by adopting a lower profile and not doing things China dislikes.

    But we can see here that the main force of reconciliation and coexistence is domestic. Reconciliation and coexistence is Hsieh's way of building up and solidifying Taiwanese identity so that the political goals of a new constitution and normalization can be realized. A strong Taiwanese identity is the precondition for external
    reconciliation and coexistence with China rather than the erroneous notion that Hsieh is advocating that reconciliation and coexistence with China take priority over Taiwanese identity and nationhood.

    Beyond the issues of identity and independence, Hsieh also has an alternative vision of a Taiwan based on the DPP's reformist core values. Hsieh is admittedly fuzzy on the specifics but it should not be that difficult to see that Hsieh wants to move Taiwan in the direction of a European-style welfare state away from the development state that is the KMT's default model for Taiwan and one that the current DPP administration has essentially acquiesced to.
    People have asked me what kind of country Taiwan should be?

    Vision is not something that changes every day. It should be a commitment, something that you work on for a lifetime to realize. My commitments to the well-being of the people of Taiwan are
    • Taiwan first
    • Culture first
    • Environment first
    • The disadvantaged first
    I moved the old Kaohsiung Railway Station 83 meters to preserve it. After the new station was built, I moved it back to preserve Taiwan's memory. This was protecting Taiwanese identity as a subject. I succesfully brought the 2009 World Games to Kaohsiung and I will seek to bring the 2020 Olympics to Taiwan to create a common experience for our future generations and thereby build a collective Taiwanese consciousness.
    Frank Hsieh the moderate? I don't think so.

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    Sunday, May 20, 2007


    Farmers Associations and Rural Politics

    The past few days the Taipei Times has been running articles on the changes at one of the most important of the nation's rural institutions, the farmer's associations. According to this 2005 paper, Taiwan has 281 local farmers' associations, 21 city and county farmers' associations and one provincial farmers' association. "These local farmers' associations are the most important social and economic cooperative organizations in local areas of Taiwan." They are critical for understanding how Taiwan's politics function.

    The farmers' associations were established in 1900 by local farmers during the Japanese colonial period. The colonial government took them over and operated them as an administrative arm of the government. They formed the core of the colonial government's agricultural extension program, which was involved in standardizing seed varieties, introducing new farming methods, and other developmentalist activities. Membership was required of all rural households. By the 1920s these were major institutions with 40,000 employees.

    In 1949, when the KMT fled to Taiwan the existing agricultural cooperatives and farmers associations were merged. In 1950 the US AID team came in, and the associations were reorganized based on the recommendations of the Joint Commission for Rural Reconstruction (JCRR). Again developmentalist in orientation, the purpose of the associations shifted to providing better credit facilities for finance of new technology. During the Japanese period rural credit had been a major agricultural issue, and high interest rates were the norm.

    The associations are organized in a hierarchy with the provincial farmers' association as the main management unit. Membership of the 300 such organizations includes anyone and everyone doing farm business in Taiwan, including owner-cultivators, tenants, hired hands, agricultural extension works, and employees of state-run firms. By the 1980s total membership consisted of over 85% of households, or 1.3 million people. Both full and associate memberships are available. Because these organizations are important sources of rural credit, small businessmen are often members, especially in urban and suburban areas. Another driver of membership in urban areas was land sales -- until the late 1990s, to buy and sell agricultural land, you had to be registered as a farmer. Many a white collar worker in a Taipei office was listed as a farmer somewhere so that he could engage in lucrative agricultural land deals on the city outskirts.

    Under the system, the general managers of these cooperatives are not elected, and never have been. Instead, the farmers elect representatives who elect a board of directors who in turn select the general managers of the cooperatives. The candidates are then officially appointed by the Department of Agriculture and Forestry. As Hung Mao-tien noted in his excellent work on the transition to democracy in Taiwan, The Great Transition:

    The general manager is the chief executive in charge of the daily operations of the association. As credit activities increased, the general manager assumed an additional role comparable to the president of a cooperative bank. The position is regarded as the most lucrative of all public offices in rural Taiwan, drawing a salary comparable to that of a cabinet minister in the national government. Furthermore, since the position offers a unique opportunity to help friends get jobs or win export quotas for agricultural products, it provides a bae that can lead to an exciting and lucrative political career."(p47)

    Because the resources controlled by these associations are so vast, local factions compete furiously for the positions of board members, general manager, and director (this situation is also true of local irrigation associations, which even during the 1980s were considered so lucrative that candidates would spend a million US dollars to run for office). In addition to the vast opportunities for graft, corruption, insider deals, and outright embezzlement, the farmers associations also elected representatives to the provincial and national legislatures under the old political system. This made them politically powerful in their own right, and for years they kept unofficial spokesman in those institutions to look after their interests. Numerous KMT politicians began their career in these associations, including former KMT legislative speaker Liu Sung-pan, who ended up fleeing to China from corruption charges a decade ago.

    During the martial law era the appointments were controlled by the KMT, and its influence remains strong at the rural level due to its grip on these organizations. Although the farmers themselves were less than 10% KMT members, virtually all association officials had to be in the Party.

    Corruption is easy and widespread because of changes made to the system back in 1974. Prior to that time the funds collected from members were owned under a share system by the members themselves, but in 1974 these assets were placed under the direct control of the association's appointed officials. With oversight non-existent, the associations became notorious for corrupt financial practices. At present the system is burdened with enormous sums in non-performing loans. Their financial dominance at the rural level was so great that as late as 2003 there were almost 100 townships on the island that had no commercial bank presence (source). As this Taiwan ThinkTank White Paper observes:

    Since [1974], the welfare and rights of farmers and fishermen have not been protected. After the system was abolished, the money from sale of shares in the association was used as a business fund. Although there was a rule that 70% had to be used for agricultural promotion, in fact it was raided by politicians and business people. Local political factions were able to empty out the credit units. Simply put, whoever won an election, and in those days the KMT allowed no real competition, would take charge of everything, including the huge sums of capital in the association credit units.

    One article describes in detail how the farmer's associations were integrated into the KMT's local faction alliances:

    In the organisation of Taiwan's local policy, local factions (difang paixi) are local-level clientelistic networks. Most of Taiwan's counties and municipalities have two, some three local factions, which compete for local economic and power resources. Factions usually are held together by ties of blood, kinship and marriage, but also by interpersonal relationships. The KMT made use of local factions basically by trading money for support via local-level elections. Getting elected at the local level was not very attractive in terms of political power, because local government was in the firm grip of the party state. Political office, however, granted access to local monopoly and oligopoly rights and "money machines" like the credit departments of the fishermen's associations (yuhui), the water conservancy associations (shuilihui), and the farmer's associations (nonghui). In addition, political protection of semi-legal or illegal projects such as brothels, gambling dens and karaoke bars guaranteed the local power-holders further resources.

    The organisational capacity of the KMT, a tailor-made electoral system and its clientelistic relationship to the local factions made influence on electoral outcomes highly effective during authoritarianism. All that was required was the subdivision of an electoral district into as many parts as there were candidates, and ensure that each candidate received just the right number of votes. This was achieved with the help of vote-brokers (zhuangjiao). In order to be successful in these elections, one usually had to be nominated by the KMT, who had the organisational means to co-ordinate votes and candidates, the financial means to co-finance the costly electoral campaigns, and the coercive means to deter non-authorised candidates from running. As a consequence, candidates of the various local factions competed for nomination by the KMT, and local alliances against the KMT were highly unlikely unless the KMT disregarded the factions by filing its own candidates. This was backed up by the rigorous enforcement of a policy that forbade factions to conclude alliances beyond the county level.

    These "local factions" continue to play a powerful role in Taiwan's politics, and the majority are still loyal to the KMT. They are integrated into the Party's Machine politics. In 1994 the KMT under Justice Minister Ma Ying-jeou, now the Party's Presidential candidate, launched a crackdown on vote buying at the local level whose effects still linger in the hatred of the Party's Machine politicians for Ma, and in disastrous results in the legislative elections. In 1996 Ma was removed from his post as justice minister, an event which many have claimed was due to his attacks on political corruption. Since then the local-level KMT has fought all attempts to reform the system.

    Consequently, the political role of the farmer's associations remains the same, although the financial effectiveness of the organizations themselves is on the wane. A recent commentary in the Taipei Times noted:

    Farmers' associations are no longer organizations for farmers. At best, they are companies trading in agricultural resources and materials as well as buying, distributing and marketing processed agricultural products. For example, Pai Tien-chih (白添枝), who became a legislator-at-large for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) as an agricultural representative although he is chairman of a gravel company, said that farmers' associations were like privately owned companies, and their directors were like corporate chief executives.

    Pai Tien-chih is actually the Chairman of the Board for the Taipei County Farmers' Association, a powerful institution. Note the interconnection -- he also runs a gravel company, another key rural industry rife with corruption.

    In 2001 36 agricultural associations were taken over by State-run banks in a bid to clean up the tremendous non-performing loan problem. A 2002 Taiwan Journal article said:

    While acknowledging the important role that these organizations have played in Taiwan's economic development, ministry officials said the credit unions are losing money fast, especially compared with what they were able to earn five years ago. Farmers' credit unions, for example, earned roughly US$317 million in 1996--77 times last year's figure.

    Statistics also show that by the end of June, the average overdue loan ratio for farmers' and fishermen's cooperatives stood at 21.5 percent and 17.5 percent, respectively. This far surpasses the rate of 7.5 percent at local commercial banks and 14.3 percent of credit cooperatives.

    In November 2002, local farmers' and fishermen's associations organized a massive rally to request that the government suspend risk-control measures for association loans, switch supervisory control from the Ministry of Finance to the Council of Agriculture (CoA), and establish a national agricultural bank to offer loans for agricultural development as well as general businesses to help increase the competitiveness of grassroots credit units. The importance of this issue can be gauged from the fact that in the Chen Administration budgets, the Council of Agriculture is consistently the second largest item after Defense. However, financial reform has been opposed by the KMT, many of whose politicians make their power bases in the associations. Reform thus impacts the KMT right where it hurts.

    The Chen Administration has taken several shots are reforming the system, one that has provoked a backlash from the KMT, whose officials have long pillaged these institutions. In 2001 the Administration revised the laws on who can be a general manager, and in 2003 it clarified oversight. In a situation familiar to anyone who has interacted with the bureaucracy on Taiwan, accounting oversight for the agricultural cooperatives was completely unclear prior to 2003. Did the Ministry of Finance or the Council of Agriculture have oversight of the loan system? The Chen Administration assigned this to the CoA in 2004.

    The Administration also established the Agricultural Bank of Taiwan in 2005 to take over the activities of three previous institutions. According to Taiwan ThinkTank, the "Chen administration has also increased the subsidy for elderly farmers from NT$3000 to NT$4000, offered academic grants and loans for farmers’ and fishermen’s children, provided a 50% increase in subsidies for natural disasters, increased the subsidy for fallow farmland from NT$37,000 to NT$45,000 per hectare, increased the fuel benefit for fishing boats, provided for special agricultural loans at an annual rate of 1.5% to 2%, offered to purchase all produce when prices fall below 95% of direct costs, and funded a NT$76.5 billion subsidy for farmers to offset the impact of imported farm produce." The farmers associations have also become key marketing associations for farm products during the Chen era.

    The Chen Administration's fight to reform this system, which is an important source of financing and political coalition building for KMT politicos at the local level, has not gone unchallenged. The Taipei Times commentary chronicles the issues:

    After the Democratic Progressive Party took power in 2000, it sought to add an anti-corruption clause to the farmers' and fishermen's association acts. After negotiations and interruptions, a compromise amendment passed in 2001.

    Former Council of Agriculture chairman Chen Hsi-huang (陳希煌) said at the time that about one-third of the nation's more than 300 association directors had a history of corruption. Negotiations, however, watered down the law to the point that such people would lose their jobs only after they exhausted all appeals. That was still troublesome for these people, so legislators close to the associations have frequently tried to repeal the law.

    In 2004, then People First Party (PFP) legislator Chen Chao-jung (陳朝容), who is now a member of the KMT, joined PFP Legislator Tsai Sheng-chia (蔡勝佳) and others in signing a motion to eliminate the anti-corruption clause.

    Tsai recently raised the idea of voiding the anti-corruption clause again. At the time I strenuously objected, believing that one should not use farmers as an excuse to serve one's own ends.

    I grew up in Changhua County's Fenyuan Township (芬園), where farmers mostly grow things like lychees and pineapples. About NT$900 million (US$27 million) of the money that farmers had saved in their associations' credit departments was repeatedly "lost" by their directors through high-risk loans.

    Tsai's latest amendment, which was passed last week, removes the rule that members be stripped of their position upon losing their second appeal, and imposes the more lenient condition that their conviction must be finalized before they are discharged. It also removes any term limits.

    Tsai Sheng-chia was one of the drivers of the campaign to market Taiwan's fruit in China. He led a group to China back in 2005, along with Pai Tieh-chih mentioned above.

    The changes he proposed basically evisecerate any attempt to remove corrupt officials at key financial institutions at the rural level, making it possible for the KMT to continue to use the associations as gold mines. Originally the secretary-generals of the associations were limited to three terms, but the new legislation abolishes this. The new legislation also means that since officials aren't removed until their convictions are finalized, convicted officials can remain in key offices in provincial financial institutions. The DPP responded:

    "The changes are an attempt by the pan-blue camp to consolidate their relationships with the associations," said Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Wu Ming-ming (吳明敏).

    Wu, who has taught agriculture in colleges for 30 years, said that he was sad that the welfare of farmers and fishermen had been "sacrificed" to party interests.

    With the amendments, about 95 percent of current secretary-generals, whose loyalties traditionally lie with the KMT, will be able to dominate the organizations indefinitely despite the fact that many of them have criminal backgrounds, Wu told a press conference.

    According to Wu, 24 executives or staffers in the associations across the nation were convicted of crimes such as corruption, drug trafficking, bribery and violence at their first trials as of this month.

    Political blogger A-gu, commenting on this, observed:

    The goal is to help those secretary-generals to wield significant long-term power, which makes them good friends and easier to buy off, and to help protect them from prosecution in the cases where they are involved in shady deals. And they often are: "In the 2001 farmers' association election, 555 cases of vote-buying, violence, and violation of the election laws, involving 951 people, were sent to the court, an increase of 157 cases (42 people) compared with the 1997 election."

    One obvious solution to the ongoing crisis is a reform program that erects a national farmer's bank and eliminates the farmers' associations. This has been repeatedly proposed during the Chen Administration, but the KMT and its allies continue to fight reform of their lucrative power bases in Taiwan's Farmers' Associations.

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    Monday, May 14, 2007


    Chateau Fire Exposes More of Ma's Corruption

    Grass Mountain Chateau
    Grass Mountain Chateau (GMC, 草山行館), which was the first Presidential residence after the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) escaped to Taiwan in 1949, was burned to the ground in a fire of unknown origin on April 7 of this year. Although some materials found among the debris raises the suspecion of arson, the real cause of fire is still undetermined.

    The current political environment in Taiwan is filled with the calls of "de-Chiang-ization" (去蔣化), which is a movement to eradicate the God-like figure of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) that was painted by the authoritarian KMT government over the past 60 plus years. The movement includes renaming of many state-owned organizations, removal of numerous Chiang's status all over Taiwan, etc.

    Naturally, elites of the old authoritarian KMT and their successors fought back furiously. Under this intense political spot light, up goes Chiang's first lodge in a blaze. In no time has it sparked a huge intensification of the current political conflict. Especially, pan-blue politicians are wasting no time looking for evidence to blame this fire on the anti-Chiang movement.

    They conveniently forgot what the history should have taught them again and again: whatever conspiracy theories they cook up against the pan-greens, it always backfires and hurts them seriously. Rising from the ashes of the conspiracy theory about "burning GMC as part of anti-Chiang movement" is the discovery that Ma, during his term as Taipei Mayor, violated rules and ignored laws via a contract between GMC management contract winner and the Taipei City Government to benefit his Taipei City Government employee.

    Grass Mountain Chateau

    Map of northern Taiwan showing the location of Grass Mountain Chateau
    An article in the Taipei Times describes the Chateau:
    The chateau, located in Yangmingshan National Park, was built in 1920 as a vacation home for Japan's Prince Hirohito and later became a summer retreat for dictator Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) after he retreated with the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) to Taiwan in 1949.
    Here is another description:
    The Taipei City Government took over the administration of the chateau after Chiang died in 1975, registering the building as a monument because of its historical significance. In 2002, it was turned into an arts salon and a museum.

    Ma's GMC-related corruption

    Remember that Ma Ying-Jeou was elected as Taipei Mayor in 1998.

    The Chateau, as a national monument, is protected by law. The local government in whose jurisdiction a national monument resides is responsible for contracting the maintenance and preservation of the national monument to an outside party.

    The contract winner of GMC management was the Humanities and Social Sciences of Fo Guang College (佛光人文社會學院). Kung Peng-Cheng (龔鵬程), who represented Fo Guang to sign the contract with Taipei City Government, is a senior consultant employed by Taipei City Government. To state it more clearly, Ma's Taipei City Government gave the contract of managing GMC to his own employee. Legally, this might not be a problem, if no rules were bent.

    According to the law, whoever gets the management contract of a national monument should pay monthly management fee to the local government --- in this case, Taipe City.

    Taipei City Councilwoman Jian Yu-Yen 台北市議員簡余晏
    But the law was completely distorted when it came to Ma's hand. Taipei City Councilwoman Jian Yu-yen (簡余晏) and Councilman Lee Ching-feng (李慶鋒) pointed out on April 16 that, not only did Ma not ask Fo Gong to pay the required monthly management fee, but also his city government even paid a subsidy to benifit Fo Guang. Fo Guang, as the main contractor of the management, subcontracted the management tasks to several downstream parties and took management fees from them. Fo Guang put these management fees into their own pockets without paying them back to the Taipei City Government.

    Taipei City Councilman Lee Ching-feng 台北市議員李慶鋒
    Therefore, as a result of Ma's corrupted administration, not only did Taipei City Government illegally paid Fo Guang but also provided Fo Guang the location of a national monument for free --- without charging Fo Guang the management fee, the rent, or even the utilities (all were paid by the citizens of Taipei with their tax money) --- for Fo Guang to run a business that earned profits from subcontractors and visitors.

    The corruption of Ma's government doesn't stop here. Upon the expiration of the contract, the Taipei City Government allowed Fo Guang to continue receiving all the illegal benefits --- free land, free Chateau, free utilities, illegal subsidies, and all the illegal earnings --- without signing a new contract or even an extension of the old one.

    It's hard to believe that the Taipei City Government - under the administration of Ma Ying-Jeou - can't even manage a simple historical monument legally. The entire process is marked by a series of steps revealing corruption. Like many other previous cases, Ma might, as usual, claim that it's all his subordinates' fault so he doesn't need to shoulder any of the responsibility for this.

    The Red Army leader Shih Ming-Teh (施明德) wearing an "anti corruption" shirt
    I recall that when Ma was accused earlier this year of putting the Mayor's special allowence fund into his private account, Shih Ming-Teh (施明德), the leader of the Red Army that called for President Chen to step down in the name of 'anti-corruption' last October, responded to the media in regard of Ma's campaign for the Presidency next year,
    "We came out to protest the corruption of a President. Now you expect people to vote a corrupt politician into the Office? Should Taiwan be called 'State of Corruption'? "
    That's the real question that all blue and red supporters need to ask and answer. As the Presidential election comes closer and closer, I am sure that more and more Ma's corrupt activities will be exposed.

    Note: Thanks to Tim Maddog for proofreading

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    Thursday, May 10, 2007


    The SET Incident

    The basic background
    In late February and early March of this year, at the time when people in Taiwan were commemorating the 60th anniversary of the infamous "228 Massacre," SET-TV broadcast a multipart program which used oral history from survivors of the incident, documentary evidence, recreated footage, and narration to tell the tale for those who may not know much about it. Among the footage used was a clip of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) soldiers executing people in public. It turns out that the footage was not filmed in Taiwan, but rather in Shanghai.

    Rather revealing is the fact that when this came to light in May, the KMT began shedding crocodile tears. (Is this an inadvertant admission that they did not know this back in February?) As soon as this information was made public, the guilty party (and by that, I mean the KMT) wanted the currently-unconstitutional NCC (National Communications Commission) to shut down SET on account of this. This would be the same NCC that wouldn't shut down the mendacious TVBS after that station had broadcast footage of a gangster, claimed it was sent to them, and were discovered to have shot the footage themselves. Before the revelation that the TVBS footage was faked, it was used by KMT legislators to admonish the Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) administration for its "failure to maintain public security in the wake of a recent spate of crimes."

    Can you see the double standard so common in KMT behavior at play once again?

    Some simple answers to simple questions
    1. Was the footage in question filmed in Taiwan?
    Apparently not.

    2. Weren't those KMT soldiers that were seen in the footage executing people in the street?

    3. Would many Taiwanese have known about the KMT's Shanghai killings if they hadn't attacked SET over the error?
    Probably not. (Thanks for that much, KMT.)

    4. Did the KMT commit the same kinds of atrocities in Taiwan (and wouldn't that explain why SET used the footage)?

    5. Did SET handle the apology appropriately?
    Perhaps not.

    6. Did those asking for the apology approach it correctly?
    Absolutely not.

    7. Is the "SET Incident" different from the recent "BS-TV Falsification Fest"?
    Yep, it's way different.

    8. Did the 228 Massacre happen any differently than SET portrayed it?

    9. Any more questions?

    * See the Shanghai footage as it was originally used (at about the 1'52" mark in this video), comprising less than 4 seconds of the SET program that I uploaded to YouTube: The 228 Incident - 60 years on, Part 3/3

    Here are a couple of things which have happened since I posted this:

    * NCC fines SET-TV NT$1 million for misleading public (May 19, 2007, Taipei Times)
    [NCC spokesperson Howard] Shyr said the commission's review committee had found the history was portrayed in an inappropriately emotional and dramatic manner, which was a violation of journalistic ethics.
    After suppressing discussion of it for decades, of course it's going to look "emotional" and "dramatic" (especially to those allied with the murderous party) when the survivors speak out about the people who tried to murder them. If you have any doubts, read George Kerr's Formosa Betrayed.

    * KMT slams regulator's 'double standards' in TV row (May 22, 2007, Taiwan News)
    At the Legislative Yuan, KMT caucus members said the NCC had been more lenient with SET TV than with TVBS, stating that the NCC had only fined SET TV NT$1 million and asked that its managers and supervisors attend an eight-hour news ethics course, but had fined TVBS NT$2 million and demanded that General Manager Lee Tao be relieved of his post.

    "If NCC applied the same standard to both companies, why can't TVBS managers just attend an eight-hour news ethics course?" asked KMT Legislator Sun Ta-chien (孫大千).
    Keep in mind that a TVBS reporter made a video of a gangster and pretended it was mailed in while SET merely used (real) footage of KMT soldiers (just in another location) committing (actual) murders (just like they did in Taiwan). Simple logic should make the difference between these two cases rather obvious.

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    Cross-posted at It's Not Democracy, It's A Conspiracy!

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    Wednesday, May 09, 2007


    CKS Memorial Hall Name Changed

    The Central News Agency is reporting [Chinese] that the Executive Yuan has changed the name of the CKS Memorial Hall to the Taiwan Democracy Memorial by approving legislation abolishing the CKS Memorial Hall Organic Act and sending it to the legislature.

    While this may sound like the Legislature needs to approve the change, the Executive Yuan says that that is not necessary. The Yuan downgraded the CKS Memorial to a fourth-level agency last month and approved the charter and staffing of the new agency as the Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall. In other words, legislative approval is just a legal formality. The Executive Yuan's position is that they have legal authority to downgrade agencies and that fourth-level agencies do not need an organic act to be established.

    The Ministry of Education will issue the new charter and change the signs at the Memorial.

    The pro-blue Broadcasting Company of China follows with a story quoting Taipei mayor Hau Lung-bin as saying that the name change will cost the city NT$8 million to change MRT and bus stop signs. City Hall is studying whether it can legally avoid changing the name of the CKS Memorial MRT stop.



    Ma Wins Key Ruling

    Indicted KMT Presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou took an important step toward squirming out of a conviction yesterday:

    The Taipei District Court ruled yesterday that a Ministry of Justice opinion which could prove favorable to former Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was admissable as evidence in his trial.

    At a Cabinet meeting last November, Justice Minister Morley Shih said that special allowance funds should be seen as a "substantive subsidy," an opinion similar to that being argued by Ma's defense team.

    The court did not resolve, however, whether the special allowance funds - allocated for the discretionary use of administrative chiefs - should be treated as public funds or personal benefits. Ma's case could turn on which definition the court accepts.

    While the latest hearing in Ma's case was being held, the nation's top prosecutors said it was improper for the prosecution to provide a unified definition on the use and character of special allowance funds.

    This ruling allows Ma to claim that the special funds, downloaded into personal accounts, were meant as a form of extra salary. That may be implicitly true -- they were one of the ways the KMT bought the bureaucracy's favor -- but that is obviously not the stated intent of the law.

    Note also that last paragraph -- the nation's prosecutors do not want the special funds defined, because if they are, prosecutors will lose discretion over how they charge politicians in the future. Ma's team has already pointed to a case in Tainan in which a public official did the same thing Ma did, but got off when the prosecutors concluded that the special funds were personal salary.

    The way to go here is obvious: an amnesty for all public officials, from the lowliest school principal to the President, and an end to the special funds. But I think we'll see a quasi-amnesty: the special funds will be treated as personal income, Ma will not be convicted, and they will continue to flow out of public coffers into personal pockets to corrupt another generation of public officials.

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    Tuesday, May 01, 2007


    KMT Wants Control of History

    Since the late 1990s the Taiwan government has introduced a series of reforms in the local education designed in part to eradicate the Chinese colonialist history that was the norm during the era of one-party rule. Among these were changes in the textbooks. An important change was permitting local schools to select their own textbooks, rather than forcing all schools to use one textbook. This has led to great local variation in education, as well as immense profits for textbook makers. It has also led to a much greater focus on the history and culture of Taiwan.

    Mayor Hau Lung-bin of Taipei recently announced an attempt to erect a separate textbook kingdom in northern Taiwan, a little taste of what will happen in 2008 if Ma Ying-jeou wins.

    Taipei City Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) came under fire yesterday from city councilors and student rights groups after he announced that a controversial "single version textbook" policy would take effect in the city in September 2008.

    He also said that once the junior high school students educated under the new policy graduated in 2011, the city government, the Taipei County government, and the Keelung City government would jointly hold a new high school entrance examination for them.

    The "single version textbook" policy requires schools to use specific textbooks edited by the government for every subject, in contrast to the current system that gives local schools the freedom to choose from a range of textbooks those that their students will use.

    Hau denied that the purpose of the plan was to roll back the changes the DPP has made, but it can't be a coincidence that the areas named have traditionally been KMT strongholds where the Blues can count on control of the system to enforce their will. The Ministry of Education has already nixed the idea, but Hau has claimed the city government is not under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education. This claim is not empty; Taiwan's arcane system recognizes several levels of government, counties and cities like Taichung county or Changhua city, and then provinces (like Taiwan island and its associated islands) and municipalities, which are technically equivalent. Taipei and Kaohsiung are municipalities, and are technically equivalent to the whole island of Taiwan, a "province". Hence the mayors of these two cities have enormous clout in the system and jurisdictions are not as clear as they might be.

    Hau can also count on sympathy because many around the island feel that the DPP's textbook decision has resulted in "chaos." Parents claim that the quality of the textbooks has fallen (it certainly isn't high, and from what I can tell, wasn't ever very good). The Blues can count on this in their drive to roll back DPP progress if they win in '08.

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