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Sunday, June 24, 2007

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Ma-Siew: Your Dad's KMT

Foreign media coverage of the selection of Vincent Siew as Ma Ying-jeou's running mate has so far been suggesting that Siew will help Ma at the polls. See Bloomberg's coverage of the selection here and polls in the pro-blue media here.

The first Bloomberg piece quotes the ubiquitous Philip Yang as saying:

It's clear that Ma wants to appeal to the middle-ground voters with Siew's financial and economics background,'' Philip Yang, an associate professor of political science at National Taiwan University, said today in a telephone interview.


This could be a tough sell especially to working class and rural voters outside of Taipei and the high tech industry. Siew, as the article notes, is the founder of the Cross-Straits Common Market Foundation and advocates a single Chinese market that would encompass Taiwan. While this will go over well with the business and finance crowd in Taipei, there are also many people on the lower end of the economic register who are justifiably worried about the idea of opening Taiwan's markets even further to Chinese goods and services.

And as Frank Hsieh immediately pointed out, Siew was deeply involved in the now-discredited move toward BOT projects under Lee Teng-hui and Taiwan's accession to the WTO. Both policies are now deeply unpopular in Taiwan because they both violate Taiwan's social contract in which the government is responsible for taking care of the people rather than building expensive privatized infrastructure that ordinary people can't afford to use or making elderly farmers compete with cheap Chinese produce or international agro-business.

Another expert quoted in the Bloomberg piece suggests that Siew will help Ma down south:


``The choice of Vincent Siew will help relations with the mainland, as he has been promoting cross-Strait exchanges over the past years,'' said Kevin Yang, Taipei-based chief investment officer at Paradigm Asset Management Co., which oversees $360 million in assets. ``He'll also help get votes in central and southern Taiwan, as he's from the south.''


But when Siew ran on the Lien Chan ticket in 2000, Siew's presence on the ticket led to a whopping 23% of the vote in Chiayi City and County, where Siew is from. That's exactly equivalent to what Lien got nationwide, and Lien did even worse in other southern cities and counties. So how is Siew going to be able help Ma from down south when he did absolutely nothing for Lien in 2000? As Chiu Lili as city councilor from Tainan wrote in today's China Times, thinking that green voters down south are going to vote for Siew because he is from Chiayi demonstrates a fundemental misunderstanding of the psychology of southern green voters. Those voters vote for candidates they feel share their experience of struggle against the KMY regime and have a similar lifestyle. Siew, a colorless technocrat who served the KMT regime in Taipei and abroad, brings little to appeal to southern voters.

More seriously though, Siew is just plain old. At 68 he looks even older than he actually is. He has incredibly little charisma and is a poor public speaker given to bureaucratic banalities. His main public image is Smiling Siew (微笑老蕭)--an Uncle Tom-like Taiwanese figure in the KMT whose response to government policy being questioned or conflict was smiling to buy time. In short, he's your Dad's KMT. Ma, who already has the image of being uptight, prissy, and conservative, has gone off and chosen a party elder from yesterday's KMT. The KMT's biggest image problem is that they are a monolithic organization with no fresh faces and are incapable of change after consecutive defeats in presidential election. Ma has just proved that once again.

Ma sees putting Siew on the ticket as part of his strategy to focus on the economy. Siew, Ma gushed, built Taiwan into a trading power and spearheaded major economic development projects like the fifth and sixth naptha crackers. But the problem, as Yang Tai-shun pointed out also in today's China Times, is that if the Taiwanese poeople are so impressed with Siew's economic record, why didn't more of them vote for the Lien-Siew ticket?

Ma's strategy of trying to focus on the economy and not the DPP forte of national identity and the future of Taiwan is probably Ma's best best, but is unlikely to succeed. It's true that although the economy has grown a healthy 4% or more in each of the last three years, many ordinary people haven't been feeling much gain. (Things must be very different from those people who have made a killing in real estate over the past three years or on the stock market right now, but that's a different story.) So when Ma asks ordinary Taiwanese people if they are better off after eight years of DPP government, he looks pretty savvy because the answer is going to be no. Harping on irrelevant comparisons with South Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong also helps--'Taiwan used to be the first among the four dragons, and now we are the last.'

But I think this strategy will ultimately fail, and Siew provides an important clue. What Ma is actually advocating is profoundly conservative. In effect, he saying "Let's go back to the good old days when Taiwan's economy was growing by leaps and bounds." Elections are all about giving people a vision for the future, and a conservative vision of a future that is actually an imagined past is a powerful one. But Ma's conservative vision is going to founder on the rocks of China because while Ma is somewhat improbably suggesting that Taiwan can return to the economic past by opening up to China, voters will see that in his vision of the future, political freedoms are going to be exchanged for economic gains. It is in this context that his comments on Singapore as being a model for Taiwan are so significant. That is a vision of a constricted future rather than an expansive one, and I doubt very much that enough voters are going to buy into it for Ma to win.

In sum, Siew was an incredibly poor choice and one that highlights Ma's conservatism.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

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Hsieh the Moderate

Frank Hsieh stands firmly behind the UN entry under the name Taiwan:

Ruling Democratic Progressive Party presidential candidate Frank Hsieh Friday threw his support behind the government effort to join the United Nations under the name of "Taiwan," saying it falls in line with his longstanding stance on the issue.

Hsieh made the remark while in Kaohsiung to cheer up the southen port city's mayor Chen Chu, whose electoral victory last December was annulled by a district court.

Though a moderate on cross-strait ties, Hsieh said he has consistently suggested the island apply for UN membership under the name of Taiwan. To that end, Hsieh said he led a delegation to the UN headquarters 15 years ago to promote the cause and engaged in a ferocious debate with opposition Kuomintang lawmaker John Chiang in the Legislature.

Note the frame that Hsieh gives it:

Asked how he is to handle protest from the United States, Hsieh said he values the friendship between Taipei and Washington but added the US must understand the proposed UN referendum will not upset the status quo across the Taiwan Strait.

The referendum will serve an extra purpose of building national consensus on a key issue, Hsieh pointed out.

Proponents and opponents of the UN bid can make known their views publicly during the process and allow the people to decide which way is better for Taiwan through democratic means, Hsieh said.
Two points here. First, the "moderate" Hsieh has most of the same positions that the "radical" Chen does. Second, Hsieh puts his finger on a problem -- when Taiwan attempts to build a consensus on cross-strait issues, the US objects. How else is Taiwan supposed to build consensus, except through public democracy?



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Saturday, June 16, 2007

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Kaohsiung Mayoral Election Invalidated

A local court has invalidated the Kaohsiung Mayoral election.

Judges decided that accusations Chen's camp made regarding Huang Jun-ying (黃俊英), her main rival, on the eve of the election and on the polling day influenced election results.

The district court stressed in a news release that "Chen's polling-day action of making public a videotape showing a man giving money to passengers on a bus and urging them to vote for Huang could be regarded as a surprise attack against Huang and thus to have made the election unfair."

"We deem that Chen Chu's election as mayor should be invalidated because she, as well as her camp, held a press conference to make vote-buying accusations against her rival on polling day, when laws stipulate that no election-related campaigns can be held at that time in the race," the district court said in the statement.

Huang was not given enough time nor a fair opportunity to defend himself, judges insisted, further emphasizing that the evidence Chen's camp cited for its accusations against Huang was not strong enough.

However, the district court overruled a second lawsuit by Huang alleging irregularities caused by suspected vote-rigging.

The court decided that although the Central Election Commission, responsible for holding the vote, failed to stop Chen from making vote-buying allegations against Huang and did not fine Chen for making the allegations on polling day, this was not sufficient grounds for ruling that the entire election was held improperly.


I've heard that the press conference on the vote buying was held past 10:00 PM, which is against the rules, although Chen Chu is apparently arguing that the law allows presentation of vote buying information at "any time." How the judges knew the accusations affected the results is a mystery, because there is no good polling on the matter, but I suspect that we'll see some pro-Blue polls cited.

According to a report in the Taipei Times about the vote buying, KMT candidate Huang's campaign manager admits that he knew the vote buyer:

Su Wan-chi (蘇萬基), the executive of the KMT mayoral candidate's campaign team, admitted that he had asked Yang, who also is from Yunlin, to help mobilize support for the candidate. But did Su give Yang NT$60,000 to pay voters to participate in rallies? If he did not, then where did the money come from?

Lin Ping-feng (林平峰), chairman of the Yunlin Association, admitted to prosecutors that the association rented 10 buses for Huang's election-eve rally, but that it did not include the two buses Yang had organized for his mobilization activities.

However, Su, a former chairman of the Yunlin Association, had already admitted that he asked Yang to mobilize supporters for the rally, and he managed to fax the map of the rally to Ku.


I'm also curious to see whether a court will now invalidate the Taipei county elections, since there were similar last minute accusations of vote buying against DPP candidate Su in 2005. I have a long revew of vote buying as a tactic in Taiwan here.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

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DPP to topple own premier?

The DPP is moving closer toward a joining a no-confidence vote in the Premier initiated by the PFP last year. The new premier, Chang Chun-hsiung, observed.....

Speaking to reporters at the Grand Hotel after attending a national drug control conference, Chang said he respected the president's and legislators' positions on toppling the Cabinet to pave the way for a dissolving of the legislature.

The Constitution stipulates that the president may, within 10 days following the legislative approval of a no-confidence vote against the premier, dissolve the legislature.

As of Friday, 46 out of the the 83 DPP legislators had endorsed Chen Chin-de's motion, 26 signatures short of the one-third threshold required to send the motion to the legislature.

Chen Chin-de said he would work toward getting more DPP legislators on board.

Explaining the rationale behind the motion, he said the prevailing disorder in the pan-blue-dominated legislature had seriously hindered administrative operations and that "now is the time to put an end to the farce."

Several DPP legislators, however, have expressed doubts about the no-confidence motion, which has also drawn flak from legislators in the opposition.

The politics of this is now quite interesting. The KMT has been doubtful about toppling the Premier since the idea was first proposed last year when the recall motions against Chen Shui-bian failed (as they were inevitably bound to)....as I wrote at the time:

The Blues' obsession with taking out Chen has now led them to propose that, if they fail to bring down Chen, they will bring down the government so they can form a new legislature....so they can bring down Chen. There's no clearer statement of the radicalism of the Blues, who are willing to destroy governance on the island so that they can bring down a President who now has less than 18 months left in his tenure. The Blues are not a stability party; they are radical reactionaries, and they will cheerfully sacrifice the interests of Taiwan, Japan, the US, and the region to achieve their goals. I hope policymakers in Washington are following this closely. You've picked the wrong side, guys, and the Blues are going to betray you in the end.

The DPP has picked up this radical move, which is not likely to be greeted with joy by the business sector, as a possible answer to the problem of the legislative deadlock caused principally by the KMT and its allies. Call their bluff; force a vote. Not all the DPP legislators favor the move, however.

Speculation: lurking behind this is the upcoming legislative election. The KMT wants to have the legislative and Presidential elections at the same time. Since it has more money, it can afford that, while the DPP cannot and would prefer to have the elections at separate times. Not by coincidence the KMT recently complained about the Central Election Commission's decision to set the date of the legislative elections to Jan 12. Suddenly here is the PFP offering a way to do that: dissolve the legislature, force elections early -- which hurts the KMT more, since its more extensive local networks require stroking with flows of cash and patronage that take time and effort to arrange. Advantage? Hard to say, but it hurts the DPP less to have the elections early.

(crossposted at The View from Taiwan)

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Saturday, June 02, 2007

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Behind the China Post's curtain

... lies a big conflict of interest

The Friday edition of the China Post bears the front page headline "Taiwan economy needs stronger bite: AmCham." [UPDATE: Here's a new link to the China Post article.] The article has the AmCham "calling for the need to relieve political wrangling, resolve regulatory morass, and to improve cross-strait as well as U.S. trade relations in order to boost Taiwan's economy." The article quotes the group's president Jane Hwang as saying that "Taiwan appears to be falling behind the other three 'aging' Asian Tigers in economic competitiveness,'" and has its executive director Richard Vuylsteke citing "the high turnover of government officials over the last seven years as a major deterrent to the country's economy."

"[T]he last seven years"? Notice how that coincides precisely with Chen Shui-bian's presidency while entirely avoiding any mention of his name.

The article's vaguely-stated goal is the opening of trade between Taiwan and its missle-pointing neighbor China, which the Taiwanese consider to be a hegemonistic bully bent on economically terrorizing the world into submission via its "one China" policy. Take a look at how the China Post blurs that goal:
Vuylsteke called for the government to get rid of negative import list of products from China, not just to help foreign investment, but also to create jobs for locals.
This flies in the face of the fact that many local jobs have been lost because of Taiwanese factories moving to China, where the labor is cheaper and safety standards much less stringent. It also ignores the fact that China is currently Taiwan's largest export market.

But there are even darker secrets hiding behind the China Post's crimson curtain.

Full disclosure
Welcome back, my friends,
to the show that never ends.
It's so sad you must attend.
Come inside, come inside.

The China Post article is hiding something that you'd never notice unless you've done the kind of research I've been doing for the past several years. AmCham's staff has yet another "Jane" -- one who has recently been employed as a pro-blue propaganda pusher by none other than the China Post.

That would be Jane Rickards.

That's right. Rickards has written articles for the China Post such as these:
* Lu fires parting shots as acting DPP chair (January 26, 2006)
[Promulgating the meme that the DPP is too divided to win any elections.]
* U.S. urges cross-strait stability (February 24, 2006)
[Note the AmCham banner on the podium in the image which accompanies the article.]
* President could have met U.S. officials in Alaska (May 5, 2006)
["Stupid Chen," she seems to be saying. "Why didn't he just kneel?"]
* U.S. visitor issues Chen administration one of the bluntest warnings (May 26, 2006)
[Troublemakers!]
* Chen's Address May Stir Up Ethnic Tensions (June 22, 2006)
[One of the pan-blues' favorite memes.]
* Talks called for on visit by Beijing policy maker (August 4, 2006)
[As if there was a snowball's chance in hell of Chen Yunlin visiting Taiwan.]
See also Michael Turton's takes on Rickards, whom he says is "not what anyone would call an unbiased source" and whose writing he calls "appallingly slanted."

AmCham in Taipei describes themselves as a "non-partisan business organization." After reading the above information, does that ring true, or does it ring as hollow as a bass drum.

Pay close attention to those behind the curtain. Pay very close attention.

RELATED READING:
* On Friday, May 25, 2007, Jerome F. Keating, Ph.D. expressed his own consternation at the CP's continued contortion of history. Read that to see what else is hiding behind their increasingly ragged curtain.
* On Tuesday, May 29, 2007, Ocean Voice Radio (海洋之聲) -- an "underground" pro-green/pro-Taiwan radio station operating in a vast sea of legal and illegal pan-blue/pro-China media -- was shut down [English Google translation] by the pan-blue dominated National Communications Commission (NCC), a group which has ironically been proclaimed unconstitutional. Think they'll send 200 police to the offices of the China Post? (I don't either.)
* In today's Taipei Times, Johnny Neihu revealed the hidden conflict of interest behind a recent sordid tale in the United Daily News involving sex with a West Point cadet who was visiting Taiwan as an exchange student. Turns out that the "damsel in distress" was a friend of the reporter who wrote the story. Isn't that special? Yo, NCC?

UPDATE: The Sunday June 3, 2007 issue of the Taipei Times has an excellent editorial cartoon mocking AmCham in Taipei president Jane Hwang's actual quote of "Just do it."

Places where needles are hard to find: , , , , , , , ,

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

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