by Brian Hioe
On August 6th, New Bloom’s Brian Hioe interviewed Huang Kuo-Chang of the New Power Party. Huang Kuo-Chang, formerly a professor at Academica Sinica, was one of the lead figures of the Sunflower Movement. In the year since, he has actively been involved in the formation of the New Power Party and will be running for legislator in Xizhi as a candidate of the New Power Party.
Brian Hioe: In particular, because you yourself had a significant role during the Sunflower Movement and the occupation of the Legislative Yuan, how do you see the relation of newly emergent Third Force parties and the Sunflower Movement?
Huang Kuo-Chang: Personally, I already began to pursue the formation of a new political party in the summer of 2013. At the time Sunflower had not happened yet, and so the reason for founding a new party was this: The summer of 2013 in Taiwan already gave rise to many important civil movements, and these movements all asked for reforms in the political system, which would require assertive backing in the Legislative Yuan. However, the reality was that neither the KMT nor the DPP, the two major parties within the Legislative Yuan, could satisfy the calls for reform from civil societies.
There is no ambiguity with the KMT, because it almost always stands at the side against reform. As for the DPP, they are also rather disappointing, because although on many issues of reform they appear to share our values, in the actual practice of political sphere, sometimes it seems questionable to those pushing for reforms as to whether they really want to implement reforms or not. This is the first reason we had for wanting to form a new political party.
The second reason is for the long term development of Taiwan, we believe that Taiwan needs a second locally based political party, after the DPP. We have no illusion about the prospect of KMT reforming itself, because after Taiwan’s democratization, the KMT had a very long time it could have used for making itself more locally Taiwanese-based, more attentive in guarding the values of Taiwanese democracy, and more supportive of realizing social justice. What we saw in reality, however, was that the KMT was willing to lie in order to gain political power. For example, since the inception of multi-party democracy in Taiwan, the KMT’s dubious party owned-properties has always been a big problem. The question of the KMT’s party resources need to be put to referendum, because they were acquired through unlawful and unjust means in the past.
When Ma Ying-Jeou announced his bid for presidency, he promised to return the KMT owned-property back to the people, but he went back on his words when he took power. Furthermore, during KMT and Ma’s campaigns, they would loudly proclaim themselves to be a party for a new Taiwan, and would emphasize the value of Taiwan, that the the Taiwanese people would be allowed decide on their own future. Yet, when the KMT got in power, it was clear to all that they eagerly want to unify with China, and economically favor the whims of Beijing. This is a clear contradiction with what the KMT had promised during their campaigns. On the other hand, we also see that the KMT’s defense of the notion of a “Grand China” led to it’s persecution of local Taiwanese party members, including Wang Jin-Pyng. We believe we should no longer put trust in the conniving KMT, or have any illusion for it to change its nature.
For the future development of Taiwan, our goal is to liquidate the KMT’s political influence, or at least totally marginalize it. While the KMT is weakening, we also do not want to see the DPP monopolizing power. This is because any overcentralization of political power in the hands of one party will cause the party to degenerate, and become more willing to compromise on its ideals and values. This is why in the summer of 2013, we began the work to campaign for a new, locally Taiwanese political party’s foundation.
Several events that transpired in 2013 further strengthened our resolve to accomplish this mission. At the height of the anti-media monopoly movement, both the KMT and the DPP agreed to pass legislature against media monopolization. The problem is: if both of the parties really had the will to pass this bill, how come it did not pass the third reading? To be totally frank, large corporate interests that controls mainstream media are behind this, and they have disproportionately large influence over our political establishment. Many times we feel that our country is run by corporations, not political parties.
The other pivotal development of 2013 was the amendment to the Accounting Law, which legalizes private use of public funds by government officials, and makes it so that local bureaucrats no longer have to be responsible for their previous embezzlement. I personally was furious with that amendment. In the mainstream media, a more outstanding figure in this debacle was Yan Qing-biao, who was already imprisoned for embezzlement of public funds. When the representatives in the Legislative Yuan amended this law, they at once released people like Yan and also moved to protect their local support networks, who more or less committed the same crime. This amendment was passed through untransparent, “black-box” methods, which was decided on behind closed doors, and every political parties were involved.
To sum it up, the anti-media monopoly movement, the amendment of the Accounting Law (會計法), and the “September Political Struggle (九月政爭)” were all developments that strengthened our resolve for reform. The “September Political Struggle”’s most villainous role was played by Ma, who used the illegally disclosed information from Chief Prosecutor to persecute Wang Jin-pyng, the speaker of Legislative Yuan. However, Wang Jin-pyng and Ker Chien-Ming, the DPP minority whip, were far from innocent. Wang attempted to use his position to influence the justice system on behalf of Ker, which is clearly an abuse of his power. However, this does not mean that Ma can resolve this through expelling Wang from the KMT, and there was no reason for the Legislative Yuan Internal Disciplinary Committee to stand idlly by throughout this entire debacle. Thus the “September Political Struggle” showed us the urgent need to reform the Legislative Yuan, which led us to want to form a new political party.
However, in 2014, I personally had two commitments simultaneously: involvement in civil society movements and the formation of a new party. When Sunflower Movement broke out, I obviously had to temporarily focus on the social movement, and put the formation of a new party on the side. This was because of the crucial need to block the passage of CSSTA at the time. When Sunflower came to an end, I personally left behind work in forming a new party, because there were many rumors accusing us for opportunistically exploiting the fervor of Sunflower for the purpose of starting a party. This is a big and bothersome misunderstanding: between the Sunflower Movement and the plan for a new political party, I stood at a conflict of interest. For the protection of the spirit and legitimacy of Sunflower, I chose to temporarily leave the Taiwan Citizen’s Union.
In conclusion, the formation of a new party was not a product of Sunflower, but something that already came to being before Sunflower. This reflects the fact that these movements in Taiwan did not come from nowhere, but already fermenting before Sunflower, which includes the Hung Chung-Chiu incident, the “White Shirt Army” movement, civil rights movement, all of which were going on feverishly in 2013. It’s only that after Sunflower, we saw Taiwanese society became more eager and hungry for a new political party, and calls for the formation of a new party became stronger and stronger, and more people wanted to get involved. I myself, on the other hand, left the plan to start a new party. Later, Taiwan Citizen’s Union gave rise to the New Power Party and the Social Democratic Party (the SDP was formed in March), I myself joined New Power in May.
BH: As a newly formed third party that operates outside of the main two parties in the Taiwanese political spectrum, what are the challenges you face? How do you try and overcome them?
HKC: Looking back on the social movements of the past few years, every one of them had a call for reforming the political system. A reform of the system needs to have strong political backing in the legislative sphere in order to be accomplished. For instance, the movement in support of Dapu residents necessarily reflects that the process of land appropriation by the government needs to be more rigorously strict, transparent, and open for public participation. The “September Political Struggle” in 2013 also reflects that our constitutional democracy needs further reforms. Any fundamental change in the system needs to be achieved with political power.
In the past, our tactic was to relay these messages to the DPP, and hoped for them to achieve the reforms. However, we later found out that putting faith in the DPP to complete these reforms was not an optimal strategy. Thus, we hope to bring society’s call for reform into the political establishment through forming a new party. Once we gained entry to the political sphere, we will call for these reforms, and establish a progressive bloc in the political establishment. After that, we hope to inspire other parties to follow our progressive plans. This is our strategy to achieve reforms.
BH: What is party strategy of the New Power Party relative to the DPP? As you very well realize, some have criticized the New Power Party and other newly formed third parties for potentially splitting the vote with the DPP, potentially leading to a KMT victory?
HKC: We have two goals for our current strategy: one is to marginalize the KMT, the other is to maintain a cooperative yet competitive relationship with the DPP. These goals obviously differ in priority, and we know we need to achieve them in order. The first priority is to prevent the KMT from becoming the majority in the Legislative Yuan. Since we see a growth in James Soong’s People First Party (PFP), the goal now is to prevent a coalition of KMT and PFP from becoming the majority. The PFP has proven themselves, through past actions, to be a consistent part of the Pan-Blue camp. We will not view the PFP as a force of reform.
Our priorities are reflected in our campaign strategies. We now field candidates in individual districts, meaning that we need to gain more than half of the district’s votes in order to win. Therefore, in the districts where the incumbent legislator is a KMT member, we hope to pull down those KMT representatives who are rotten. The districts we picked are all fundamentally difficult districts, where they traditionally go for Blue rather than Green. In these districts, we will prevent a conflict with DPP from happening. Due to this consideration, we never pick districts where the DPP would win, and we will work to avoid a split in local Taiwanese forces that benefits the KMT.
After we’ve selected our districts, we would go to the DPP and negotiate with them. We would convince them that our candidates are better than the candidates the DPP had in mind. Our candidates are stronger in mobilizing youth, independent voters, or even some layers of the KMT supporters, and thus would have a better chance to triumph over the KMT candidates than the ones fielded by the DPP. This explains our strategy in winning the district elections. For example, there is an awful KMT legislator named Wu Yu-sheng, who belongs to the 1st district of New Taipei City (Danshui, Bali, Taishan, Linkou). In these past days, he was the royal guard of Ma’s whim in the Legislative Yuan, implementing the will of the unpopular President. He was able to do this because he thinks that there are more KMT constituents in his districts, and thus no matter what terrible things he does in the Legislative Yuan, people would still vote for him.
Our candidate in that district is Neil Peng, while the DPP’s candidate there was the daughter of a City Council member named Shirley Lu. I do not mean to criticize Ms. Lu, because I sympathize with her. Her candidacy had a lot to do with her father’s wishes. However, in terms of competitiveness, ability, and experience in civil society movements, I believe most people would agree that Peng has a better chance at defeating Wu than has Ms. Lu. Our candidate in Taichung, Hung Tzu-Yung, is another example. Because of our priority goals, we differ in campaign strategy with our friends in the SDP or the Green Party, in that we are willing to negotiate with the DPP in district selection.
BH: How do you see the relation of the New Power Party with the Social Democratic Party, the Free Taiwan Party and other newly emergent Third Force Parties?
HKC: I don’t know too much about the Free Taiwan Party. As for the Green Party and the SDP, I think that we share the same view on many issues of reform. However, we disagree on the goals of this election and tactics. For example, we don’t field candidates in just any district, only the ones that are traditionally favorable to the KMT, and we are willing to temporarily maintain a cooperative yet competitive relationship with the DPP. Secondly, as to the attitude towards presidential nominees, for those who have declared their candidacy (Hung Hsiu-Chu, Tsai Ing-Wen, James Soong), the New Power Party has yet to make an official endorsement. However the majority of our party feels that we can conditionally endorse Ms. Tsai. These conditions include prioritizing our programs of reform once we entered the Legislative Yuan, and Ms. Tsai must clearly promise us on these. Under these preconditions, we would be willing to support Ms. Tsai for president.
For our friends in Green Party and SDP, my understanding is that they are more hesitant with making a stance, and currently do not endorse any presidential nominees. This is one of the primary reasons why there were difficulties consolidating with our friends in Green Party and SDP. But I have to reiterate: New Power Party maintains a principle to not polemicize the parties that share similar values with us. Our goal is to enlarge the pie in order to turn the KMT into a minority in the Legislative Yuan. In the future election of 2016, if any of our friends in SDP or Green Party won seats in the Legislative Yuan, we would of course be happy to work with them.
BH: What are your own personal goals for 2016 elections?
HKC: The goal is to pull down Li Qing-Hua! [Laughs] Xizhi is also a traditionally KMT district. The DPP has never won over that district since Tsai’s bid for mayor of New Taipei City in 2010, the legislative election of 2012, and Yu Shyi-kun’s mayoral bid for New Taipei City in 2014, making it a definitively difficult district. However, if you ask the citizens there how they feel about Li Qing-hua’s performance, they’d be sighing and shaking their heads, unable to understand why this person gets elected repeatedly. He also plays the role of a royal guard for Ma in the Legislative Yuan, fully supporting President Ma’s nonsense.
On the other hand, Mr. Li isn’t even from Xizhi, and connects poorly with the locals. Many who live there would joke that Li disappears from the district once he gets elected, only to appear again with offers to free performances of Minghwa opera troupe when election season comes, thus winning back the KMT votes. This is obviously malignant for the development of Taiwan’s democracy. So my personal goal in this district election is to pull down Mr. Li.
I want to emphasize: I didn’t do this to get myself into the Legislative Yuan. To be honest, if I wanted to be elected as a legislator it wouldn’t have to be this complicated. There are other political parties who would be interested in fielding me as their non-district Legislative Yuan candidate. However, the important thing isn’t for me to get elected, but to ensure a new political force enters the Legislative Yuan. With the New Power Party as a new political party, my hope is to form a progressive, decisive minority bloc in the Legislative Yuan, along with this group of like-minded, self-sacrificing friends. Because we are a small party, I would not vainly set unrealistic goals. Realistically speaking, the New Power Party would definitely be a small party within the Legislative Yuan, but if we work hard, we can perhaps win 5 to 7 seats in 2016, which is a goal i set for myself. Judging from the support we got from the people, I think this achieving this goal is a possibility in 2016.
BH: When I interviewed members of the Free Taiwan Party and the Social Democratic Party, they both raised the issue of economic inequality in Taiwan. If elected, what are some of the economic platforms that New Power Party plans to run on, especially on the issue of economic inequality?
HKC: I think you can divide this in two areas. In the past few years, the Taiwanese society has gone through an exacerbation of social inequality. This on some level means that the DPP or the Ma regime were both right-leaning in their redistribution policies.
The New Power Party’s position is a left-leaning one. I define it as left-leaning because we are not the radical left, but we do have a left basis. In practice, to resolve those economic issues that i mentioned, there are two reforms that the New Power Party focuses heavily on.
One is the reform of taxation. The problem with Taiwan’s taxation is that the ratio of tax income and GDP is too low. If we don’t count in social security taxes, then Taiwan’s tax income is only 12.8% of the GDP. This is very low among OECD nations. In most OECD countries, tax income is at least 20%, or even 30% of their national GDP. The low taxation of Taiwan will create some serious problems. Over 70% of our government’s tax income are mandated spendings, which means we have to spend a certain portion of the tax income to feed the bureacuracy, leaving us only 25% for other uses. However, the rest of these tax incomes are then used mostly on social welfare. Politicians love writing cheques, and then borrow money when they don’t have it. Our debt is quickly reaching the limit allowed by the law. This will impede important infrastructure projects and the funds allocated to them.
Photo credit:「黃國昌 從頭贏回台灣」
A second and even more ridiculous phenomenon is the fact that most taxes came from wage-receiving class, while the large capitalists and corporations contribute relatively little in the taxation. From the issue of taxation, you can see where economic inequality of our society cam from. Therefore, a reform in taxation is essential. A clear goal for this reform is property tax and capital gains tax, which both must be raised, while the working class income tax must be decreased, lightening their burden in taxation, this is very important to us.
The other thing we need to do is a reform in public sector entitlement. Taiwan’s public sector entitlement heavily favors military personnel, public sector workers, and teachers after they retire (MPT retirees). Sometimes they get over 80% of their wages before retiring. There are even instances of 90% and 100% of their wages before retiring, getting even more money than they did while working. The problem is: who is going to pay for these expenses? obviously the younger generation. Due to a shift in population structure, there are more elderlies while birthrate continues to decline. Military personnel, public sector workers, and teachers’ highly lucrative retirement life all become burdens for the next generation. This will create inequality on two levels: one is generational inequality, the other is inequality among the same generation, but across employment lines. For instance, what workers and farmers get for retirement benefits is completely incomparable with what the MPT retirees get. Therefore we also see the need for a complete update in the public sector entitlement system.
Based on these two programs, as an extension of them, we have a third program, is the protection of labor rights. The protection of labor rights is strongly correlated with our country’s industrial development. Our industries are still capital intensive to this day, and many capitalists bring high technology and their production base to China. Now China’s environment isn’t as favorable as it used to be, so these capitalists run to other countries. This causes industrial inequality in Taiwan, and lag in development of technology. Aid to low-profit, high productivity industries also is lower than before. Therefore in our economic structure, the rights of workers remain unimportant from the perspective of the capitalists. This is because capitalists hopes to find cheaper labor costs overseas. Now we are all talking about globalization, and the entrances of industries into homes, which would cause the businesses to move to cheaper places, this would then cause a shrink in labor wages in Taiwan.
In the past, there was a problem with the development policy of taiwan, where we saw the government pouring too much resources in the “star” industries, such as the semiconductor industry. The problem with this approach is that the fruit of these industries’ development is still enjoyed by a minority and it is not an economic model that includes everyone. The next challenge of the government will be: how to create a better economic development environment?
In this development environment, the economic activity model will involve the majority of people who can contribute. Most people can contribute, but to participate means that they would be motivate to get involved to improve their own economic well-being. I think this is a serious challenge faced by the next government in Taiwan. To achieve this, we need to divide the goals in two parts: one is the administrative aspect. For example, with presidential/executive power, needs to be very aware of the past mistake when planning for future developments. In this area, the executive branch plays a larger role as compared to the Legislative Yuan.
But what can be done on the part of Legislative Yuan? The Legislative Yuan can pass labor rights laws to force corporations to change their models, or motivate technological development to phase out industries that are too environmentally damaging for Taiwan. For example, the petroleum industry is creating too much environmental damage for Taiwan, yet this is absorbed by society and becomes shouldered by the next generation.
Once we complete a labor rights protection system in Taiwan and phase out industries that are not competitive and create high environmental risks and or motivate industries themselves to change their models, Another side of this task is to make sure that the laborers who are actually involved in these economic activities don’t have their labor power be undervalued by the capitalists. There must be a reasonable conversation held about this. Therefore in terms of basic wages, we believe that it needs to progressively adjusted towards a system of minimum wage. In terms of completing a legal system that protects labor rights, the Legislative Yuan can play an important role.
BH: What do you see as the need to form a third party, apart from the DPP and KMT?
A shift in political landscape is not just happening in Taiwan. You also see the swift rise of new powers around the world, such as Bernie Sanders of the US, Jeremy Corbyn of the UK, Podemos of Spain, and Syriza of Greece who is now in power and led a historic rejection of the European Union. In what ways do you think Taiwan’s third party movement is similar to these movements?
HKC: To speak more generally, the development of any political party in any country is necessarily a reaction to the country’s internal need. Therefore among European countries, because of their diversified value system, plus their electoral system, allows for the formation of many parties. This is why European countries tend to have a multi-party system (more than bipartisan).
The new political parties in Europe that rose up recently are produced by a need for the integration of European countries, such as the problem that Greece is facing with regards to the Euro and fiscal issues. At this point, the country in question would produce a new party that hopes to rise above and correct the ills that the establishment cannot deal with. The Five Star Movement in Italy, arose from the quick internal corruption of major Italian political parties, which repulsed the youth and pushed them away from traditional politics. Young people hope for a more direct way to participate (such as through the Internet), which gave rise to the Five Star Movement in Italy.
Spain’s Podemos also came to being as a public reaction to Spain’s special political situation. Therefore, you would see European countries also have new political forces beginning to be formed, which in some ways resemble each other (such as the youth’s dissatisfaction with traditional politics), and the power of Internet makes transnational solidarity more possible. The New Power Party also have these characteristics, because we share a similar background with these new European parties. But despite this, I still have to say that every country is different, you must return to a careful analysis of each country’s specific politico-economic environment to understand how their new political forces came to being.
For the New Power Party, we have yet to establish network with other political parties from other countries. The reason is clearly because of our goals. For now, the most important task for us is to establish ourselves in 2016. Once we have ourselves established, then we would have the resources to establish links internationally. The interesting thing is, not long ago Finland’s Social Democratic Party’s representative visited Taiwan, and they even came to meet with us at New Power Party. They also spoke with the SDP, and they think that they should still build ties with New Power Party, because they think that we are closer in our positions.
BH: What would you like to say to our non-Chinese speaking readers?
Photo credit:「黃國昌 從頭贏回台灣」
HKC: The politics of Taiwan is unique due to the China factor. For those readers from outside of Taiwan, I’d like to clearly say to you: There is no need to focus on the history between Taiwan and China, there is only a need to concern yourself with the status quo, which would clearly reflect that Taiwan and China are two different countries. Please do not see Taiwan as a part of China, or China’s client state, or somewhere that China has a right to claim sovereignty over. Secondly, for our friends abroad, we hope that if democracy, freedom, and human rights are values that we as human beings are willing to collectively defend, then please use this basis to look at Taiwanese people’s right to self-determination, and recognize our effort to become a normal country. In this process, if we have more friends from abroad who can resist the threats from the Chinese Communist Party, and support our shared core values, I am sure that not just me personally, but the entire New Power Party would be very grateful.