by Aaron Wytze Wilson

Photo credit: Social Democratic Party

Formosa Ex Machina is a column about Taiwanese netizens, and the intersection of politics and the internet in Taiwan.

BY ALL APPEARANCES, Taipei Legislative candidate Chen Shang-chih (陳尚志) is a mild-mannered, bookish professor. He has a deliberative speaking style that seems more suited to a life of academia, than for a candidate running for a seat in Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan formerly owned by notorious rumour-mongering KMT legislator Alex Tsai (蔡正元).

But a series of new Facebook campaign videos has put Chen in the media spotlight by cutting through his seemingly shy demeanour to reveal a gift for deadpan comic delivery that is unique for a legislative candidate.

Chen Shang-chih is the Social Democratic Party (SDP) ’s Legislative Yuan candidate for Taipei City fourth electoral district, and is currently a professor of political science at Taiwan’s National Chung Cheng University.

Chen participated in the Wild Lily Student Movement, which saw thousands of students flooding Taipei’s Liberty Square to voice their support for direct elections for Taiwan’s president. Chen formed the SDP with fellow Wild Lily student protester Fan Yun (范雲), who is now a professor of sociology at National Taiwan University.

Chen was the fifth SDP candidate to announce his run for Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan, and his candidacy has at times been overshadowed by other SDP candidates more familiar to the public, like human rights activist Miao Po-ya (苗博雅), and attorney Lee Yen-jong (李晏榕).

Chen has also faced a difficult battle against his well-funded pan-blue opponents, the People First Party’s Huang Shan-shan (黃珊珊) and the KMT’s Lee Yan-hsiu (李彥秀), who have carpeted Taipei’s Neihu and Nangang districts with expensive banners promoting their candidacy.

Additionally, Chen is facing off against a number of Third Force and smaller party candidates, including the New Power Party’s Terrence Lin (林少馳) and the Taiwan Solidarity Union’s Hsiao Ya-tan (蕭亞譚).

In such a difficult electoral district, the challenges for Chen’s campaign seem insurmountable, but Chen’s election team have used Facebook and creative election ads to carve a new path for his candidacy.

The SDP: Cash Poor, Creativity Rich

“THE SDP IS so poor that all we can do is this kind of DIY ad campaign”, said Louie Lu. “We’re so poor that some experienced political aides have told us they don’t have faith in us.”

Louie Lu (呂鴻志) is Chen Shang-chih’s campaign assistant, as well as the lead vocalist for Burning Island, a Taiwanese metal band.

As a new political party, the SDP must work with meager election funds to promote their legislative candidates. That means forgoing traditional paper brochure flyers, and large billboard murals promoting Chen’s candidacy.

Passing the 5% support mark for the SDP’s party ballot is not only crucial for representation in the Legislative Yuan, but also for party funding. Political parties that can cross the 3.5% support threshold on the party ballot vote, it is eligible for annual subsidies from the government.

Chen has also stridently campaigned against the unfairness of Taiwan’s current electioneering process that sees mainstream political parties backed by corporate donors to fund their campaigns.

“Corporate money entering the election is really detestable” says Chen in one of his campaign vidoes, citing the unfair advantage it creates for mainstream parties, and expected political favours corporations expect in return.

But the Chen campaign team’s focus on Facebook is not only borne out of financial necessity, but also from Facebook’s extremely high penetration rate among Taiwan’s general population. It’s estimated 60% of Taiwanese use Facebook, with a daily user rate of over 10 million. 

“We market different content and video to voters based on their age group,” says Louie Lu, adding that the Chen camp uses Facebook’s insights and trend tools extensively to market their campaign.

Chen Shang-chi: The Metrosexual Candidate

THE FIRST VIDEO to make an impression with viewers is a simple lightning-round question and answer session filmed by Lu. In the video, Chen answers a series of questions regarding his campaign pledges in his trademark deadpan comedy speaking style.

For English subtitles, please click the “CC” icon in the bottom-right hand corner of the video. 

In another video, Chen debates fellow SDP candidate Wang Pao-hsuan (王寶萱) of Taoyuan’s first electoral district. The video became enormously popular, clocking in over 230,000 views since it’s release earlier this month.

For English subtitles, please click the “CC” icon in the bottom-right hand corner of the video.

Chen’s latest video is a spoof of a Chinese medicine clinic TV commercial. In the original commercial, TCM doctor Chang Shun-chong (張順忠) speaks in Taiwanese about the benefits of traditional Chinese medicine for those experiencing back pain. The ads are known colloquially as “kong-ba-kong-kong”, after the Taiwanese reading of the numbers 0800.

For English subtitles, please click the “CC” icon in the bottom-right hand corner of the video.

Chen’s spoof of the ads have brought him wider attention of the Taiwanese press, who commended the Chen campaign for the creativity of the ad.

In election polls featured earlier this month, the PFP’s Huang Shan-shan was leading the KMT’s Lee Yan-hsiu by a small margin. Both candidates were leading Chen by much larger margins.

But progressive voters may feel that the PFP’s Huang and the KMT’s Lee represent an overly conservative political views that do not reflect their own.

As the most prominent third-force candidate in the district, Chen may have an opportunity to pick up the majority of the progressive-leaning voter support, as well as make a convincing argument to vote for the Green-SDP Alliance party list ticket.

No more articles