by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Brian Hioe

WITH 2018 ELECTIONS upon us, it may be a fitting time to take stock of where we have come since 2014. This is particularly fitting for New Bloom, as a publication which started in the wake of the 2014 Sunflower Movement.

Certainly, the political landscape has readily changed since 2014. The KMT no longer seems as pressing a political threat after defeats in 2016 presidential and legislative elections. While the KMT may do better than expected in elections this year, one does not particularly expect a resurgence of the party.

Scaling the walls of the Legislative Yuan during the 2014 Sunflower Movement. Photo credit: Brian Hioe

The DPP has now held power for two years, both in terms of that Taiwan currently has a DPP president and the legislature is currently controlled by the DPP. While Taiwan has had a DPP president before, the present remains the first time in Taiwanese history that the DPP or any other non-KMT party has controlled the legislature, much less both the presidency and the legislature at the same time.

Of the Third Force parties that originated from the Sunflower Movement, only the New Power Party (NPP) was successful in getting into the legislature in 2016 legislative elections. This led other Third Force parties to lower their expectations, with candidates who ran for legislator in 2016 now running as city council candidates.

In this set of elections, the NPP decided not to cooperate with other third parties or the DPP, and instead to embark on an ambitious plan to expand by running over 40 candidates across all of Taiwan. The NPP has been open about its goals being to grow in size to become a party able to compete on equal terms with the DPP, while it hopes to eventually force the KMT out of Taiwanese politics altogether given that the KMT’s aims at achieving the unification of Taiwan and China are fundamentally at odds with Taiwan’s democratic aims.

It is to be seen what the future of other Third Force parties, such as the SDP or the Radical Party will be. It need not be the case that the NPP choosing to go it alone and not cooperating with other Third Force parties will mean that they such parties will have no future because the vote will be divided. Compared to positions as legislator or lizhang, in which a constituency is represented by a single individual, more than one city councilor can serve in an election district, and the NPP is not running enough candidates in any given area that it would necessarily edge out every Third Force party. Likewise, while no formal coalition exists between the NPP and other Third Force party, one expects Third Force parties to continue to ally with each other when threatened, as occurred when NPP chair Huang Kuo-Chang faced a recall vote over his support of gay marriage.

New Power Party rally concerning the upcoming national referendum to be held alongside 2018 local elections. Photo credit: New Power Party/Facebook

However, it is broadly true that Third Force parties, NPP or otherwise, may have no future if they are not successful in this current set of elections. The disparity in resources between the NPP, which itself by far has the most resources of any Third Force party, and established parties as the DPP and KMT, is vast.

Contra the Third Force, the results of elections will also dictate as to whether the so-called “White Force” (白色力量) will become a genuine political phenomenon or whether this is merely all hype in the media.

That Taipei mayor Ko Wen-Je will win reelection is almost all but given, barring some major scandal in the next two weeks. But what has become very clear is that Ko has taken steps to bring a number of city councilor candidates under his wing, mostly drawn from the pan-Blue camp. As many suspect that Ko intends to run for the presidency in 2020 as an independent candidate, Ko may be aiming to build up his own political force because one of the obstacles in the way of a presidential run is the fact that he lacks any party organization.

Whether these city councilor candidates under Ko’s mantle are elected in, then, could have a major influence on whether Ko decides to run for president or not. Alternatively, Ko may simply have no expectations for a political career beyond another term as Taipei mayor but may hope to build an alliance of city councilors under his mantle in order to allow him to push policy in more effectively. This is anyone’s guess.

It remains unknown as to how Ko would perform as a presidential candidate, given his reputation for gaffes, which could be dangerous on the international stage. But at the very least, Ko as a presidential candidate, Ko would prove splitting enough of the vote for both the pan-Blue and pan-Green that this could actually be threatening for Tsai’s reelection chances. This was the scenario by which Chen Shui-Bian, Taiwan’s first DPP president, took power, because James Soong divided the vote of the pan-Blue camp between himself and James Soong.

Ko and independent Taipei city council candidate Wang Zhi-ya. Wang previously sought the KMT nomination but instead decided to run as an independent after failing to do so. Photo credit: Wang Zhi-ya/Facebook

Further raising questions for 2018 local elections is that taking place at the same time as 2018 elections are a set of ten referendum questions on issues ranging from the use of nuclear power in Taiwan, the use of coal-fired power plants in Taiwan, food imports from areas in Japan affected by radiation by the Fukushima disaster, gay marriage, and what name Taiwan should participate in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics under. As these are the first set of referendums held in Taiwan since amendments to the Referendum Act in December 2017, these also introduce a new element of unpredictability into Taiwanese elections.

Perhaps it is the referendum which raises the largest questions for what has changed politically in Taiwan since 2014. One notes that basically the same political issues at stake in 2014 are now being voted on in the form of a referendum.

This includes fundamental issues pertaining to Taiwan’s sovereignty as expressed in the form of the referendum on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, or the domestic political issues that loomed large in the years preceding 2014, as in nuclear power or gay marriage. That such issues are presently all on vote again in 2018 perhaps points to how little has been accomplished under the Tsai administration.

The Tsai administration backed away from strong advocacy for Taiwanese independence in the interest of pragmatic concerns, but clear reversals are visible in that the Tsai administration reversed course on campaign promises such as the legalization of gay marriage, dropping the issue in the face of opposition from within the DPP, or seemingly going back on promises to push for a nuclear-free Taiwan through allowing for reactor restarts.

Tsai Ing-Wen (center-left) while at a campaign event for the DPP. Photo credit: Tsai Ing-Wen/Facebook

The Tsai administration may not have proved as conservative as the KMT, but the Tsai administration has maintained a holding pattern on key issues, which is what has led to pushback against the Tsai administration through competing referendum campaigns. And so, the specter of 2014 remains alive and well in 2018 elections. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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