by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: Chung Tung-chin/Facebook
QUESTIONS HAVE been raised about whether pan-Blue independent Chung Tung-chin, who is the current Miaoli county magistrate-elect, may be removed from office and the results of the election invalidated. Namely, three individuals have been detained by prosecutors in connection with a vote-buying scheme to aid Chung, who won with 42.66% of the vote. Prosecutors are also moving to invalidate the vote.
For his part, Chung claims to have won fairly in the election, as well as that the vote-buying scheme by the three individuals was carried out with no connection to him. Likewise, Chung has criticized prosecutors for releasing information about an ongoing investigation. stating that this was aimed at influencing public perceptions of him.
It is probable that Chung will allege political persecution from the DPP if he is found guilty in connection with the vote-buying scheme, or if steps taken to remove him from office are successful. It is a question, however, how the KMT would react.
Chung ran as a pan-Blue independent with the endorsement of KMT incumbent Hsu Yao-chang, the preceding Miaoli county magistrate. However, Hsu was defying the KMT’s party central by endorsing Chung, and Chung was also running against the KMT’s candidate.
The possibility of a split vote did not prevent Chung’s victory, nor did the fact that Chung was one of the most controversial candidates running in the November nine-in-one elections. Namely, Chung ran despite being called on to drop out by the KMT, DPP, and NPP alike over old gang-related murder and assault charges. Though the charges were from several decades ago, this involved beating an individual to death in a restaurant, among other crimes.
Chung defended himself with the charge that these were youthful follies and that, like many regular people in Taiwan, he was caught up in gang activity as a young person. To this extent, Chung also suggested that charges against him were due to political persecution, comparing himself to Nelson Mandela.
Particularly in light of Chung’s checkered political record, the DPP tried to make organized crime links into a major campaign issue. This was not successful, with the DPP suffering a rout in the election and the KMT experiencing a large set of wins. Yet it is probable that the political issue of gang-related ties will remain salient in electoral politics, with the KMT now trying to allege gang ties of DPP politicians.
In the meantime, draft regulation in the legislature aims to prevent convicts with criminal histories linked to gang activity, drug offenses, violent activity, or Chinese attempts to influence elections from running for office. This is clearly an attempt by the DPP to try and limit the ability of gangs to affect election outcomes–some of which serve as proxies for the Chinese government–and more generally to crack down on attempts by the Chinese government to influence Taiwanese elections.
But it is to be seen if the KMT will try to push back against the bill, seeing as the KMT has historically benefited from Chinese influence in elections, as well as links to gangs that allow for mobilizing patronage and clientelist networks. If the KMT chooses to do so, it is to be seen what discourse or arguments it mobilizes in its defense. One also notes that the bill could have an impact on efforts to decriminalize drugs in Taiwan.
In particular, it is possible that the DPP and KMT will actually take a joint stance against Chung–particularly if KMT chair Eric Chu hopes to centralize party discipline and punish those who break away from his leadership. But one notes that a number of victorious pan-Blue candidates currently face ongoing criminal investigations that could potentially result in their removal from office.
This includes incumbent Yilan county magistrate Lin Zi-miao, over rezoned properties that were purchased by relatives of Lin. Furthermore, this includes Ann Kao of the TPP, who faces not only charges of self-plagiarizing research she conducted with state funds for her Ph. D, but pocketing fees meant to subsidize salaries for legislative assistants. More speculation at present focuses on whether Kao’s inauguration may be blocked.
It is to be seen if the KMT tries to push back against all cases of criminal prosecution ongoing against pan-Blue candidates, or only those affecting its own candidates. This in particular could influence the relationship between the KMT and TPP, with TPP chair Ko Wen-je having taken moves to reach out to Cung Tung-chin and establish ties during elections, and Chung touting these ties in the Miaoli county magistrate debate.