by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Wu Pei-yi/Facebook

A SCANDAL HAS broken out with regard to the DPP’s candidate nomination for the 2024 legislative elections, with Zhongzheng-Wanhua city councilor Wu Pei-yi apparently passed over in favor of “Chicken Cutlet Girl” Ili Cheng.

Wu is not the only local DPP candidate to be seeking a legislative run in the area. Reportedly, three local city councilors are aiming to run for legislature in the area, while former legislators are also considering running in Zhongzheng-Wanhua. But it is probable that Wu is the current DPP city councilor in Zhongzheng-Wanhua with the strongest local presence and strongest links to the Tsai administration.

Facebook post on Wu Pei-yi on not receiving any notification from party central on a run

Wu Pei-yi has held office in Zhongzheng-Wanhua since 2016 and has been elected for two terms. Consequently, Wu was seeking to run for legislator in the area to replace outgoing pan-Green independent legislator Freddy Lim, who will not be seeking reelection. In particular, Wu has a strong base in Wanhua, and is one of the most visible local candidates. As such, it was not difficult for Wu to win reelection in the area in the 2022 local elections.

Wu is a former Sunflower Movement activist, having previously participated in social movements such as the 2008 Wild Strawberry Movement. Wu, a graduate of National Taiwan University (NTU) with a Master’s degree from National Tsing Hua University, was a member of the famed NTU Dalawasao Club, a student activist group at NTU with a long history going back to Taiwan’s democratization. Likewise, Wu was one of the participants of the attempted occupation of the Executive Yuan as part of the NTU Department of Social Sciences group during the Sunflower Movement. After entering the DPP, Wu served as spokesperson for the DPP.

News broke earlier this week that the DPP had sought to recruit Ili Cheng to run for Zhongzheng-Wanhua. Subsequently, Wu posted on Facebook that she had not received notice of approval from the party central to run, though she already had begun planning her run in the area. Wu asserted that she was the strongest candidate for the area, which was why she should be the one to run in the area.

By contrast, Ili Cheng is a celebrity known as “Chicken Cutlet Girl” due to having made her debut in a commercial for chicken cutlets. Although Cheng is known for her political activism, having been vocal in support for the Sunflower Movement, Cheng’s life is often tabloid fodder. A significant factor in her rise to fame was frequent newspaper reports on her breast size, as well as media reporting on purported love affairs.

As such, it is not surprising that Wu’s being snubbed by the DPP in favor of Cheng has provoked backlash. Firstly, the DPP party central would be parachuting in an untested candidate who does not actually have a strong local presence to run. Second, Cheng has no previous experience in public office, and she is primarily reported on by tabloid media, rather than seen as a serious political candidate or activist.

Wu Pei-yi (left) and Freddy Lim (right). Photo credit: Wu Pei-yi/Facebook

It is unclear as to why Wu was passed over. Nevertheless, it is generally thought that this may be due to efforts by DPP party chair and next presidential candidate William Lai to replace individuals close to Tsai with individuals closer to him–even if this means punishing highly successful candidates. Wu is generally considered to be close to outgoing president Tsai Ing-wen, who will continue to be a powerful factional leader in the DPP after her second term ends, but who is at odds with Lai.

In comparison, other former Sunflower Movement activists that were previously independents were tapped to run for 2024. This includes Wu Cheng, who will be running in Zhonghe in New Taipei and is formerly of the NPP, as well as Tseng Po-yu, who will be running in Xindian and is formerly of the NPP and Green Party. Indeed, it proves strange for the DPP to punish a former Sunflower Movement activist who was originally a party member but then to promote other candidates that were previously independents, which may not reflect well on the odds of young party members in the DPP seeking office if Lai does not favor them.

This may prove dangerous for other young people affiliated with the Tsai administration in the DPP. Since then, there has been an outcry in support of Wu, with turning toward social media increasingly a strategy adopted by young politicians to pressure party central leaderships. After the controversy, Cheng claimed in comments today that she would be fine running wherever the DPP requested her to, including in Kinmen, suggesting that she is backing down as a result of the scandal. Cheng claimed to have been targeted by Internet trolls, did not comment on if she contacted Wu, and claimed not to have looked at polls as to whether she would be the best candidate for Zhongzheng-Wanhua.

On other hand, Wu posted today on Facebook that she has been in communication with the DPP party central, and that polls indicated she was the DPP’s most popular candidate in the area. Wu stated that she would be willing to wait one month to create space for newcomers, then to see who polled best. Wu, then, would be calling for an open nomination process rather than a closed one decided by the DPP leadership. The scandal has prompted comparisons to the KMT’s own controversy regarding its closed nomination process for candidates, with younger KMT politicians that currently hold office decrying being excluded in favor of individuals from powerful political families.

Campaign ad by Ili Cheng for Tsai Ing-wen’s 2020 presidential run

Cheng may potentially be out after the firestorm. Yet the episode also proves to what extent Lai may, in fact, be inept at factional contestation with Tsai. It does not reflect well on Lai’s view of female politicians, if he thought Cheng offered similar enough of a profile to field in Zhongzheng-Wanhua, as a viable candidate for the area. If so, this means that if Tsai will continue to exert strong influence in the party after her presidency ends, perhaps it will be through Lai’s missteps, not too dissimilar from how Lai’s challenge against Tsai for 2020 elections also proved inept. To this extent, efforts by Lai to swap out Tsai’s people may meet resistance if this proves out of touch with local concerns in constituencies.

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