by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: 象心力/WikiCommons/CC BY-SA 3.0
THE TAINAN CITY council continues to be plagued by issues of entrenched corruption. This can be seen in a recent series of raids conducted by police on the offices of former Tainan city council speaker Kuo Hsin-liang.
Kuo was brought in for questioning in connection to a land rezoning project, for which he is accused of receiving bribes of more than 10 million NT. Ten other suspects were brought in for questioning alongside Kuo, with five released on bail of between 50,000 NT and 300,000 NT.
Kuo is no longer a city council speaker but still serves as a city councilor. Kuo was previously a member of the DPP and served as deputy speaker of the Tainan city council from 2010 to 2016. His stint as city council speaker was brief, as acting city council speaker for two months in 2016. Kuo later left the party to become an independent and he is still currently an independent.
Previously, the DPP came under scrutiny when the current DPP city council speaker Chiu Lili and deputy city council speaker Lin Zhi-chan were detained by police in February over corruption charges. This also occurred due to suspicion of corruption on the part of both politicians. Kuo Tsai-chin, a former committee member of the DPP, was accused of being implicated in the case as well.
Chiu was released on 1.5 million NT bail, while Lin was released on 1,.2 million NT. Both denied wrongdoing. However, likely with an eye on how potential corruption scandals could impact the political party ahead of the 2024 elections, the DPP announced that both would be suspended.
A number of KMT city councilors were also implicated in the scandal. This included Chang Shih-xian, Li Zhen-guo, Li Wen-jun, and independent Huang Li-zhao. Otherwise, non-party members implicated had significant business interests to their name. Examples included the head of the Tainan Fishermen’s Association, Lin Shih-jie, and Yang Zhi-qiang, the general manager of the Grand Hotel.
The DPP has come under fire for growing corruption in Tainan even among party members. Former deputy secretary-general Lin Fei-fan, previously a student leader of the Sunflower Movement in 2014, had lashed out at corruption in Tainan in public comments. Lin called on the DPP to clean up its reputation for corruption in Tainan, which is his hometown.
It is to be seen whether the DPP’s scandals in Tainan will affect its ability to hold onto a traditional stronghold in the party. Before joining the DPP, Lin famously stated that “Even a watermelon” would be able to get elected in Tainan if it were backed by the DPP.
At the same time, the KMT has increasingly been able to make inroads into traditional strongholds of the DPP in southern Taiwan. The most significant sign of this was the election victory of Han Kuo-yu as Kaohsiung mayor in 2018, though Han was mostly parachuted into the city, and was not a longtime resident of the city.
In the aftermath of this unexpected win, Han was catapulted to superstardom, eventually serving as the KMT’s presidential candidate in the 2020 presidential elections. Nevertheless, the “Han wave” eventually ebbed, with Han recalled as mayor of Kaohsiung by overwhelming margins after his defeat in the 2020 presidential elections. Han came under fire for abandoning his post in order to campaign for president.
The KMT has been unable to replicate its successes in the years since then, though this has not prevented the KMT from being able to increase its presence on city councils in southern Taiwan. Certainly, even if there may not be a meteoric win in line with Han’s sudden rise to superstardom, the KMT may still be able to gain ground in southern Taiwan with a gradualist approach to expanding its base.
To do this, the KMT would have to strategically seize upon the stumbles of the DPP. It is to be seen whether this takes place, but this would reflect broader shifts in Taiwan in which parties can no longer as easily hold onto their traditional territories. And although KMT candidates themselves have come under fire for corruption, the DPP will face challenges if it is unable to distinguish itself from the KMT, and both parties come to be seen as equally corrupt.