Emotionalism in Taiwan politics

By William Fang ,Special to The China Post

The crushing defeats suffered by the Democrats at the hands of the Republicans in U.S. mid-term elections held on Tuesday, Nov. 2, have prompted local political observers to engage in animated discussions of their impact on Taiwan’s elections for the mayoralties of five special municipalities scheduled for the end of this month. They generally agree that the fiasco of U.S. President Barack Obama and his party should be attributed largely to a sluggish economy and high unemployment. Normally, in countries of modern times, the economic factor frequently does play a crucial role in the rise and fall of a government. This is why Taiwan’s Ma Ying-jeou administration has made strenuous efforts over the past two years to promote cross-strait economic activities, including the signing of the ECFA (economic cooperation framework agreement), in spite of the stiff opposition from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which have led to huge purchases of Taiwan-produced goods by local governments throughout China.

No wonder, latest opinion surveys show a perceptible spike in Ma’s popularity with over 50 percent of those polled expressing confidence in his leadership. But, judging from almost all indicators pointing to greater prosperity looming ahead, such as the gradual decline of the unemployment rate, the continuous surge of the stock market and a high growth rate for this year predicted by relevant authorities, Ma and the KMT should have fared better in terms of their job performance as perceived by the public.

The standings of their candidates in the elections for the five special municipalities should also benefit from their achievements. In fact, however, this appears to be not the case.

In the pivotal race in Taipei, for example, where “pan-blue” supporters are supposed to outnumber those of the “pan-green” camp, candidates fielded by the KMT and the DPP are running neck and neck, according to opinion polls. What is most astounding is news from the city of Kaohsiung in the south where Chen Chu of the DPP, the incumbent mayor, is way ahead in a three-way race with KMT and independent candidates, despite the fact that she lied repeatedly about her whereabouts during heavy flooding in her city triggered by a typhoon in September of this year. Apparently, Chen’s popularity stems not from rational thinking but from the emotional attachment of the city’s residents.

People’s emotions are often based on feelings, not reason. The significance of this human psychology affecting the voting behavior of large numbers of native Taiwanese as an ethnic group sharing a sad history of being oppressed should not be underestimated.

In a journalist’s words: “Logic can convince but only emotion can motivate.” Furthermore, emotion can consolidate. These are the difficulties that the KMT, generally considered a mainlanders’ organization, must bear in mind and find ways to surmount in managing elections and other political activities in Taiwan.