Taipei City mayoral election outlook

By Alan Fong, The China Post

The battle for mayorship of the country’s capital has always been one of the most important in Taiwanese politics. Being the Taipei City mayor, or even a just mayoral candidate, more or less places one into the exclusive club of presidential candidates in the country, especially after the head of the Taiwan Provincial Government’s power was cut substantially in 1997 during the streamlining of institutions. All three recent presidents — Lee Teng-hui, Chen Shui-bian and the incumbent Ma Ying-jeou — held the post before running for president. Chen and his former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) comrade Frank Hsieh both entered the presidential election even after losing Taipei mayoral elections due to their strong showing in the fight. This year’s Taipei election pits the incumbent Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) of the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) against former Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) of the DPP. Three independent candidates, Francis Wu (吳武明), Helen Hsiao (蕭淑華), and Wu Yen-cheng (吳炎成), are also joining the race but mostly as a political statement as they stand virtually no chance against the two major party candidates. Graduated from National Taiwan University with a degree in Agricultural Chemistry and Ph.D. in Food Science and Technology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Hau served as the secretary-general of the Red Cross in Taiwan and the head of Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) among other posts before being elected as Taipei mayor in 2006. Hau, 58, earned his name as a can-do, proactive civil servant for implementing the controversial ban on plastic bags in 2003 against substantial resistance from protesters, which included plastics manufacturers and market vendors.

Career achievements are also Su’s strong suit. Born in 1947, Su is known as an experienced politician whose tenures as the magistrate of his native Pingtung County (1989-1993) and Taipei County (1997-2004) were warmly remembered by the locals and generally praised nationally. Su graduated from the National Taiwan University and was a practicing lawyer before entering politics. Su served as premier from 2006 to 2007 during the Chen Shui-bian administration and was the vice presidential candidate to Frank Hsieh in the 2008 election.

Taipei City has been seen as a stronghold for the so-called “pan-blue” camp of the KMT and like-minded politicians. Former President Chen is the only candidate to have ever beaten a KMT candidate in the Taipei mayoral election and his victory was widely contributed to a split of the pan-blue camp that year. In his Taipei Mayor reelection campaign, Chen was defeated by Ma, now the president, by a large margin despite enjoying high approval ratings.

However, Hau faces an uphill battle in his reelection as many Taipei citizens are disgruntled by a series of problems in the city under his watch, including the suspension of the newly opened Maokong Gondola from October 2008 to March 2010 and several serious service interruptions of the MRT Neihu Line soon after it was inaugurated on July 2009. Hau’s camp has also been in the defensive after the city government’s Secretary-General Yang Hsi-an was recently charged in the Xinsheng Overpass corruption case and after the mayor apologized for overpricing in a number of procurement contracts for the recently opened Taipei International Flora Expo.