Candidates should focus on issues

By Joe Hung, special to The China Post

Where there is a presidential election there is an issue. There may be not just one but many campaign issues. Well, it is so in a mature democracy, but democracy isn’t mature in Taiwan, and perhaps that’s the reason why there are, my goodness, a lot of non-issues though eligible voters are expected to go to the polls to elect a new president and a new Legislative Yuan at the same time for the first time in our brief political history in less than a month and a half.

Let’s be fair. President Ma Ying-jeou tried to raise a real issue by proposing to conclude a peace accord between Taiwan and China. But it isn’t a new issue. As a matter of fact, he promised to sign such a pact in the run-up to his 2008 election, but after assuming of office, he ate his words by going on the record and declaring there would never be any political negotiations between Taipei and Beijing during his first term.

Ma is a cautious man. So when his Democratic Progressive Party rival Tsai Ing-wen raised hell after he had brought up the issue, which may be a non-issue because the proposal was to sign the agreement in ten years’ time or almost six years after he ends his probable second term, he chickened out and offered such platitudes to get off the hook as a series of referendums before both parties going to the negotiating table and after concluding the pact.

Tsai, on the other hand, is more cautious. She has never tried to raise an issue, but waits for a chance to take issue with Ma. When the tabloid Next Magazine printed an expose that Ma met a bookmaking boss at the residence of the Kuomintang mayor of Chiayi, she let her underlings fire a broadside at the president by claiming he was trying to solicit a NT$300 million contribution to his war chest. Her opposition party went all out to label him as a political leader with links with Taiwan’s mafia. She knows almost all of her predecessors, including former President Chen Shui-bian, have had contact with the don, and tried to rein in her bad-mouthing subordinates who were doing what they could to make it a campaign non-issue. When Ma and company counterattacked by initiating litigation against “defamation,” her lackeys began to call the boss a reformed bookmaker king, who actually inserted a declaration as an ad in major newspapers that he had never made any political contributions.

No matter how cautious Tsai may be, she can’t see to it that her campaign staff makes no mistakes. And they did. A one-page wall calendar was published and in its October section are printed two kaki with a catchphrase, “NT$2 per catty.” One catty equals 600 grams and NT$2 is a little more than an American nickel. Of course, it’s impossible to buy such an inexpensive fruit in any supermarket, but the purpose of the designer of the calendar is to tell kaki farmers it’s useless to grow the fruit unless the much less farmer-friendly Ma government could give them a subsidy. The cleverly designed but gaffed campaign gimmick backfired with a vengeance. Kaki farmers were up in arms against Tsai because they couldn’t sell their richly harvested produce as consumers demanded a dime-a-catty kaki, commonly known as Japanese persimmon.