Written by Solidairty.tw.

A couple weeks ago I wrote that KMT caucus whip Lai Shyh-bao (賴士葆) was following the same strategy as his primary challenger, independent City Councilor Lee Ching-yuan (李慶元)—focusing on quality-of-life issues—only louder. After hearing Lee Ching-yuan campaign sound trucks the past couple weeks, seeing him bike past my home with one, and receiving so much direct mail from him I feel like he’s a family member—not to mention seeing his regular talk-show appearances—I’m no longer sure the deep-pocketed Lai is the louder of the two.

Lee has recently gone negative in an attempt to redefine Lai as an accomplice of Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and a part of the problems facing Taiwan. The following are pieces of direct mail I received from him in the span of one week. We’ll find out on election day whether it paid off.

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The front of this flyer, which is in black, white, and red—the typical campaign colors of crisis—says even though Lai has spearheaded eight amendments of Taiwan’s food safety laws in eight years, food safety crimes and scandals have continued unabated, thus Lai is an ineffective legislator. It smartly focuses on the Ting Hsin cooking oil scandal: Ting Hsin’s top executives were recently acquitted of any crimes, the chief reason possibly being legal loopholes, and this caused deep anger in Taiwan. At the bottom, Lee Ching-yuan advertises his strong and long-term advocacy of punishing and wiping out Ting Hsin. I can vouch that in the 2014 municipal elections opposition to Ting Hsin was the centerpiece of his campaign and he ran as a Ting Hsin opponent using this same black, white, and red color scheme. Lee notes that the president of the prestigious National Taiwan University, like Lee, has called for a boycott of Ting Hsin, legitimizing Lee’s position.

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The back of the flyer is exaggerated and grim. It says in other countries black-hearted businessmen who peddle dirty water and adulterated oil are steeply punished (mandatory death penalty in China, fined to death in the U.S., early execution in North Korea, seppuku in Japan, and pressured to death in Thailand) whereas in Taiwan they get rich and make all kinds of money. In the bottom half it shows a self-satisfied Lai’s image growing larger and larger as the number of major food safety scandals in Taiwan mounts. “I guess we’ll just have to amend the law again,” says Lai.

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Next I received this pamphlet, which states on the front cover in the Lee campaign/crisis colors of black, white, and red, “For fairness and justice, replace the legislator.”

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Here is the first appearance of an American football, which Lee has made a symbol of his campaign. This football says “fairness and justice.” At first I assumed the football was supposed to give Lee a unique image of Americanism (many Taiwanese consider the U.S. a more advanced country) and manliness. However, thanks to this spread I also realized Lee is making a complex visual metaphor. In Mandarin, an American football is called a 橄欖球, literally an “olive ball”, due to its shape, and here Lee explains that he stands for an “olive-shaped society.” In an “olive-shaped society,” he says, the upper and lower classes are small and the middle class is large, the way an olive is large in the middle. In contrast, he stands in opposition to a “gourd-shaped society.” A gourd is fat at the top and the bottom and thin in the middle, thus in a gourd-shaped society the middle class has vanished. Note also Lee includes Taiwanese- and Hakka-language transliterations of “olive” and “gourd” to draw a little closer to these groups.

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In the bulk of the pamphlet, Lee blames Lai for three recent unpopular policies and implies he should step down to take responsibility. In each of the following three spreads there are pictures of Lai negotiating and celebrating the passage of legislation that made these changes possible.

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The first policy was the capital gains tax the Ma administration and Legislature pushed through in 2013, which was repealed in late 2015 as the election neared. Lee claims the tax hurt the stock market, domestic investors, and both domestic economic development and tax revenues by encouraging capital flight. Lai and Lee’s electoral district is relatively well-off so plenty of voters here care about this policy.

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Lee next knocks Lai for being a so-called financial expert legislator while overseeing rises in gas, electricity, and housing price increases despite stagnant wages. Gas and electricity prices are set by the government, and the double hike in 2012 caused one of the first public outbursts against the second-term Ma administration.

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Finally, Lee says Lai was an accomplice in the Ma administration’s extremely unpopular education reform effort, which Lee says has “sacrificed our children.” Even KMT presidential candidate Eric Chu (朱立倫) has acknowledged this policy was a failure, Lee notes. Though Taiwanese want education reform, they believe Ma’s 12-year education policy instead made things worse.

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Lee then pokes fun at Lai’s many campaign posters proclaiming that every year he’s rated the top legislator, saying this proves he hasn’t reflected at all on his failures. Lee calls for voters to throw Lai out and implies he’s a reason for the increasing concentration of Taiwan’s wealth in the hands of a few (the top 1% hold 32% of assets, and the top 10% hold 62% of assets.)

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Finally, Lee presents his own credentials. He wears it as a badge of honor that the KMT expelled him from the party “for speaking truth” and asks you to use your vote to give him justice. He says the KMT expelled him (last summer, just before nominating Hung; Lee seemed on the way out the door anyway) for these 10 reasons:

  1. Launching a “Demolish Ting Hsin” movement for the Wei family scandal of selling adulterated cooking oil
  2. Criticizing severe government profiteering for a financial consortium in the MeHAS City development scandal
  3. Criticizing government profiteering for a financial consortium and threatening public safety in the Taipei Dome BOT development project
  4. Criticizing government profiteering for a financial consortium in the New Taipei City youth social housing BOT case
  5. Criticizing the government for the Fuzhou fair-price housing scandal
  6. Criticizing government profiteering for a financial consortium in the Taipei Bus Station BOT case
  7. Exposing the Neihu metro KSECO land disposal scandal
  8. Exposing Mayor Hau’s city government’s Gate of Taipei scandal
  9. Exposing the scandal of Taipei Rapid Transit Corp. general manager Tsai Hui-sheng (蔡輝昇) and other officials profiteering for metro network advertising companies
  10. Exposing a Hau administration consultant’s sexual harassment of a female vocal artist.

Lee then presents his platform:

  1. Legislative reform: Bring a new mind into the Legislature, with third forces balancing the two major parties and driving legislative reform.
  2. Political reform: Popular sovereignty, clean government, opposition to government-business collusion, lower the voting age to 18, and lower the threshold for parties to enter the Legislature with proportional representation seats from 5% to 3%.
  3. Social reform: A fair and just society, using distributive justice to resolve the problems caused by the wealth gap.
  4. Livelihood reform: Reform the 12-year education system, integrate pre-K education, uphold housing justice, value food safety, public safety, and school safety, mitigate the problem of low birthrates, and implement a sound elderly-care system.
  5. Environmental reform: Protect the natural environments of flora and fauna, and implement ecological protection and nurturing.
  6. Local livelihood-related infrastructure reform:
    -Realize the Muzha metro vision, quickly complete the ring metro line
    -Utilize fallow public land, build social housing, realize housing justice
    -Make the Jiaho new community a military community culture historical site and human cultural ecology park
    -Promote cultural infrastructure signature to Wenshan and southern Zhongsheng districts
    -Move (including underground) all the Wanlung power substations, turning their present locations into natural parks and sites for non-polluting industries

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The back cover shows the locations of Lee’s campaign offices and gives his contact and donation information. Note the QR code; these are now ubiquitous in Taiwan.

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I then received a flyer from Lee about an ETtoday report forwarding his claim that Lai Shyh-bao doesn’t actually live in his district. Instead, Lee claims, Lai lives in a large and comfortable estate in New Taipei’s Xindian District. Lee emphasizes that he in contrast has lived in Wenshan District for 47 years.

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Finally, I received this flyer that would have been impossible to imagine 10 years ago when Lee was levying accusations at then-President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁). It advertises a January 2 Lee campaign rally starring none other than Democratic Progressive Party vice presidential candidate Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁). Though the DPP has endorsed Lee’s candidacy, since Lee’s a deep blue he needs to do a lot to win over the deep green voters in his district—and without alienating his own supporters in the process. This show of support from the widely popular Chen should help.

The top of the ad notes Lee is a member of the Ko-DPP Capital Reform League and has this riff on Ko’s famous mayoral campaign slogan: “Reforming the Legislature, starting with Taipei.” Will voters give Lee the chance to do so? We shall see.

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After finishing this article I received two more very interesting pieces of mail from Lee. This first one is plainly an attempt to endear himself to his district’s deep green voters, who will make or break his campaign. He uses the DPP’s “KMT party assets are the Ring of Power” metaphor and says Lai Shyh-bao, too, has fallen under the Ring’s influence.

 

He points out Lai received NT$5 million in KMT campaign funding for each of his previous 2 campaigns and this year he’s received at least NT$6 million. This large sum of money, which Lee says “could have paid for a healthy breakfast for 400,000 children and is equivalent to 60 years of work by youths making NT$22,000 a month or 80,000 years of annual KMT dues,” influenced Lai Shyh-bao into going along with President Ma’s ruinous policies of raising the electricity and gasoline taxes, instituting a capital gains tax, and implementing 12-year education.

 

In case you were thinking “well, Lee Ching-yuan was a KMT member receiving its ring-like funding too,” Lee states that for his past two runs for city councilor on the KMT ticket, the KMT only gave him NT$50,000 total in funding–or 1/200th of what Lai always got. Hearing the KMT is this stingy with city councilors honestly surprised me, and I realized Lee, who runs a lot of ads every campaign, is either spending his own money on them or receiving quite a few donations from supporters. Finally, Lee asks voters to use their votes to cast Lai’s NT$16 million of KMT money into the ashheap of history.

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Here is Lee’s coup de grace as far as I’m concerned: Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), James Soong (宋楚瑜), and popular independent and personally pan-green Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) all endorsing Lee’s candidacy. This is the first time I’ve seen an ad where two different presidential candidates endorsed the same person. On the front, they say “inclusiveness and cooperation for progressive reform: we all support independent legislative candidate Lee Ching-yuan.” On the back, there are pictures of each of them with Lee at events, and they each have written messages saying Lee is a reformer who crosses party lines and asking you to vote for him.

Who says Taiwan is hopelessly divided between blues and greens? Chinese and Taiwanese nationalists are united behind the cause of domestic reform right here in my mail.

Solidarity.tw is an indispensable blog on Taiwanese politics.