Taiwan’s 2020 Elections: What Would Tsai Do to Win It?
Taiwan's presidential election is slated for January 2020. (Photo: Reuters)
By Peter Kien-hong Yu

Taiwan’s 2020 Elections: What Would Tsai Do to Win It?

Jul. 10, 2019  |     |  0 comments


In the Minnan dialect of Taiwan and Fujian, aobou (奥步) means using dirty tricks to defeat one’s opponents in an election. After the political division of China in December 1949, this term is still applicable today for both the Kuomintang (KMT) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DDP).


The KMT has been conducting elections since the early 1950s. As a first example, the KMT would buy votes out of fear of losing local elections. In the old days, after accepting money from a certain candidate, the voter would most certainly not change his voting behavior. As a second example, in the old days, during the process of counting ballots at certain competitive or sensitive polling stations, lights would suddenly go out for a few hours. Cheating would thus begin, when some officials would empty the ballot boxes and dump the prepared-in-advance, pro-KMT votes into the same box. As a third example, before the election, some candidates would pay a hefty amount of money to persuade some contenders not to compete with them.


After the lifting of the martial law in July 1987, the DPP realized that to acquire more ballots, it must also rely on dirty tricks. Wu Den-yih, incumbent KMT chairman and mayor of Kaohsiung from June 1990 to December 1998, became a victim of the DPP’s aobou. In the mayoral election in December 1998, he lost to the DPP candidate Hsieh Chang-ting. A few days before election, many voters were led to believe that Wu was involved in a scandal related to a female. As it turned out, the recording was fake.


On March 19, 2004, a shooting incident dramatically affected the presidential election outcome, enabling Chen Shui-bian to be re-elected by a slim margin of 30,000 plus votes. The DPP believed that it had to do with the attempted assassination on Chen, while the KMT, like what an American newspaper editorial said, argued that Chen staged everything, because it was not a crime to hurt or kill oneself. In May 2019, a movie called The Shooting of 319 based on the shooting incident was released in theaters across Taiwan.


Huang Jun-ying, a KMT-candidate, lost the Kaohsiung mayoral contest in December 2006 to Chen Chu of the DPP. One day before the election, several young voters publicly said that Huang practiced aobou. After the election, Huang filed two lawsuits against Chen, arguing that the airing of a video on the eve of the election resulted in his loss. The Kaohsiung District Court ruled in favor of Huang, thereby nullifying the mayoral election. However, the High Court in November 2007 overturned the earlier decision and validated Chen’s victory.


The above-mentioned six tricks would not be orchestrated again, because many voters would not easily believe in what the ruling party or the KMT say and do. So, does Tsai Ing-wen or her think tank members have other new moves?


What about the seventh trick, that is, to disfigure oneself to earn sympathy from voters? In December 2004, the Washington Post reported on Victor Yushchenko: “A Ukrainian opposition candidate falls mysteriously ill, his face disfigured by a blotch of lesions. He has severe abdominal and back pain, and the left side of his face is paralyzed.” Bearing facial scars afterwards, Yushchenko was found to be fed dioxin, a chemical found in the herbicide Agent Orange. However, it is very, very doubtful that Tsai would be inspired by that trick.


The eighth trick is to make use of misinformation and fake news at any place plagued by populism. Related incidents could include stealing and publicizing donor’s data, monies promised or deposited in a candidate’s bank account, installing malware in a candidate’s website, phony public opinion poll results and disparaging a specific contender on social media. Certainly, Tsai will not have the time and energy to do that by herself.  Besides, in June 2019, Randall G. Schriver, who is Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs in the US government, said the United States had already promised to help boost Taiwan’s capabilities and capacity, so as fend off interference from the Chinese government as the elections approached.



Tsai already said that the January 2020 election is a power struggle between the pro-Chinese reunification and the pro-Taiwan’s (de jure) independence camps.



The ninth trick could be reinstating martial law. From May 1949 to July 1987, Taiwan suffered from martial law in general and white terror in particular. The law was lifted in November 1992 in Jinmen and Mazu. So, re-proclaiming martial law can be regarded as a new trick. However, it is 100% not likely to take place, because most voters want to signal to the Chinese mainlanders that they are choosing their own leader at will.


What about the 10th trick?  In March 2019, Tsai said the (major) Taiwan Strait, as opposed to the minor Taiwan Strait, namely, that body of water in between the Taiwan Province and the Pescadores County, is in international waters. Would she declare, say two weeks before January 11, 2020, that the middle line in the Strait is the Great Wall of Taiwan (as opposed to China) at sea? In other words, Tsai wants to assure voters in Taiwan that they can peacefully and tranquilly choose their next president? By doing that, she is also tantamount to be saying that all foreign naval vessels forming an armada three to five days before the January 2020 election can pass through the eastern side of the major Taiwan Strait under the freedom of navigation principle, so as to show moral support of Taiwan elections. This is not impossible. More than 10 years ago at an international academic conference, one foreign academic who supports Taiwan, told me that a Canadian military vessel sailed through the major Taiwan Strait days before the March 1996 presidential election.


To make the Americans and other countries to think twice and thrice, it is not difficult to remind them of the following facts. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy dared to challenge American naval vessels in the Spratlys waters before and after the July 2016 decision made by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague and in the waters off Hainan Island in, for example, December 2013, Also, the more than 30,000 patriotic, unarmed fishing boats from both sides of the Taiwan Straits, which can swamp the Exclusive Economic Zone in the Taiwan Strait.


At this point in time, this author cannot conceive of any new moves. Tsai already said that the January 2020 election is a power struggle between the pro-Chinese reunification and pro-Taiwan’s (de jure) independence camps. She would also have already reminded rally goers of Hong Kong’s large-scale anti-extradition marches in June 2019 against the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019, proposed by the Hong Kong Special Administration Government.


Regarding this rally, it is not difficult for any of the five KMT presidential contenders to ask the Hong Kong residents this question: Are they only thinking about their civil rights? If so, they are being selfish. In other words, they should also put pressure on the American Government to respect the civil rights of Chinese-Americans, such as those working on cutting-edge, scientific projects in US universities. Shien Biau Woo, who served as the 21st Lieutenant Governor (1985-1989) of Delaware state in the US, wrote the following words: “This June 21, 2019 letter was sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation Director, C. A. Wray, urging him to back off from his Whole-of Society Approach..., because he is using a totalitarian methodology in peacetime to solve an American challenge... which may violate the civil rights of Chinese Americans....”


An academic at the National Sun Yat-sen University in southern Taiwan said that Tsai may make a dramatic, unexpected aobou so as to attract the attention of more voters. I perceive that there is not much Tsai can do. Maybe she could shave off her hair three days before the election. On that day, the domestic mass media would immediately report on this unprecedented, harmless but looking literally ugly trick. On the second day, what Tsai did would draw the international mass media’s attention. On the third day or the election day, the mass media in Taiwan would selectively comment on what the international mass media had interpreted. Alternatively, cracking raw eggs on her own head could also be done, instead of inviting disgruntled retired civil servants and retired soldiers who started to receive lower monthly pension from August 1, 2018 as well as laborers who were unable to make more money after the recent Labor Standards Act reform to literally throw rotten eggs at her. I do perceive that Tsai can garner more votes.


It is not clear who will capture the presidency. However, one thing is for sure, the election outcome will be life and death for Taiwan.



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