Property rights are so often the sticking point of KMT governance. The party lost China in part because of its failure to implement land reform there, but then it helped create the base for Taiwan’s economic takeoff through successful land redistribution here. 228 was ignited by a dispute over the right to sell cigarettes without a government license. The Sunflower Movement that halted the Ma administration in its tracks was arguably conceived during the Dapu, Huaguang, and Losheng protests against the government seizing land from the poor to make way for developments for the wealthy. The KMT has subsisted for decades on the vast public assets it seized and privatized after arriving in Taiwan, and the re-nationalization of these assets is a cause célèbre of its rival the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
So it is fitting, and possibly damning for a few, that the KMT’s vice presidential candidate Jennifer Ju-hsuan Wang (王如玄) is now embroiled in controversies over the nature of her property investments. Running mates purportedly balance a ticket, but they also indirectly confirm what the ticket’s core values are. And Wang’s nomination currently looks like a statement to voters that profiting off public assets is a core value of the KMT.
The other two 2016 presidential tickets vividly demonstrate running mates’ signaling power. James Soong (宋楚瑜) and the People First Party chose MKT Chairwoman Hsu Hsin-ying (徐欣瑩), a Hsinchu County Hakka defector from the KMT and a passionate follower of Zen Buddhist master and former ROC secret police officer Miao Tian (妙天師父). Her background underscores that Soong promises a break from the KMT but not from traditional ROC values. The PFP and MKT are both passionate about Sun Yat-sen (孫中山) and the Three Principles of the People in a way that makes you think they’re compensating for their apostasy from the Church of the KMT. MKT advertising is knee-deep in Buddhist imagery. Old-style faction politics are Soong’s and Hsu’s M.O. Soong was a faithful martial law era official and has not specifically renounced or apologized for his suppression of the press, including blacklisting of a journalist reporting on Chen Wen-chen’s (陳文成) 1981 murder; Hsu gave the No. 3 spot on the MKT party list to martial law era secret police officer Chen Yi-chiao (陳奕樵), who was jailed 2.5 years for his role in the 1984 murder of journalist Henry Liu (劉宜良). Soong and Hsu are implicitly telling voters you can make a clean break from the corrupted KMT while still maintaining the values you grew up with.
Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) choice of Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁) appeals to Taiwanese society’s eternal yearning for scholar-presidents, but also strengthens her promise of fundamental change. Tsai is calling for Taiwan to modernize and globalize. Her and her running mate’s doctoral degrees alone emphasize that: hers is from the London School of Economics, and his, Johns Hopkins University. So do their biotech backgrounds. The U.S.-educated Chen is an epidemiologist who helped control the 2003 SARS outbreak, calling to mind the Japanese medical experts who brought Taiwan’s contagious diseases under control a hundred years before. Chen’s Catholic faith even underscores this theme, as Catholicism—like democracy, for that matter—is considered universal by its adherents, but “Western” and unsuitable for the Chinese people by cultural traditionalists. For voters like my uncle-in-law who cherish “5,000 years of Chinese culture,” the Tsai-Chen DPP ticket is un-Chinese and unsuitable to lead the Republic of China. But voters who want a progressive and cosmopolitan Taiwan know exactly whom to choose.
KMT presidential candidate Eric Chu (朱立倫) says he picked Jennifer Wang as his running mate because of her intelligence, her blue-collar Taiwanese background, and her social consciousness, and promised she would help ordinary people enjoy the benefits of government policies. Chu’s narrative was that he and Wang both understand ordinary people and want everyone to enjoy the peace and prosperity facilitated by KMT policies.
In her opening speech as candidate, Wang portrayed herself as a fighter for women’s rights and social justice. As labor minister, she had said and done some controversial things that made her a public enemy to labor activists—chief among them hiring over 80 lawyers to sue elderly laborers to recover compensation given when their factories closed decades years ago—but on Day 1 she seemed apologetic. By saying all the right things going forward, she could have possibly saved face with the general public, if not with progressives.
Instead of giving well-reasoned explanations of her controversial policies, however, she made headlines for laying the blame on her DPP predecessors, one of whom happened to be Chen Chu (陳菊). When Chen refuted Wang’s accusations, Wang was left trying to put her word over that of one of the nation’s most trusted politicians rather than convincing citizens she did the right thing. Worse, she’d created an impression that she’s the kind of official who’s so, so sorry she won’t do anything to help you as the powerful run over you.
A week of revelations later, it appears Chu actually relates to Wang because they both know how to get rich off the commonwealth. Chu’s brother Leader (朱立德) and father-in-law Kao Yu-jen (高育仁) have profited handsomely from his political career. There are also rumors Chu and his relatives have made a lot of money on real estate investments thanks to Chu’s leadership of Taoyuan County and New Taipei City. If any such stories are confirmed on newspaper front pages in the coming two months, they’ll merely compound the impression Wang has made. Within days, Taiwanese have learned of several property deals of hers that violate the intuitive moral principle that politicians should make the common good their top priority.
Even though Wang is a millionaire with a Lexus and multiple properties, she and her husband applied for and live in civil servant housing on dirt-cheap rent of just NT$600 or NT$700 per month, depending on the report. Wang she said in her defense that she spent six to seven hundred thousand NTD to remodel the apartment; that would be an unfathomable sum for an ordinary tenant to spend to fix up a place he or she was renting. For someone making Wang’s past proposed minimum wage of NT$22,000 (US$667) per month, it would be two and a half years’ salary. She even quipped it was an “old” apartment when it was little more than 10 years of age, far fresher than typical Taiwanese housing. After more days of criticism, she promised she and her husband would give in to public pressure and move out of the residence as soon as possible, but perhaps they will try to hold on until after January 16.
Ironically, this home is just a short walk from the Huaguang military dependents community that the government bulldozed. Wouldn’t the residents whose homes were destroyed be far more deserving of such low-cost housing than Wang?
It would be easy for Wang to find out, since military dependents housing is another business interest of hers. She has made NT$7.4 million (US$224k) from selling two military housing units she bought in Xindian in the 1990s. She, her mother, and her sister all own other military housing they bought within the past decade, and its value has surged along with the rest of the Taipei housing market.
Wang insists her actions are legal, but legality is a very low standard in a country yet to complete its transition from the days the KMT enjoyed sovereignty over public resources. The public good should have come first for her. The ideal of low-price civil servant housing is to allow economically disadvantaged government staffers to live close to their workplaces. And as the writer of a viral PTT bulletin board post and a lifelong military community resident writes, the price of military housing has been kept low to defend the many veterans who are economically disadvantaged (and most of whom were refugees adrift in an alien culture). These homes are not supposed to be “great deals” for people like Wang who understand the legal restrictions on their buying and selling better than the other 99% of society. They’re public shelter dedicated to people who need a place to stay.
It’s fitting that when asked about the KMT’s ginormous party assets, Wang said the party “doesn’t have that much,” “just NT$20 billion (US$606 million) or so.” Besides again divulging her plutocrat’s sense of proportion, she was as blithe about the separation of private and public resources in this society-shaping matter as she is in her financial decisions.
Jennifer Wang has her virtues. But if she is given the vice presidency, can you trust her not to put her hand in the till again? Chu and the KMT must have known about her property deals, and yet they gave her a pass—can you trust them to be principled and look out for the little guy instead of themselves in other private and public property affairs?
The military communities from which Wang has profited house some of the KMT’s most loyal members and some of the nation’s most disadvantaged and long-suffering citizens. By supporting Wang, the KMT is snubbing them. I wonder how many of them will stand for it.
(Feature photo of Chu and Wang, from www.kmt.org.tw)
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