Early last year, the DPP and its long-suffering Taipei chapter declined to nominate 2016 legislative election candidates for most of the city’s districts. The independent Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) mayoral campaign of 2014 had been a huge success, and the DPP leadership wanted to build on that with an original strategy to try to sweep Taipei’s districts by teaming up with “third force” candidates – even blues – that didn’t have the DPP label (which had long been a negative in the deeply blue Taipei). Eventually it ran 2 DPP candidates (one an incumbent) and endorsed 3 independents (two of them blue and one of them green), 1 SDP-Green candidate, 1 NPP candidate, and 1 PFP candidate. These 8 people were named the Capital Reform League and were declared a month before Election Day. They can be seen in this list of all DPP-endorsed candidates. Buses with ads sporting their images were run all over the city, and Ko implicitly endorsed all the candidates.

But in the end, ironically, only the three “greenest” alliance candidates won: the two DPPers and the NPPer. This was a stark and painful contrast to the New Taipei campaign, where the DPP and NPP won 10 of 12 races, taking 8 seats away from the KMT. Why didn’t the DPP’s Taipei alliance do that well? Here are 8 reasons.

1. The winners – Wu Su-yao (吳思瑤) in Taipei 1, Pasuya Yao (姚文智) in Taipei 2, and Freddy Lim (林昶佐) in Taipei 5 – just so happened to also be running in the city’s three greenest districts. Taipei 2 is a classic safe seat, and Taipei 1 and 5 are the next best, as Nathan Batto shows in this 2011 post on Taipei’s last redistricting. Though the DPP won only Taipei 2 in 2012, Taipei 1 and Taipei 5 were bound to be the next to surface when the tide went out, and Wu and Lim just made it to 50%. The other five districts were bound to be more difficult to win. So, you can make a case that the overall result in Taipei simply conformed to underlying partisan dynamics.

2. Every one of the KMT’s candidates was far better than Ko’s rival Sean Lien (連勝文). The KMT incumbents’ support bases held firm. None of them reached 50%, but all of them at least cleared 40%, even those who had to face blue city councilors.The KMT-backed New Party candidate in Taipei 2 did the worst at 36.4%, but since he was outside his home district (he’s a city councilor in Taipei 1), was running in the DPP’s safe district, wasn’t an incumbent, and wasn’t KMT, he still did fine all things considered. Because the KMT candidates still had substantial numbers of loyal voters, there usually weren’t enough votes for one challenger to corral.

3. SDP-Green candidates split the opposition vote in Taipei 3, 4, 7, and 8, and effectively swung the races in T3, T4, and T7 (The NPP and TSU also sucked up opposition votes in T4). In each of these 4 districts, the top 2 opposition candidates combined for more than you’d expect a DPP candidate to get there given past results (and usually for more than Wu Su-yao or Freddy Lim received), indicating the opposition was indeed reaching additional centrist voters the DPP wanted; there just weren’t enough of them to overcome a split opposition vote.

The SDP-Greens had to run in at least 10 districts to qualify for the party list vote since they were a new party. Because the SDP was a new party of mostly Taipei people, of course it was going to run mostly in Taipei, especially given that its convener Fan Yun (范雲) basically didn’t care about personal, party, or pan-green electoral strategy. The SDP had announced its Taipei 7 and 8 candidates months before the blue opposition candidates entered those races, and the party and others assumed these were the people the DPP would step aside for, but the SDP’s adamant refusal to cooperate with or endorse either the DPP or Tsai gave the DPP pause and the KMT defectors time to jump in the race.

Since the SDP-Green alliance broke 2% in the party list in the election results, provided they don’t split up again, they can run many less district campaigns in the future and won’t play the spoiler so often. Even so, it’s likely that even if the SDP-Greens hadn’t run in these races, another pan-green party (the attention-hungry TSU) would have gladly emerged as a spoiler. Why?

4. Several voters refused to vote against their pan-green principles. There turned out to be a steep difference in difficulty between getting light blues (who take their ID lightly) to vote for Ko and getting deep greens (who take their ID seriously) to vote for blue candidates Huang Shan-shan (黃珊珊), Yang Shih-chiu (楊實秋), and Lee Ching-yuan (李慶元). Before Election Day, media reports had already indicated this could happen. Huang, who had been confident of victory, lost race-swinging numbers of votes to each of three different pan-green candidates. The TSU candidate in her district ran a pretty negative campaign against her on cross-strait relations. The DPP city councilors even put Huang and Lee in a bind by forcing them to vote against cutting a subsidy for military/civil service/teacher consultants just days before the election, making some deep greens worry whether the two of them would really be loyal to the DPP if they were seated. If these candidates wouldn’t be loyal, wouldn’t it be better to save the DPP from its own strategy?

The victorious Freddy was able to win the deep greens’ support. Though he wasn’t in the DPP, he and the NPP had established their pan-green credentials beyond a doubt long before Election Day.

5. Speaking of the DPP city councilors, while my only hard evidence at hand is Kao Chia-yu (高嘉瑜) protesting the Huang nomination, it stands to reason they would’ve either failed to actively campaign for, or even held back, the DPP’s non-DPP nominees. After all, if all these candidates had won, these city councilors would’ve had their promotion tracks blocked! Not only that, the precedent of Taipei greens moving their votes would’ve led to the DPP pushing more blue candidates in the future.

6. Even so, I’m sure there were plenty of Tsai voters who failed to follow party strategy not because they disagreed with it, but because they were unaware of it. Not everyone is in politics for a living; most people only check up on it intermittently. So even with the DPP using bus ads to tell us all whom it was supporting, there’s no way everyone paid attention and got the message, especially since the Capital Reform League wasn’t formed until the campaign’s final month. My wife, despite putting up with my political talk every day, didn’t know who the candidates in her electoral district (which isn’t the district we live in) were until the night before, and I had to tell her then and there which candidate was DPP-endorsed. Not everyone has the time to read the news every day. I imagine there were many other Taiwanese who wanted to vote DPP but were unable to, and having failed to find a DPP candidate on the ballot assumed “SDP-Green” rather than “PFP” or “Independent” was the right pick.

Outside Taipei, the election results really showed the power of Party ID. The NPP ran several “fake” candidates in order to reach the 10-candidate threshold for a party list spot. It didn’t set up campaign offices for these candidates, nor did it advertise for them. Knowledgeable voters would know to steer clear of them. Yet these “fake” candidates still did quite well! They won 3.1% in New Taipei 5, and 4.5% in Taoyuan 2, and 3.4% in Tainan 4, and 3.7% in Kaohsiung 7, and 5.2% in Kaohsiung 8, and 1.9% in Changhua 3, and 4.1% in Yunlin 2. These numbers are not so different from the all-important 5.7% the nominal NPP candidate got in Taipei 4.

The DPP may have underestimated this problem because Ko didn’t have it. The reason he didn’t, however, is that he became a national celebrity during his race, so everyone knew the DPP supported him. The three independent candidates who most benefited from this kind of publicity this time were the NPPers Freddy Lim, Huang Kuo-chang (黃國昌) and Hung Tzu-yung (洪慈庸), and look at how well they did. The other DPP endorsees didn’t have that kind of name ID.

7. Personal factors. These were not all strong candidates. For instance, Fan Yun brushing off Tsai Ing-wen and the DPP and never clearly communicating to voters what her views are (even though she was the most ideological candidate) doomed whatever chance she might’ve had. Despite endorsing Fan Yun, Ko obviously disliked her, saying on the radio a few days before the race that “there are no good candidates in Da’an.”

The Taipei 3 race was a horrible mess. I believe City Councilor Liang Wen-chieh (梁文傑), the DPP’s original Taipei 3 nominee, would’ve beaten Wayne Chiang (蔣萬安) memorably, but former DPP chair Lin I-hsiung (林義雄) instead kneecapped Liang’s campaign by attacking him in the press twice in a month (…and so Lin I-hsiung saved the Chiang family’s political career in Taiwan). Once Liang refused to run, and SDP-Green Lee Yen-jung (李晏榕) refused to defect to the DPP (she showed relatively little interest in actually winning the race until the final month when the DPP had already decided not to choose her), the party had no choice but to support Billy Pan (潘建志). Pan was very controversial and very hard to work with, so even though he was pan-green plenty of pan-green voters disliked him.

8. Disorganization. The Ko campaign’s success wasn’t just about Ko; it was about the excellent work of his campaign staff, including campaign manager Yao Li-ming (姚立明). This campaign, many of those volunteers were elsewhere (like Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) team) and for one reason or another Yao Li-ming wasn’t put in charge of the Capital Reform League. What’s worse, Ko’s endorsees and Yao’s were even running against each other in Taipei 3, 7, and 8, as Yao emerged as an SDP-Green man in the 2016 elections.

The Capital Reform League rollout was late and rancorous, as the means of deciding the endorsees was opaque; Ko and the candidates were at loggerheads about how he’d be used in advertising; and Ko himself critiqued the league’s performance, noting it wasn’t clear enough about what its ideals were and risked coming off more as an alliance of convenience than an alliance of reform. In cities and counties with all or mostly DPP candidates, it was much easier for the DPP local chapters and HQ to coordinate a strategy for all its candidates. The Taipei chapter ran the most complicated campaign and appeared to do too little to get it off the ground.

Will we see another Capital Reform League in 2020? I seriously doubt it. This was a fascinating experiment that gave the DPP a lot more information about what kind of alliances work…and this time some didn’t. Even if the DPP found better candidates for next time and organized a better campaign, problems #4, 5, and 6 at the least would still be there and would still be significant.

The DPP would be better off running either its own city councilors or famous and charismatic pan-greens in all Taipei’s districts from now on, especially now that it has 4 years to rehabilitate its image as a competent ruling party and wait for more of Taipei’s socially conscious and deeply pro-Taiwan youth to reach voting age. Not only would these candidates with closer ideological affinity be much easier to cooperate with after taking office, they may even be more electable.




Solidarity.tw is the owner and author of the eponymous Tumblr blog solidaritytw.tumblr.com, where he translates Taiwan's news media and provides sharp commentary about Taiwan's current affairs.