Tuesday, March 25, 2008

When bozos attack

Slagging reaches new low in Taiwan campaigns

Jonathan Adams
Taiwan Election Notebook, March 18, 2008
Far Eastern Economic Review

Last week it was a group of loose-cannon Kuomintang legislators, who barged into the campaign office of Frank Hsieh, the Democratic Progressive Party candidate. An embarrassed KMT candidate Ma Ying-jeou apologized for the intrusion, as did the legislators. Their ringleader even said tearfully he would “consider killing himself” if his actions led to Mr. Ma losing the election.

Today, the media went crazy over comments at a pro-Hsieh rally yesterday by a DPP education official. The official used unprintable slang to insult Mr. Ma’s deceased father. As one newscaster put it, “both blue and green [referring to KMT and DPP camps] agreed he went too far.”

Frank Hsieh apologized to Mr. Ma for the comments, while trying to distance his campaign from the official, Chuang Kuo-jung. Mr. Chuang resigned over the remarks late Sunday, according to local media. But all day, TV stations continued to replay the offensive footage, as analysts picked apart the impact on the election.

It wasn’t the first time the official in question had slagged Mr. Ma. In fact, Mr. Chuang became notorious in December for his off-color remarks while defending the government’s decision to change the signage on the former “Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall,” a Taipei landmark, to “Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall.”

While verbally jousting with the KMT over the change, he called Ma “sissy” (niang) and a “wimp” (xiao nao nao). He said that another KMT official so tightly “embraced” Chiang Kai-shek that he seemed gay.

Many Taiwanese criticized him for his intemperance; some even blamed him for contributing to the DPP’s thumping defeat in January’s legislative election. But he became an overnight hero for hardline KMT-haters; his fans in the DPP legislative caucus even brought him flowers. It remains to be seen how much Mr. Chuang’s comments will hurt Mr. Hsieh — they may serve to remind many fatigued voters of their disgust with DPP rule.

But the flap highlighted two points on this election. One is that both parties continue to have trouble reining in hardline elements in their own camps, a worrisome sign as Taiwan attempts to move toward a more stable two-party system.

The second point is more encouraging: Both candidates immediately disowned the remarks, highlighting their insistence on taking a more moderate road and themselves resisting extremism. That, at least, is an encouraging sign for Taiwan’s young democracy.

No comments: