Taiwan's local elections will be held on November 29, 2014 in which 11,130 public servants, including city mayors, city councilors and village chiefs will be chosen from 19,762 candidates. The outcome of the local elections will affect the result of the 2016 Taiwan legislative and presidential elections.
While the electoral system in Taiwan favors the two-party system in which the ruling party is mainly a competition between Kuomintang (KMT) and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), this year a number of small political parties and individuals have decided to compete with the big parties in the upcoming local elections.
Among the new faces are young people who are not affiliated with any party, but who come from the Wild Strawberry Movement in 2008 and the Sunflower Movement in 2014, which led a three-week occupation of Taiwan's legislature earlier this year to protest a secretly negotiated trade deal with China. Many want to use of the occasion of elections to deliver their ideas about social justice to a wider audience and bring change to their hometowns if they win the position of village chief.
One of the young candidates, Yoshi Liu, was involved in the 2008 Wild Strawberry Movement, a student movement that stood against the police abuse of power during mainland Chinese officials’ visit to Taiwan. He explained why he decided to run for the election in an interview with reporters from News E-forum, an independent citizen media run by students and activists:
When Yoshi looked back on the Wild Strawberry Movement in 2008, he saw that “students were incapable of supporting a long-term social movement”. He also believed that the social movement had their limitations. However, most young activists tried to stay away from mainstream politics and refused to work with those who were in a position of power. Eventually, they [graduated and] left the movement, and it couldn't find enough resources for future mobilization. Election politics, however, can make real change.
News E-forum reporters interviewed a political scientist to explain why many young candidates are aiming for the village chief position:
“Democracy in Taiwan is the beautiful flowers hanging from the tree, but its roots based in the local communities are rotten.” When discussing local politics in Taiwan, Professor Wang Yeh-Lih at the National Taiwan University's Department of Political Science said that although the island has gone through the rotation of ruling parties and society has developed a political culture in the practice of democracy, at the local level councilors and village chiefs are still controlled by local factions, which are often connected to gangs and plutocrats.
Local politics in Taiwan is like a small ecosystem. The chances of winning a position are highly related to a person's social network. As a result, the village chiefs, who are well connected in their communities, are playing the role of “vote brokers” in upper-level elections.
Regarding how young candidates can change the present system, he believed that the emphasis should be put on the goal of “how to change the existing culture of election” instead of on which individual wins the vote.
With few resources, it would be indeed difficult for young candidates to win any elections. Coolloud.org, an independent media outlet focused on social movement news, explained why the electoral system in Taiwan does not favor newcomers without financial resources:
Individual candidates need to pay 120,000 to 2,000,000 New Taiwan dollars [3,909 to 65,150 US dollars] for an election deposit, depending on the particular position and level of government he or she is running for. For big political parties, which can obtain resources from the government, the election deposit is a piece of cake. However, for small parties and individuals, it is their first challenge. Although many candidates in the Green Party have gathered enough money for the deposit, they have used up all their cash and will not have enough money for their election campaigns.
In addition to the deposit, the election campaigns and advertising are all part of the glamorous money game.
Our present electoral system evaluates whether a candidate can register or even win the election by their wealth.
In addition to the election deposit and campaign funding, the mobilization of voters is also a money game. For example, Taiwanese businessmen in China who support the current ruling Kuoming Tang provide discount flight tickets for Taiwanese working in mainland China to fly back to Taiwan to vote.
To help young student voters travel back to their hometown for the elections, a citizen group called “Young citizen volunteer network” has set up a crowdfunding project to raise money for travel expenses.
The money barriers make it unfair for ordinary people to participate in elections, but young people are taking an important first step to change the rules of the game by running in local elections.