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All the rivalries and who wins in the end: the Chang-Bian rivalry


The first public presentation for the DPP primary for the 2012 presidential election took place on at 14:00, 9th April 2011. I am not going to write a detailed analysis or critique this. But my general impression is that out of the three candidates, Tsai Ing-wen was the strongest because she was able to take a broad and international perspective, looking at issues from the country or from a political party’s level and her arguments were solid and much better thought out compared to the other two. Her supposedly strongest rival, Su Tseng-chang, paid a lot more attention to details, his own abilities and spoke more like a minister rather than a country’s leader even though he has always been a better public speaker.

Apart from their current performance, it may also be useful to look back and see how the DPP has arrived at this point and what contributions everyone has made before making a firm decision. Given that politics comes with a lot of debates, competitions and cooperation, in this mini-series, I would like to look at the main rivalries which have heavily influenced the DPP’s development and Taiwan’s politics so far. This could be seen as part of the series on Hsieh where I look at his application of mutualism and the contrasts people do not necessarily notice (or like to mention) but this mini-series does NOT include any of Hsieh’s own writing nor represent his views.

The most legendary ‘rivalry’ in DPP history should be the one between Frank Hsieh (Chang-ting) and Chen Shui-bian. Given that Chen was the most influential DPP figure for 14 years (since he became the Taipei mayor in 1994 until he finished his second term as President in 2008), his decisions and actions would have undoubtedly determined where the DPP was going and the life/career paths of those who were supported or disliked by him.

Chen and Hsieh entered politics at the same time and through the same event (i.e. being a defence lawyer for the dissidents in the Formosa Incident), got elected into the Taipei City Council at the same time and later the Parliament at the same time. They used to sit at adjacent tables in the Council and worked well together. When Chen Shui-bian was wrongly accused of libel, Hsieh acted as his legal counsel. When Chen went to prison for this because he refused to appeal, Hsieh and his wife took Chen’s children for a day out along with their own children on several occasions. Hsieh also helped Chen’s wife get elected as a legislator in the 1986 parliamentary election. However, competitions between the two were inevitable as they progressed further in their political careers and maintaining friendship seemed to become more and more difficult over time.

In 1989, they both got elected as legislators and they both wanted to be the party whip during the first parliamentary session, which would guarantee more media exposure than in the second session. At the time, Hsieh was the obvious choice and got the unanimous support from the DPP caucus because he won over 10,000 votes more than Chen in the election, the number of Taipei City Councillors Hsieh endorsed and won was more than any other DPP legislators and those councillors were spread across all the districts. In other words, Hsieh was stronger than Chen in terms of popularity as well as local networks. However, Chen was very tenacious in his pursuit. Therefore, Hsieh let Chen take the position and he settled for being the party whip during the second session.

In the 1992 parliamentary election, they both ran for the parliament again. Chen set his goal as winning more votes than Hsieh in Hsieh’s base (Shi-lin and Peitou District) ‘even if it was by only one vote’ and told all his campaign staff to meet this target. After they both got elected, they both went for the party whip position for the first session and again, it was Hsieh who stepped aside and took it in the second session. Chen’s competitive nature, as evidenced in his approach as legislator, led to Chen being more popular than Hsieh and put Hsieh in disadvantage when he entered the primary for the 1994 Taipei Mayoral election.

Even though Hsieh had given Chen so many opportunities and genuine support, when Prof. Peng Ming-min and Hsieh were running for the 1996 presidential election, Chen did not give much support and told the press that they had no chance at all. After the defeat in 1996, Hsieh went for the Chair of the Central Review Committee of the DPP. Chen tried to prevent Hsieh from being elected by nominating and supporting Chen Chu, the then Commissioner of Department of Social Welfare, Taipei City Government instead. It was only with the support of another heavyweight at the time, Hsu Hsin-liang that Hsieh got elected.

Towards the end of 1996, the ‘Sung Chi-li incident’ (see my previous post on Frank Hsieh campaign genius) grabbed every headline in Taiwan. Hsieh was at the deep end and Chen predicted that Hsieh would never recover from that blow. Chen not only stayed as far away from Hsieh as possible but immediately labelled the building Sung’s followers gathered as being illegal before the investigation concluded and sent a team to demolish the building within days. He also publicly ridiculed Hsieh by impersonating Sung. A lot of people felt that it was completely unnecessary for Chen to kick Hsieh when he was down. Some believe that this may have affected supporters’ motivation to vote for Chen when he was seeking his second term as Taipei Mayor in 1998. I am not sure how much impact this had on that election but would agree that it did not make Chen more popular, at least not among green supporters.

In 1996, apart from the election defeat, the DPP was also having financial difficulty. Unfortunately, as the most influential figure in the DPP, Taipei Mayor, who had two foundations, Chen did not raise or donate a penny. Hsieh, on the other hand, worked really hard on fundraising and got a lot of donations for the party. In 2008, Chen admitted that the funds his wife transferred overseas were the surplus of campaign funds / donations he had accumulated from 1994 to 2004, before the legal restriction on political donations came into effect. So in retrospect, Chen could have made some contribution to the party in 1996 but chose not to.

In 1997, the DPP’s chance in the county chief elections was very good. Chen launched a ‘Formosa campaign group’, in competition rather than collaboration with the one coordinated by the then party leader, Hsu Hsin-liang. When the result showed a huge success, all the credit went to Chen. However, in 1998, the DPP’s chance in the local elections (chiefs for towns and villages) was not good. Chen simply refused to campaign. The outcome was of course quite miserable, which ultimately prevented Hsu from getting elected as the party leader for the  following term.

In 1997, the South African military attaché, McGill Alexander’s family was taken hostage by a serial killer on the run. The police was unable to get the killer to release the hostages and they were ready to take the killer down with the hostages inside. It was only after Hsieh responded the killer’s demand to let him in and negotiate terms the crisis was over. The killer was upset about the fact that his wife might have been tortured by the police because they believed that she was an accomplice. The killer therefore asked Hsieh to be his wife’s legal representative, as he believed that Hsieh was the fairest lawyer and the only one he could trust. At the time, some people in the society did not believe that serious criminals and their accomplices deserved to be legally represented. Therefore, when the press asked Chen what he thought, he as well as denounced Hsieh by saying that he would not represent criminals of this sort even if he had been asked. He did not acknowledge the significance of Hsieh’s diffusing a highly dangerous situation that could have turned into an even bigger international incident.

It is a real shame that the episode on this story in the National Geographic Channel (Channel 5 production) show ‘Banged up abroad’, there was no mention of Hsieh at all even though Hsieh was caught on camera walking hostages out of the house. If anyone paid attention to the credit in the end, it showed that the ROC General Information Office as one of the sponsors (Thanks to my friend, Jay, for pointing this out). If anyone is interested, I strongly recommend reading Alexander’s book ‘Hostage in Taipei’ as he (one of the hostages) honestly talked about how significant Hsieh’s role was in changing the event.

Underneath the ruthlessness, Chen probably had momentary appreciation for Hsieh’s support and friendship. In 1998, Chen persuaded someone who also wanted to run for Kaohsiung Mayor to withdraw and leave Hsieh a clean field within the party. After he became the president, he also helped divert more resources to Kaohsiung City than when it was under the KMT (although it was still nowhere near what Taipei City received from the central government). This made it easier for Hsieh to reinvent Kaohsiung and turn the city around. When Hsieh was leading the bid for the 2009 World Games, Chen also gave his support.

Hsieh campaigned really hard for Chen in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections (please also see my previous post on Frank Hsien’s campaign genius) and the results were impressive.

In 2000, the total votes for Chen represented 39.3% of the overall votes. In Kaohsiung city, Chen got 45.79% of votes, which was 16.1% (139,358 votes) more than what James Sung won.

Interestingly, in Taipei County where Su Tseng-chang was heading the county wide campaign, Chen got only 36.73% of votes whereas Sung got 40.26%. Even in Taipei City where Chen just left as the Mayor two years prior, he got only 37.64% of votes when Sung got 39.79%.

In 2004, Chen’s overall support was 50.11%. In Kaohsiung city, Chen won 55.65% of the total votes whereas Lien chan only got 44.35%. The difference was 101,535 votes.

In contrast, in Taipei County where Su was in charge, Chen got only 46.94% when Sung received 53.06% of votes. The difference was roughly 130,000.

One might argue that Kaohsuing was a ‘green’ city and therefore Chen would have naturally won. This is completely incorrect because the pre-Hsieh Kaohsiung was a definite ironclad ‘blue’ area. Hsieh not only got a good reputation for being a good Mayor but managed to change the political culture and laid a solid foundation for the future. This is something that Chen and Su never achieved in Taipei.

While Chen might have supported Hsieh for his Kaohsiung projects, he remained watchful for Hsieh’s popularity political influence. To be precise, he was watchful for all potential leaders’ development to make sure that none of them could challenge him. The one he watched most closely was Hsieh probably because Hsieh was the most talented and influential of them all. This was evidenced in the number of votes Hsieh was able to get for him in both presidential elections. After he was re-elected as the Kaohsiung Mayor, Hsieh was given the name ‘the King of the South’ (南霸天). I do not think Hsieh himself would pay much attention to this but it does reflect how much influence he had. Anyone could see how crucial it was to have Hsieh’s support in major elections and I believe that Chen went to great lengths to make sure that he could exploit Hsieh’s influence without having it used against himself.

In 2001, Hsieh was the DPP party leader and worked with TSU, which resulted in the pan-green coalition getting the most seats in the parliament for the first time in history. With such a huge success, Hsieh could have easily got elected as the party leader for another term. However, before Hsieh announced his intention, Chen publicly said that Hsieh would stay with the people of Kaohsiung. Chen’s aides also sent up a trial balloon about Chen taking over the party leadership. A respected columnist asked Chen in their meeting whether he meant it. Chen admitted and said ‘I’m too embarrassed to say it myself’. So as soon as he got out of the Presidential Office, the columnist phoned Hsieh and advised Hsieh to go along with Chen’s wishes to avoid rumours about their ‘rivalry’. Even though no one would have blamed Hsieh for seeking another term and Chen was very likely to lose if they had both entered, Hsieh simply facilitated the change of party rules to pave the way for a sitting president to be the party leader, publicly supported the idea and handed it over to Chen without any quibble. Sadly, with this level of cooperation, Chen’s aides were still hostile and suspicious towards Hsieh and Hsieh’s aides and associates. In the parliament, legislators associated with Chen and those associated with Hsieh did not get on either. What’s more depressing was that years later, when faced with criticism of being too dominating because he took over party leadership as a president, Chen blamed it all on Hsieh, saying it was Hsieh who initiated it and he simply followed Hsieh’s idea and arrangements.

In 2005, when the political confrontation between the blue and the green camps was getting worse, Chen finally invited Hsieh to become the premier. However, their honeymoon period did not last because they had very different ideas and approaches. Chen often publicly made snide remarks about Hsieh, leaving the embarrassed premier to deal with all the questions and speculations. Despite this, Hsieh never publicly criticised Chen and always told the press not to over interpret or misinterpret Chen’s remarks and that they got on just fine. Chen on the other hand, never denied any of those reports or rumours.

When the blue friendly media started accusing Hsieh and his team for corruption over the Kaohsiung MRT, without considering the evidence, Chen immediately distanced himself from Hsieh and said in a TV interview that he was never involved in the running of Kaohsiung City and knew nothing about what Hsieh did. Years later, none of the investigations found any wrongdoing and all the accused were cleared but no one has made any apology to Hsieh and his team. Interestingly, when the World Games turned out to be a huge success, Chen changed the story and said that it was actually his idea to ask Hsieh to bid for the Games.

Hsieh stepped down as the premier in January 2006 and went to Harvard University as a visiting researcher. In the same year, Chen and his family were knee deep in suspected corruption cases and his support rating was dropping even faster than before. On 31st May 2006, Chen announced that he was going to release his power to the then premier, Su Tseng-chang, under questionable volition. Su became the first and only premier with real power. It was even more obvious who Chen was going to (or had to) side with. When the ‘red shirt army’ protest against Chen was full on and the whole green camp was about to fall apart, Chen came up with the idea of asking Hsieh to run for Taipei Mayor, which I doubt any of the other heavyweights interested the 2008 presidential race would object. Even though Chen kept arguing that he was trying to give Hsieh a platform for the 2008 presidential election, not many people were convinced because Chen’s preference was very obvious and all the political commentators and civil organisations supporting or associated with Chen never hid their hostility towards Hsieh. They would attack anything Hsieh says or even twist what he actually means. For example, when Hsieh proposed ‘mutualism and reconciliation’, a lot of dark green commentators and supporters accused him of ‘giving up’ and saying it was useless to try and reconcile with the blue camp. Another example was when Hsieh pointed out the ‘one-China’ clause in the Constitution and that it had to be changed, the same critics accused him of leading Taiwan towards unification with China and insisted that Taiwan does not belong to ROC, Hsieh should not have pointed it out even though it was right there in the Constitution.

At that time, Chen also kept antagonising former President Lee Teng-hui. It is speculated that when Chen and the KMT agreed on the current parliamentary election system, KMT’s intention was to marginalise People’s Party, led by James Sung and Chen’s intention was to marginalise TSU, founded by Lee. The end result was that no one in TSU got elected and the DPP won miserable 27 seats (less than 25% of seats). This is a huge (and very sad) contrast to what Hsieh achieved when he was running the party in 2001 and serves as a perfect example that when one violates mutualism, he himself gets hurt at the same time.

It should be noted that for years, the blue friendly media worked hard to put a wedge between Chen and Hsieh. They did this by skilfully editing news reports and commentaries to push Chen’s buttons and directly whispering rumours about Hsieh to Chen’s ears. It became even more obvious after 2005. The blue camp knew to manipulate this because as early as the martial law era, the KMT intelligence already found that the combination of Chang and Bian would be a powerful weapon Taiwanese could use against the KMT as Hsieh has the brain and quick wit while Chen shows a strong drive and an earthy charm. It is also true that when the two of them worked together, the green camp was always the strongest. I guess the blue camp would love to see both of them destroyed. Unfortunately, Chen walked right into it and even unwittingly helped the blue camp by trying to destroy Hsieh himself.

A week before the DPP primary for the 2008 presidential election ended, a confidential official letter written by a prosecutor, saying that Hsieh’s corruption was confirmed, was leaked to the press. This letter was most likely to be fabricated because 1) Hsieh was never prosecuted and there was no way the prosecution would let it go if they had any evidence; 2) everyone who got implicated were all cleared. However, after it was reported, Su wasted no time in putting in a huge newspaper advert in the Liberty Times, asking Hsieh to face this accusation and explain himself. Although the prosecutor has been suspected of fabrication, no one has been able to find who actually leaked it to the press. It has been suggested that it was actually one of the ‘higher ups’ in the DPP government.

Despite the above, Hsieh still won the primary. Normally, the presidential candidate should lead the election campaign and set the tone for the parliamentary election campaign that takes place two months before the presidential election. However, Chen was reluctant to let go and often publicly criticised or contradicted what Hsieh had just said. He even openly interfered with Hsieh’s choice of his running mate. It did not seem to have occurred to Chen that a lot of people were already tired of his way (strongly indicated by the fact that the one he supported lost by about 10,000 party member votes in the primary). Chen only grudgingly handed everything over to Hsieh after the DPP lost in the parliamentary election in January 2008. This means that Hsieh had only about two months left to straighten the campaign out. It was highly suspected that Chen was not going to support Hsieh from that point because Chen had never supported anyone he could not control. Indeed, Chen himself admitted in his book that he did not raise a penny for the 2008 election. It was also clear that none of Su’s associates helped out in the campaign either. At this point, all the KMT had to do was to keep playing the ‘Chen’s corruption’ card. So in a way, the 2008 election was a competition between Ma and Chen. Some have also said that Hsieh was not really defeated by Ma, but by Chen.

After Chen was detained, he wrote a couple of books. In one of them, he accused Hsieh of trying to push him out during the red shirt army protest. What actually happened was that Chen asked Hsieh whether he should have stood down and Hsieh replied candidly that standing down might not be the worst outcome. Chen became angry and apparently has resented since that Hsieh did not convince him to stay. This may have been the main reason why Chen was so intent on supporting Su. What Hsieh meant by ‘the worst’ was that the DPP collapsed and Taiwan’s democracy was set back years as Chen was finished. Hsieh’s prediction was actually resonant to Chen’s current situation – the green camp’s struggle since and Taiwan’s political development (or regression) since Ma got in power. It is sad that Chen is still in denial and externalising responsibilities. It is also sad to see their story to end this way. Considering the level of damage Chen did to the stability and unity of the green camp over the years, it is clear that Chen only knows zero sum games whereas Hsieh is the opposite. There has not been as much rivalry as someone’s one sided obsession to win in their famous ‘rivalry’. Ironically, Chen’s approach guarantees that no one wins; everyone loses except the enemy.

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