The Unpopular Populist

Riding a wave of discontent with “the way things are for people like us”, a backlash against a popular female politician, and with support of overseas interests and local right wing groups, a rich loudmouth businessman got elected as mayor of Kaohsiung, Taiwan, late in 2018. Taiwan’s political establishment was shaken. BOTH the party that had held the mayorship of Kaohsiung for 20 years AND the traditional political leaders of the more conservative party which the winner had hijacked, engaged in soul-searching. How could this have happened?

Upon taking office in December of 2018, the new mayor characterized the people whom he appointed to serve the people of Kaohsiung as the best in the country. He hardly paused to take a breath before launching himself into the campaign for Taiwan’s presidency. His media machine was loud and fine tuned. It seemed as if he would come up with a new antic every day to keep himself in the public eye and the headlines. The incumbent president and her party learned from the message of the loudmouth’s mayoral victory. They mended fences internally and mounted a successful re-election campaign that saw her draw 57% of the vote in an election where 74% of eligible voters (including both members of the Aboksu household) cast ballots. 

In defeat, the “revealed to be less than universally popular” populist returned to Kaohsiung, and discovered that a recall movement, like that by Californians against their governor in 2003 had started. (Ten US states do not allow recall elections. 37 have various conditions attached, and only 3 allow recall of any elected official for any reason. The one in California grew out of its government’s poor handling of a financial scandal regarding electricity prices.) The restrictions in Taiwan deal with numbers of valid signatures on petitions, limited time for gathering those signatures, and turnout if and when an actual recall election is held. Between January and April, 377 thousand voters signed. The election took place on June 6th. 43% of Kaohsiung’s voters cast ballots (a minimum of 25% was required). The result, 950 thousand voters FOR recall and 25 thousand AGAINST, was telling. 

Recall elections, ideally, are “for cause.” This one, admittedly, was to undo an election that went powerfully wrong. But Taiwan’s law does not require that a mayor be anything other than unpopular for such a move to be made.  This guy, said to have “… shot himself in the foot and put the other foot in his mouth…” is now, blessedly, gone. 

David Alexander keeps a light watch on Taiwan affairs from Holland, MI, where he now resides after 39 years in Taiwan.

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