“However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.” - Sir Winston Churchill
In the recent midterm local elections held in Taiwan, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) again suffered a series of setbacks with their party only winning 5 out of the 21 city and county seats. The opposition party Kuomintang (KMT), on the other hand, won 13 of the local 21 seats. This stunning defeat of the ruling party in the local level spurred President Tsai Ing-Wen, who is the head of the ruling party, to resign as head of the party.
There have been several analysts who have given their take on why the aforesaid ruling party lost badly. Most of them opined that the loss was related to things occurring outside Taiwan. Pundits have dissected the elections in terms of international repercussions and predicted that the results indicate dire times ahead. It is respectfully submitted that there are more mundane but no less important reasons for the DPP debacle.
The ruling party’s strategy was grand in concept. It framed the local elections in terms of national and international issues. Sometimes, the rhetoric emphasized moral and even national existential issues. Essentially, the message was vote for the ruling party local candidates because it is the right thing to do.
With due respect to the DPP policy planners, some of whom I know personally, it is apparent that their policy or strategy analysts forgot the dictum that local politics are exactly that -- local. Local politics are decided by issues that voters feel are close to their heart or whatever internal organ they perceive as important. “Gut” issues are what political operators in the local level perceive as the most important issue in local elections.
I was fortunate to observe the previous elections in Taiwan. Admittedly, there are some marked differences in the campaign style. For example, some local candidates themselves spend the campaign period often standing at intersections the WHOLE day waving at people and giving away flyers which you will rarely see in our country. Most of the time, however, the candidates and the voters behave in ways similar to our candidates and electorates at the local level. Although there are many voters who are party voters, more and more voters in Taiwan seemingly look at the local issues, local performances and the local candidates’ personality.
There are many lessons to learn from the recent Taiwan election which our own would be and actual politicians can use.
First, campaigns are long games. With the barangay election for all intent and purposes rescheduled to next year and the midterm elections set two and half years from now, many potential candidates and even sitting officials are content to wait and bide their time before they plan for the next elections. Unfortunately, as the Taiwan elections show, campaigns nowadays need long preparations. Messages need to be seeded and issues need to be addressed immediately.
Second, local elections should not be framed in terms of national, or worse, international issue. In congressional elections, one of the less effective strategies is for contenders to discuss how the incumbent congressman voted on controversial national issues. Although congressmen are considered national officials, they are still elected locally. What’s worse is hitting a mayor on his stand on national issues really don’t stick.
Lastly, abstract issues have no place in local issues. Gut issues or those that are relevant to voters are the way to go.
Many of these concepts might be uncomfortable to certain types of political people. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, it is the results that matter.
This is my oblique observation.
Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in the foregoing article are solely the author’s and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the Philippine News Agency (PNA) or any other office under the Office of the Press Secretary.