Cablegate: Presidential Election in Southern Taiwan: Dpp, Kmt See

DE RUEHIN #0407/01 0811021
O 211021Z MAR 08







E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: Taipei 000371


1. (SBU) Summary: In separate meetings on March 19 with the
Director, DPP Kaohsiung County Magistrate Yang Chiu-Hsing insisted
that the DPP had surged into the lead in this hotly-contested
county, but KMT County Chair Liu Ching-tien claimed the race was
nearly even. Yang believed that the "one-China market" had hit a
nerve with county voters. In contrast, Liu suggested that centrist
voters could see through DPP criticisms. While Yang acknowledged
that President Chen had weighed down DPP prospects, Liu stressed
that county voters were tired of the lethargic economy and
corruption under Chen. This January, the KMT crept close to the DPP
in Kaohsiung County's legislative election party vote. An appeal to
centrists, the KMT hopes, will keep Hsieh from pulling away in this
key southern battleground. End Summary.

2. (SBU) On a March 19 trip to southern Taiwan to discuss Taiwan's
elections, Director Young met separately with Kaohsiung County
Magistrate Yang Chiu-Hsing and Kaohsiung County KMT Chairman Liu
Ching-tien. One of southern Taiwan's key election battlegrounds,
Kaohsiung County went decisively for President Chen in 2004 but lost
three of its four seats to the KMT in the January 2008 Legislative
Yuan (LY) election. Magistrate Yang, popular among county voters
for his clean reputation and environmental protection initiatives,
supported Frank Hsieh's running mate Su Tseng-chang during the DPP
primaries but has campaigned actively for Hsieh in the general
election. Liu is a longtime Kaohsiung County KMT stalwart, who is
reportedly working pro-bono for the KMT due to the local party's
financial difficulties.

DPP's Yang: Hsieh Gaining Momentum

3. (SBU) On Ma Ying-jeou's alleged green card, Yang suggested that
if Ma was lying about his green card, he might even have U.S.
citizenship. In fact, Yang noted, Ma has sued Yang for making that
charge at the DPP's Kaohsiung rally on March 16. Accusing the media
of treading lightly on Ma's credibility problem, Yang suggested that
voters were holding the DPP to a higher standard than the KMT.

4. (SBU) While Hsieh's political fortunes were lagging a week ago,
Yang confided, the DPP's "overwhelming" Kaohsiung rally on March 16
had turned momentum in Hsieh's favor. He conceded that Ma would win
northern Taiwan but predicted Hsieh would prevail in the south,
albeit with a margin smaller than in 2004. The new Kaohsiung
subway, which to date had attracted two million satisfied riders,
would also boost Hsieh's campaign. If centrist voters continued to
trend towards the DPP, Yang estimated the DPP would win Kaohsiung
County by at least 100,000 votes.

5. (SBU) Yang stressed that four issues were resonating with
grass-roots voters: the one-China market, the imbroglio at Frank
Hsieh campaign headquarters in Taipei, Ma's statements on eventual
unification with China, and Ma's green card controversy. The DPP
found the one-China market issue particularly effective, he stated,
since voters knew such a market was completely unrealistic. Panning
Ma's comparison of the concept to the EU, Yang explained that China
had a population 60 times bigger than Taiwan's, a balance which bore
no resemblance to the EU's common market of roughly similar states.
Yang believed the UN referendum could still help the DPP, but only
President Chen was talking it up.

6. (SBU) Responding to the Director's comments on pent up Tibetan
frustration in China, Yang mentioned that during a 1998 visit to
Beijing, he noticed poor people scavenging for food around a temple
complex. Tibet showed China's "feudal thinking," he said, but
Chinese leaders would probably be less harsh with places like Hong
Kong and Macau in an effort to appeal to Taiwan. He called Ma's
China policy inconsistent, contrasting Ma's past support for both
sides resolving the cross-strait problem with his current position
exhorting Taiwan's people to decide Taiwan's future.

7. (SBU) Yang agreed with the Director's analysis of the challenge
Hsieh faced in trying to distinguish himself from President Chen.
The media's distortion of Chen's statements had made the task even
more difficult, as swing voters had turned away from Chen. He
suggested that Chen's "straightforward" personality made swing
voters uneasy, so unless Hsieh distanced himself from Chen, he would

TAIPEI 00000407 002 OF 003

lose. In the January 2008 Legislative election, Chen's statements
about martial law probably cost the DPP seven to eight percent
support. Nevertheless, Chen's charisma was still appealing to
deep-Green voters, so Hsieh could not separate himself from Chen
entirely. Yang noticed that recently Chen had been unusually low
key, still appearing in public but not making any speeches. In the
last days before the election, this would be sufficient to help
Hsieh consolidate the DPP's base.

8. (SBU) Asked to identify the DPP's future generation of political
leaders, Yang appeared briefly stumped. He noted only that he
planned to retire at the age of 52 when his term ended in 2009 and
that one potential leader, Tainan County magistrate Su Huang Chih,
was the same age. He stressed that one of the most important
leadership qualities was experience, a prerequisite for any

KMT's Liu: KMT Staying Close in South

9. (SBU) Kaohsiung County KMT Chairman Liu was certain that
grass-roots yearning for change would help the KMT improve on its
2004 performance. While the KMT may still lose the county, the gap
could shrink to around 50,000 votes. The lagging economy was the
main issue and could work to the KMT's advantage. Voters were tired
of the DPP's economic mismanagement and corruption over the last
eight years and punished the DPP in the January 2008 legislative
elections. Two months later, KMT morale is still high. He
attributed the KMT's legislative election success in Kaohsiung
County to high-quality candidates, which convinced him that voters
were looking for a candidate with a good image.

10. (SBU) Liu described Ma's "long stay" campaign in the county as
beneficial for both the KMT's legislative and Presidential
campaigns. If Ma wins the Presidency, Liu stated, the "long stay"
strategy would be a primary reason. Ma's "long stay" effort showed
a knack for retail politics, which previous KMT presidential
candidates lacked. His stays excited the grass roots, drew big
crowds, and strengthened party unity, as Wang Jin-pyng and other
party leaders helped to arrange his itineraries.

11. (SBU) Liu underscored that swing voters, which made up
approximately twenty percent of Kaohsiung County's electorate, would
decide the election there. He insisted that issues like concern
over one-Party rule would not significantly affect swing voters, as
they had clear judgment. He called the DPP "hypocritical" on
one-Party rule, since the DPP under President Chen was urging voters
just a few years ago to give him and the DPP a Legislative Yuan
majority. The voters gave the KMT its legislative majority, he
pointed out, and the voters, not the KMT, would decide who should
get the Presidency.

12. (SBU) On the one-China market, Liu decried DPP distortions and
defended the KMT's approach. Ma and Siew's goal was to expand
Taiwan's market throughout the world, not just China. The DPP was
conflicted, he explained, since it knew deeper economic ties with
China were unavoidable but needed the one-China market controversy
to generate political support. He feared the DPP's manipulation
would confuse centrist voters and increase fear of China. The Tibet
situation would only reinforce this fear, since voters would turn
against China's bullying.

13. (SBU) Liu noted that 1.4 million young people would vote for
President for the first time. In 2004, young voters strongly
supported the DPP, but this year, they were leaning towards Ma.
Their main concern was their future, and Ma's economic policies
offered them the most hope. By contrast, they felt the DPP had no
economic vision over the last eight years. In fact, Liu explained,
Ma and Hsieh's economic policies were quite similar, but the KMT
would be more effective at implementing them.

14. (SBU) Since bad weather was more likely to deter
less-enthusiastic pan-Blue voters, Liu hoped for good weather on
election day. He noted that turnout in Kaohsiung Country in 2004
was 81.6 percent, and this year, it would probably reach 75-80
percent. He emphasized that his prediction that the KMT would come
close in Kaohsiung County was actually a conservative estimate,
adding that the KMT was on guard against any DPP "dirty tricks" in
the election's final days.

TAIPEI 00000407 003 OF 003


15. (SBU) With nearly 800,000 eligible voters, Kaohsiung County is
southern Taiwan's second biggest voting area. In 2004, Chen whipped
his opponent in the county by almost 17 percent and 122,000 votes,
but none of AIT/K's contacts believes Hsieh will approach that
figure on Saturday. While most of our interlocutors share
Magistrate Yang's view that the one-China market and other
late-in-the-game issues have consolidated the DPP's southern base
(reftel), neither Yang nor the KMT's Liu see the county's centrist
voters decisively shifting to the DPP. Since the KMT nearly drew
even with the DPP in the county's 2008 Legislative Yuan party-vote
tally, our local KMT contacts hold out hope that a strong focus on
the county's undecided centrist voters will be enough to keep Hsieh
from duplicating Chen's big win in this key southern battleground.



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