Will defamation campaigns become a thing of the past?
Amid Kuomintang (KMT) Deputy Legislative Speaker Hung Hsiu-chu’s ( ) win of the ruling party’s primary presidential approval polls with 46 percent, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen ( ) pronounced a “defamation-free campaign” on Sunday. She hopes the two potential leaders can pave the way toward a new election culture.
Tsai’s current approach in her presidential campaign has been somewhat rocky as she has had to deal with tough questions from all sides on her cross-strait stance. Despite the idealistic nature of the expectations Tsai proposed on the sidelines of a local campaign for a DPP Legislature candidate on Sunday, Hung seemingly accepted the proposition, saying that she will strive to see the “good in Tsai,” and commented on how Tsai had managed to lead the DPP out of bad times. Hung has probably seen how a clean campaign could work for both of them.
Up until now, Tsai has talked about “change” in embracing a New Asian Value, in society, the economy and so on. Hung’s own performance up to this date is also symbolic; a change within the disempowered KMT, and unifying its members under the party again. For both of Taiwan’s presidential candidates to embark on a “clean” campaign would show the public and media that their hopes of change are not just a political slogan, nor are they for show; they are a reinforcement of their resoluteness for revolution.
By extending such an olive branch to Hung, the DPP presidential hopeful is also perhaps, in her roundabout way, expecting the public and media to behave themselves as well.
It is common knowledge that in any sort of election on Taiwan soil, both the media and the public expect candidates to hurl insults at one another, unveil juicy gossip or magnify issues in an attempt to trip up the opposition. Whether the accusations or gossip are well-founded or not, it does leave a smear on both the public’s perception and the candidate’s political resume. On the other hand, it provides the public with much entertainment and provides something for pundits to dissect on political talk shows.
As the media depends on consumers, and has been accused of catering to and pampering these consumers with sensationalist news in the past decade, how it will welcome Tsai’s proposal is a matter for debate. It is highly probable that the media will turn a blind eye or never pick up on Tsai’s suggestions, while the public will continue happily lapping up the gossip.
Tsai’s proposition stems mostly from how the media and political opponents have not been taking her political campaign very seriously since the announcement of the presidential bid. She has been nicknamed “Water Spinach” because of her ambiguous political proposals that lack meaning, which are in stark contrast with Hung’s clear and inspiring rally speech last week.
Perhaps Tsai felt the need to protect her political campaign by proposing such a “cease-fire.” If Tsai wishes the media and her political opponents to avoid “defamation,” it is also advisable that Tsai come clear on what she really wants for the country, despite her and her spokespeople’s insistence that she has been very “clear” on her much-debated crossstrait relations stance.
With such an olive branch, Tsai could defang the ruling party and other political opponents’ tendencies to rely on subtle and sometimes not so subtle attacks on the chairwoman and the DPP. As Hung expressed her own willingness for a graceful battle, it would be advisable for not only the KMT to tone down inflammatory remarks in the future, but also for Tsai and her own party to take heart of their chairwoman’s words.
Tsai’s call for a clean campaign is a shadow of election slogans in the past, with onlookers holding just a smidgen of trust in previous campaigners’ words. But it also mirrors Taiwan pop-star Jolin Tsai’s ( ) own declaration that she wanted to change Taiwan’s concert-goers’ habits by releasing limited pre-concert promotions and refusing to do an encore song at the end of her concert in May, which is a must-do for most performers in order to appease their fans.
Pop-star Tsai most certainly kept her promise by ending her concert on time and leaving crowds of fans confused without the customary encore song. The DPP’s candidate and Hung can sing the praises of “change,” but only by setting an example themselves will Taiwan’s political tastes for slanderous news gradually lessen, perhaps, others will then follow as well.