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Taiwan's local election scandals and a tsunami of plagiarism

In Part IV of a series on the upcoming 9-in-1 elections we look at the dirty tricks going on behind the scenes

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Lin Chih-chien bows out of Taoyuan Mayoral race.  

Lin Chih-chien bows out of Taoyuan Mayoral race.   (CNA photo)

This is Part IV in a series, For Part I “Taiwan's unpredictable 9-in-1 elections: KMT hens and a curiously popular president." Part II, “If this year's Taiwan elections were normal, KMT would win big, but this year is strange.” For Part III, “Chinese threat becomes a factor in Taiwan's election campaigns."

TAICHUNG (Taiwan News) — Unprecedented and unpredictable factors abound in this year’s 9-in-1 local elections to be held on Nov. 26, which will see posts filled for everything from local borough chiefs up to county commissioners and mayors — including from the “big six” special municipalities.

As this series has examined, based on “normal” factors, the Kuomintang (KMT) comes into this election looking strong, and they may well still pull off a strong result. Local elections, like U.S. midterms, usually see an uptick in support for the opposition party.

The KMT has the advantage of incumbency in most of the 14 key posts they hold in the 22 major elections in play. Meanwhile, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is losing key politicians to term limits in important races.

We are now just starting to enter the period when elections start to heat up, and it will only be after a few weeks, maybe more than a month, before the strange factors at play in this election start to appear in the trends. They will also likely be hard to disentangle or clearly identify individually in polling.

So far in this series, we’ve examined three of these factors. There are five in total.

Factor four: The plagiarism election

If this trend continues, in the future we’ll probably look back on this year’s cycle as the “plagiarism election.” We looked at this in a previous column on a handful of cases involving theses, but since then the issue has exploded in scale and scope.

To be sure, there are several “normal” criminal scandals out there.

Yilan County Commissioner Lin Tzu-miao (林姿妙) of the KMT, her daughter, and 13 others were indicted for corruption in August. She maintains her innocence and insists it was a politically motivated hit job by the government, and in two polls (here, and here) taken prior to the formal indictment, but when the investigation was widely known she remained well ahead.

Then there is the curious case of Miaoli County Council Speaker Chung Tung-chin (鍾東錦), who held a press conference to announce he wasn’t in fact a murderer and a rapist as rumors had it, but “merely” stabbed a “friend” and committed criminal adultery. He’s since been kicked out of the KMT for running against their candidate, but still, Chung remained ahead in one poll and essentially tied for the lead in another.

On the DPP side is former presidential spokesperson and current candidate for Hualien county commissioner Kolas Yotaka, who has a criminal record for drunk driving from 2014. The DPP’s curious defense is that at the time she wasn’t a member of the party … as if that were the only important factor, and she wasn’t a fully-fledged person until joining the party.

No polls have come out since this revelation, but drunk driving has already claimed one DPP candidate for Taichung City Council, who had to withdraw from the race and quit the party. How much it will impact her already long-shot campaign remains to be seen.

It started with theses

It is plagiarism that has this election in its grip. However, it started with theses, but has now spread like a virus to any other potential form of plagiarism.

There are so many theses allegations out there it’s now hard to keep track, but as of writing a previous column on the subject, the list included: now-former DPP Taoyuan mayoral candidate Lin Chih-chien (林智堅), KMT candidate for Nantou County commissioner Hsu Shu-hua (許淑華), the KMT's Nantou County Council Speaker Ho Shang-feng (何勝豐) and TPP Legislator Tsai Pi-ru (蔡壁如).

Since then allegations have been leveled at TPP Hsinchu mayoral candidate Ann Kao (高虹安), KMT Hsinchu mayoral candidate Lin Geng-ren (林耕仁), DPP Keelung mayoral candidate Tsai Shih-ying (蔡適應), KMT Keelung mayoral candidate Hsieh Kuo-liang (謝國樑) and independent Taoyuan mayoral candidate Cheng Yun-peng (鄭運鵬). And those are just the top-tier candidates, downstream candidates are also under fire.

Every single one of them insists that they are innocent. So far, the only one who has been cleared is Hsinchu City Councilor Lin Geng-ren (林耕仁), but that is only one of the two cases against him, the other is still pending.

How many of these people will be exonerated, and how many found guilty is impossible to predict at this point. However, several university professors have, off the record, told me that plagiarism in theses is common, so it is likely not all of these are simply political smears with no basis.

Taoyuan: Ground zero

So far, the damage has mostly been on the DPP side. The DPP’s now-former Taoyuan mayoral candidate and popular Hsinchu Mayor Lin Chih-chien (林智堅) was forced to drop out of the race following allegations that theses submitted to two universities were plagiarized, and both universities have after investigations confirmed this (though he is appealing to the Ministry of Education).

This is a serious headache for the DPP, as it seemed to call into question party Chair Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) personal judgment and also ensnares Lin’s thesis advisor, National Security Bureau (NSB) Director General Chen Ming-tong (陳明通). For more analysis of how this is a potential disaster for the DPP, check out this previous column, though since so many more cases of plagiarism have surfaced, less focus may be paid to this matter by election day.

Since that column was written, things have gotten even worse for the DPP in Taoyuan. The party rushed to find a replacement, quickly settling on DPP Legislator Cheng Yun-peng (鄭運鵬), who had staunchly stood by Lin.

This infuriated former DPP lawmaker Cheng Pao-ching (鄭寶清), who had not stood by Lin, and wasn’t consulted or considered as a possible candidate. He decided on an independent run, potentially splitting the pan-green vote, and has since been kicked out of the party and, ironically, considering his refusal to defend Lin, is now facing allegations of plagiarizing his own thesis.

After a series of body blows in Taoyuan to the DPP, the plagiarism accusations moved beyond theses and ensnared the KMT’s Taoyuan mayoral candidate Simon Chang (張善政). He was alleged to have plagiarized large chunks of a research paper as part of a project he applied for from the Council of Agriculture (COA) while serving as vice president of Acer Inc., with a total budget of NT$57.36 million.

He claimed the project was to research topics from overseas, so including the material was acceptable. Then, oddly, he refused to talk further to the press, citing a non-disclosure clause in the contract with the COA.

That non-disclosure clause came as a surprise to the COA, for the simple reason that it didn’t exist. That lie on Chang’s part may end up harming him more than the original controversy.

The COA has issued a preliminary report, noting there were a lot of suspected copyright infringements, and is awaiting responses from both Acer and Chang, which they will consider before coming to a final judgment. They noted that if it is determined that there was copyright infringement, it would seek compensation from Chang and the company, and demand Acer pay them back the money.

Anything can be 'plagiarized' 

The plagiarism theme is continuing to spread, with the KMT accusing the DPP’s Yilan county commissioner candidate of “plagiarizing” his pledge to implement free, nutritional lunches in schools. That was followed by the KMT accusing the DPP’s candidates for Taipei Mayor Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) and New Taipei Mayor Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) of “plagiarizing” policy positions and using copied images. Copying policy ideas is as old as politics itself, so this is just jumping on the plagiarism bandwagon.

Like the other three factors examined in this series so far, it is very hard to predict how much impact this wave of plagiarism allegations will play out in the end. Much will depend on the results of the investigations of these allegations and who is exonerated, and who isn’t.

It also may yet turn out that there are so many who are found guilty that the electoral impact is weakened. Or it could turn into a wave of candidates forced to drop out or killed at the ballot box, and a real shift in culture against accepting or condoning plagiarism takes place.

It will be fascinating to watch how this all plays out.

Courtney Donovan Smith (石東文) is a regular contributing columnist for Taiwan News, the central Taiwan correspondent for ICRT FM100 Radio News, co-publisher of Compass Magazine, co-founder of Taiwan Report (report.tw) and former chair of the Taichung American Chamber of Commerce. Follow him on Twitter: @donovan_smith.