TAICHUNG (Taiwan News) — The Miaoli County commissioner race is mindboggling — unless you remember what politics was like in the 1990s.
The dream of the '90s is alive in Miaoli. The race was already pretty wild back in May when I wrote a column titled, “Taiwan politics: I'm not a rapist or murderer, I'm an adulterer and stabbed a classmate.”
Since then things have only gotten even more bizarre. Here is a quick recap of events:
After Kuomintang (KMT) Chair Eric Chu (朱立倫) visited Miaoli to consult with local leaders, he announced on May 14 that Legislator Hsu Chih-jung (徐志榮) would be their candidate. This caught out Miaoli County Council Speaker Zhong Dongjin (鍾東錦, yes he spells his name using China’s Pinyin system), who had wanted to be the nominee, totally off guard.
There was one big problem with this: Chu and the KMT election committee hadn’t bothered to inform Hsu about his own nomination. Like Zhong, Hsu was also totally caught off guard by his nomination, stating from the start, he’d had “no desire” to run and had called on the party to pick someone else.
'Just an adulterer and stabber'
After Zhong spoke with party higher-ups, he held a press conference to quell their fears and “dispel rumors” that he was a murderer and a rapist, which he assumed was what was holding the party back from nominating him. He declared he would resign if there was any shred of proof he had a criminal record for murder or rape, but also that he’d sue those who continued to spread rumors.
Saying it was “light years” away from being rape, he admitted to having been convicted of criminal adultery. He claimed he had been “young” and “naive” in his 20s, hadn't known the woman was married, and he later regretted his mistake.
He said he had been officially disciplined for that as well as for attempted murder — but stressed he had never served any jail time. Zhong said that one night while drunk he had slashed his classmate across the stomach with a knife, resulting in many stitches, but claims that now they are “extremely good friends.”
He went on to deny he had any ties to the underworld or been in a gang. This he followed up with the rather bizarre comment that, “The only gang I’ve ever joined is the Kuomintang.”
It has since come to light that what he claimed in the press conference wasn’t true, as we’ll soon see. But much happened between then and recent revelations about Zhong.
Two unusual candidates
Then in late May, a new entrant appeared to enter the race for the KMT nomination in the form of online campaign materials, none other than Liu Cheng-hung (劉政鴻), who had previously served as Miaoli County commissioner from 2005 to 2014.
The campaign materials called on people to choose him in the KMT’s phone polling primary, even specifying the dates and times it was to be conducted. This was utterly mysterious, because the KMT wasn’t holding phone primaries during that time.
Liu’s mysterious entry into the race died out almost immediately after that. He wasn’t the only bizarre candidate to consider throwing his hat into the ring. In early July, KMT legislator Chen Chao-ming (陳超明) announced he was “seriously considering it” and was “preparing to make a move.”
There were two problems with Chen, starting with the fact that while he hadn’t been formally nominated yet, they had made it clear they were going to go with former Miaoli County Farmers Irrigation Association Chairman Hsieh Fu-hung (謝福弘). The other small problem was that Chen only days earlier had been convicted of corruption as part of the SOGO scandal and was sentenced to seven years and eight months in jail.
In mid-August, he finally announced he wasn’t going to run, noting that if he won, “seconds after I swore the oath of office I would be suspended." He still seemed to think he would have had a chance at winning, though.
Zhong vs Kuomintang
While all this was going on, Zhong was still fighting to get the nomination, though eventually the KMT nominated Hsieh, as expected. Zhong remained defiant, saying he was going to continue to run.
This was awkward because the chairman of the Miaoli KMT chapter, who would organize around supporting their candidate, was none other than Zhong himself. The KMT kicked him out and replaced him, but on the same day that news broke the KMT’s Miaoli party secretary was sentenced to jail for corruption.
Zhong also refused to renounce his party membership, and insisted if they kicked him out, he would sue to get his party membership restored on the model of Wang Jin-ping (王金平). The KMT kicked him out anyway.
I haven’t seen any reporting on his suing to get his membership back. He’s still campaigning to this day with a KMT logo that, oddly, has a whale swimming through it. He also insists he is the real pan-blue candidate, not the official KMT nominee.
Miaoli County Council Speaker Zhong Dongjin. (Zhong Dongjin photo)
Zhong, however, got a big boost on Oct. 2, when Miaoli County Commissioner Hsu Yao-chang (徐耀昌) of the KMT publicly endorsed him at a campaign rally. There are now efforts in the KMT to kick Hsu out of the party for not backing their candidate.
Zhong lies about being murderer
The very next day, Zhong got hit with a big blow. Remember that part in his press conference in May where he declared he would resign if there was any shred of proof he had a criminal record for murder?
Well … it turns out there is proof. On Oct. 3, the New Power Party (NPP) candidate for Miaoli County commissioner Sung Kuo-ding (宋國鼎) disclosed that Zhong used to go under another name: Chung Chao-ping (鍾朝平).
Zhong was convicted of assault with the intent to injure and leading to death. This involved a case where he and six other guys got into a confrontation with a guy at the table next to theirs in 1987. The group beat and stabbed the guy to death.
He served a three-year, eight-month term in prison for the killing. Zhong fessed up to the jail time, but tried to claim he only “served over one year” and the whole thing was a miscarriage of justice.
He said he wasn’t at the site where the murder occurred and that some woman who didn’t know him told police he was there. He then bizarrely tried to blame his imprisonment on martial law.
Small problem with his account. As the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Miaoli County commissioner candidate Hsu Ting-chen (徐定禎) pointed out, the sentencing took place in 1988, when martial law had already been lifted.
It was also disclosed that Zhong had been charged under the Anti-Hoodlum Law (檢肅流氓條例), which targets gang crimes. That brings his criminal activities up to four, so far.
DPP nominee as candidate for Taoyuan Mayor Lin Chih-chien (林智堅) had to exit the race for plagiarism. Zhong participated in a murder, stabbed someone, was involved with gangsters, and committed criminal adultery, and he’s still in the race. Welcome to Miaoli!
Following calls to quit the race by the other candidates, Zhong’s office released a statement saying the DPP was “oppressing” him and using the "machinery of the state to crush dissent," calling it “green terror.” It also said he was going to sue, but considering the records are available, that doesn’t seem likely to succeed.
Zhong has a lot of money
According to the DPP, in 1991 he had one plot of land, but starting in 2008 his landholdings exploded. There is no proof that anything nefarious is going on here, but it’s well known that in the past that some politicans with gangster connections would buy land at auctions, and no one would dare to put in competing bids.
He’s also in the gravel business, among others. Again, no proof of anything illegal here, but in the past, this has been a favorite business for gangstered-up politicians because they could get government officials to look the other way while they dug up gravel in riverbeds on public property without a license.
Can the DPP win?
No wonder Eric Chu wasn’t keen on the KMT nominating Zhong. Surprisingly, though, on Thursday Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) chair and Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) was happy to meet with him publicly, sparking speculation that Zhong would be joining the TPP.
A recent poll taken between Oct. 3-5, just as the murder revelations were coming to light, still had Zhong slightly ahead of the DPP’s Hsu. Another poll released just days later by pan-green outlet SETN had him with a 7.6% lead.
Not once has an opposition party won Miaoli in over 70 years. With a split pan-blue vote, the DPP thinks this time they have a good chance to win it.
They do, for a change have a fighting chance. But this is Miaoli, I wouldn’t put money on it.