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Taiwan 2020: Women Running for Legislature

DPP: Lai Pin-yu, From Sunflower Activist to Legislative Candidate

2020/01/03 , Interview
破土 New Bloom
Photo Credit: Lai Pin-yu / Facebook
破土 New Bloom
New Bloom is an online magazine featuring radical perspectives on Taiwan and the Asia-Pacific, founded by a group of students and activists after the 2014 Sunflower Movement in Taiwan. We seek to provide a space that fosters political and intellectual transnational dialogues in the Left.
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New Bloom interviewed Lai Pin-yu (賴品妤), legislative candidate for the DPP in New Taipei City District 12. Lai, who was a member of the Black Island Youth Front, was previously known for participating in social movements in cosplay in the years prior to the Sunflower Movement before later becoming a political worker and eventually deciding to run for office.

The video version of the interview can also be seen here. 

Brian Hioe: After participating in the Sunflower Movement and working in Freddy Lim’s office, why did you decide to run for office this time?

L: I have relatives who are from Ruifang, they run a small business there. So I visited often and I’m familiar with the area. I was quite concerned with things there. 

First, I’ll talk about the DPP.  I originally believed that the incumbent legislator, Huang Kuo-chang (黃國昌), had a base here so this is a difficult district. I was going to give precedence to Huang. There was still the possibility of the DPP having a chance here, but it’s not as easy. 

At the time, the pan-Blue camp had already announced their candidate, who was a political elite, Li Yung-ping (李永萍). The DPP didn’t believe that it could run a candidate with a similar profile, so they decided to run a younger woman who wasn’t a traditional political elite instead. That’s why they chose me.

As for why I decided to run, the first reason is regarding the president. 2020 is an important election. Before being asked by the DPP to run, I worked as a legislative assistant at Freddy Lim’s office and I strongly support Tsai’s re-election. 

賴品妤拜會林昶佐(1)
Photo Credit: CNA
Lai Pin-yu visits her “ex boss” Freddy Lim after accepting the DPP nomination to run in the 2020 legislative elections on September 20, 2019.

I’ve been observing for these past few years, regarding her leadership on international diplomacy. I’ll go so far as to say that, of our past few presidents, nobody has been as successful on diplomatic affairs as her. I believe that she’s the president most able to protect Taiwan’s interests, so I already expressed support for her. 

You can see differing attitudes toward China from her and Han Kuo-yu. In the past, it was controversial if the Hong Kong Chief Executive entered the China Liaison Office in Hong Kong, with a large reaction against this from Hongkongers. But Han Kuo-yu was happy to enter the China Liaison Office without a second thought and his public views have been very pro-China. It’s only in the past few days that he seemed to have suddenly come to the realization that this is alienating of the public and suddenly made a U-turn. But Taiwanese people already see what he’s attempting.

To some extent, this presidential election will decide the next few years, even up to 10 years, as to whether we will orient toward China or toward the world. 

You can see how pro-China the KMT is from its party list. Even some members of the pan-Blue camp couldn’t accept the party list, but the KMT wasn’t willing to give up on its pro-China orientation. It may have been that the KMT thought that it would do well in 2020 legislative elections based on the results of nine-in-one elections last year. That’s why they claim that they’ll amend the constitution or would sign a cross-straits peace agreement if it gets 3/4 of seats in the legislature. 

Apart from that, the KMT claims that it will undo all of the reforms of the past three years, whether with regards to gay marriage or pension reform. Of course, I’m not overly optimistic about this. Freddy Lim was a strong advocate of gay marriage and I support gay marriage as well. But on that note, it’s very important for progressive forces to hold over half the seats in the legislature. 

Third is that I grew up in New Taipei from when I was a child. I was educated in New Taipei and only later on moved to Taipei for work. I was always very familiar with Ruifang and Jiufen and I’ve seen the changes in the past 10 years of development. 

Of the DPP candidates, I was the last candidate that was finalized. There wasn’t a lot of time to think about it. It’s because I have feelings toward this place that I agreed to take on this responsibility.

蔡總統讚賴品妤活潑勤勞
Photo Credit: CNA
President Tsai Ing-wen campaigns for Lai Pin-yu in New Taipei City on November 13, 2019. Tsai praises Lai for being energetic and hardworking, and gives her a “mission” to run through all the local traditional markets. 
B: How do you understand your participation in this set of elections, as a political newcomer? Or as a candidate who has run a non-traditional campaign?

L: For those of us that are newcomers to politics... there aren’t any real scandals that our opponents can use to attack us. This is why my opponent is just attacking at random. 

The other day at a press conference, she said, “Young people acting cute is useless, voters might not necessarily like this.” This is trying to criticize my appearance. 

She’s accusing me of trying to pretend to be someone else. My response to her is very clear: It’s not like what she says at all, she doesn’t understand young people in the least, and doesn’t understand voters today.

I’ve told myself over and over during this election that: “You can’t pretend to be someone else.” I hope that voters can see my regular self, and that the Lai Pin-yu during election campaigning is the same as the regular Lai Pin-yu. 

In the past 10 years, particularly after the Sunflower Movement, there have been successive waves of social movements, which have dragged in people who were previously cold to politics. These voters have become concerned with social issues, and they might feel worried about political developments. We can also see that small parties did well in the past elections, including on November 24, they won 16 or 17 seats. 

What are voters hoping for? I believe that voters are hoping for “change.” They want non-traditional politicians. I won’t say that traditional politicians are bad, either, because some politicians are just like that. They really may be political elites. 

But I believe that what voters want are politicians who are different. So I’ve seen in the last few years that non-traditional politicians had good results, such as with Ko Wen-je or Han Kuo-yu. Though it’s more complicated regarding Han Kuo-yu, since he’s actually an old politician, but he’s just old wine in a new bottle. In the end, he wasn’t successful in deceiving voters either, he may have been able to deceive voters once, but he wasn’t successful in tricking voters a second time. 

I did think about how I should present myself to voters in running for office. I did think about whether I should present myself in the same way as traditional political elites, but I decided that wasn’t right. 

賴品妤衝勁十足 選舉招式有別以往
Photo Credit: CNA
Lai Pin-yu’s campaigning strategies differ from those of traditional politicians. At a Tsai Ing-wen rally, Lai shows up in a Yukata to attract media attention. 

The video of me hitting the microphone with my head when I announced my run at the press conference went viral. That was a blessing in disguise since what’s most difficult for a new candidate is becoming recognizable. But this helped boost my recognition. 

I must seem to be a very strange candidate, to be frank. But the central party headquarters hasn’t tried to intervene and my voters approve. This tells me that everyone is hoping for a different kind of candidate. 

I hope to face voters sincerely, to let them know that politicians aren’t different from everybody. Outside of our focus on politics, our daily lives are the same as everyone else. I might be your daughter, your granddaughter, I might be your neighbor, the only thing different about me is that I specialize in politics or law, that I know how to make a budget or conduct a Q&A session.

If someone like me can get elected, this really means that the times have changed. I believe that this will also be encouraging of many young people, telling everyone that if they want to enter politics, they don’t have to force themselves to appear a certain way. If you stay as you are, if you have your own specialty, and are honest, voters can still accept you. 

B: The DPP is, notably, running a number of young candidates this time around and collaborating with the Radical Party, while the NPP is experiencing internal splits. What do you think this indicates about the current state of political participation in Taiwan by young people?

LPY: Neither of the two major parties has been able to address the demands of the newly risen people in the past few years. You could say… this is what led to the rise of the NPP. 

But with regard to the timing, the DPP can be seen as comparatively more successful in transitioning. You could say the results of November 24 elections led to reflection, and the decision to recruit young candidates. 

The DPP has replaced many of its top personnel with young people, who use new ways to run for office. This led me to feel that the DPP had begun to make a new commitment toward young people. 

We came up with many of our election strategies on our own, and the central party headquarters was not particularly concerned. Some of the ways we’ve undertaken campaigning might surprise some people, but they haven’t interfered. I believe that they want to achieve a new understanding with young people, and I believe that this is a sign that the DPP is slowly transitioning. 

民進黨組台灣派隊  賴品妤打頭陣(2)
Photo Credit: CNA
DPP Deputy Secretary-General Lin Fei-fan (left) and Secretary-General Luo Wen-jia (right) introduce Lai Pin-yu as one of the young legislative candidates nominated by the DPP. 

The second key point is the KMT hasn’t done this. I don’t think I need to go into too much detail, you can see this with the KMT’s party list, which led to a sharp decline in their polling after it was released. This is a party with no interest in reforming. 

But I’m a bit nervous to discuss about the NPP. Though I’m a DPP party member now, I maintain a friendly attitude toward the NPP. Many NPP party workers or candidates were my comrades-in-arms in the past, and I knew them before the NPP was formed. 

What’s a shame is that I feel that many political issues are actually problems between people. I’ve said this before and I have to emphasize this: The NPP’s largest issues are problems between people. 

There’s an issue with so-called “teachers,” that they have too much of a right to speak. This supersedes the popular will of the party. The young people recruited are talented, and that voters have given them many opportunities. 

Despite this, the right of young people to speak up in the party doesn’t surpass that of the so-called teachers. If this problem is not addressed, the party is at risk of dissolving. You can see from their approval ratings that this is still a problem. If they are to change, this has to take place internally.

選前衝刺 賴品妤汐止中正市場拜票
Photo Credit: CNA
Lai Pin-Yu visits the local market in Xizhi to greet the residents on December 29, 2019.
B: Is there anything you would like to say in closing to readers and viewers?

L: I want to discuss some of what I’ve seen in the past few years, which I also touched upon briefly earlier. Working with the national defense committee of the Legislative Yuan, I’ve seen how Tsai Ing-wen is one of the better leaders in the past few years regarding international diplomacy and national defense. But what’s a shame is that regular voters are less focused on this. 

The Tsai administration... hasn’t put all of its eggs in one basket. We can see this with the New Southbound Policy, with the government putting a great deal of effort into policy directed at southeast Asian countries. Or in Europe, with a great deal of energy and resources put into non-official, semi-official, or civic exchanges. 

We can see more and more countries support Taiwan. I won’t credit this all to the government’s work, it also has to do with the current circumstances in the world. 

But I believe opportunities only come to those prepared for them. If not for the work put into diplomacy, even with the change in the current situation to become one to China’s detriment, there wouldn’t be so many countries speaking up for Taiwan at present. 

During the Sunflower Movement, we opposed the CSSTA for the very simple reason that there weren’t oversight procedures over it, regarding the effects it would have on various industries. We opposed the CSSTA because we didn’t want it to become a way for China to influence our domestic labor industry. 

But what we didn’t realize was the large effect that blocking the CSSTA would have on Taiwan. If we had signed the CSSTA then, with the U.S.-China trade war, we would have gotten dragged down by China. This was something we never imagined would take place. Taiwan has been relatively unaffected by the CSSTA as a result. Nobody foresaw this, but it was an unexpected blessing for Taiwan.


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The News Lens has been authorized to repost this article from New Bloom.

TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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