One fascinating thing about voters in Taiwan is their utter hypocrisy. On one hand you will hear people complain constantly about the high level of corruption and the poor state of governance. Yet, in fair elections, the public consistently returns corrupt politicians to office. Stop me before I kill again! seems to be the message voters are sending.

The most recent example of this is the by-election for Taitung County Commissioner. The Taipei Times gives the basic story:

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) candidate Kuang Li-chen (鄺麗貞) yesterday won the Taitung County Commissioner by-election.

Kuang is the ex-wife of Wu Chun-li (吳俊立), a KMT member who was elected county commissioner last December, but was then suspended from his post immediately upon assuming office because of a corruption conviction.

Wu then divorced his wife, Kuang, in an attempt to sidestep restrictions preventing a commissioner from selecting a relative or spouse as deputy. Kuang then joined the KMT to run for the Taitung post.

Kuang received 42,578 votes in yesterday’s poll, triumphing over three independent candidates by a large margin. Former Taitung deputy commissioner Liu Chuan-hao (劉櫂豪) received 19,110 ballots, former Taitung mayor Lai Koon-cheng (賴坤成) received 4,765 votes and Aboriginal candidate Lofa (羅法尼耀學海) secured 966 votes.

Despite the corruption conviction, KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou, fresh from a trip to the US, was down in Taitung mustering the faithful for the KMT’s candidate:

Although Wu’s ex-wife and the KMT won back the post, KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has been criticized for going to the county and publicly campaigning for the ex-wife of a man who has been convicted of corruption and vote-buying.

The KMT’s connections to gangsterism are ties of longstanding, dating back to the days when organized crime was used to attack political demonstrations and carry out political assassinations abroad.

I blogged on the Taitung election last year. The victory of the corrupt politician’s wife by a landslide shows the kind of issues that Taiwan has to overcome before it can have a strong democracy. Apparently voters don’t really give a damn about the actual behavior of candidates — whatever they say — and support those candidates who obviously have no scruples whatsoever. In a society where access costs money, such a strategy may be quite rational and successful. The way the commissioner gamed the system by having his wife stand for him is the kind of trickery that people admire, not deplore. Fundamentally, voter attitudes have to undergo a profound change before Taiwan will become a stable democracy.

Another interesting aspect of this is how the unending barrage of criticism of President Chen looks in light of the actual behavior of his rival Ma Ying-jeou. Ma and other KMT politicians can attend the weddings held by prominent gangsters, and he can stump for candidates who are clearly corrupt. If Chen had done the same, the media would have been highly critical. Ma’s behavior shows that the “New KMT” is still the same old KMT, hanging on to power by selling it, and fighting reform tooth and nail. What does Ma stand for? It’s obvious in his support of candidates like this one.