The #MeToo movement has come to Taiwan. Over the past two weeks, dozens of allegations of sexual harassment and abuse from across different parts of Taiwanese society have made headlines and, most prominently, more than a dozen people have presented accusations of sexual assault by political figures. The fact that so far many of those accused have links to the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) means there is now some discussion about whether these accusations will affect the results of the upcoming national election in early 2024. And there are some grounds to believe that will be the case.
Explaining the sudden surge in accusations — and coverage — CNN and others have turned to the Taiwanese Netflix show Wave Makers (人選之人—造浪者) as a potential catalyst. Released at the end of April, the show carries a plot line involving sexual harassment. Political analyst Wen-Ti Sung (宋文笛) told CNN the show provided a common language for discussions about sexual harassment, as well as providing victims coming forward with “a common reference point around which they could rally support and strengthen solidarity.”
That became a story strongly focused around the DPP when, on May 31, a former DPP worker posted on Facebook with a reference to a line from the show — “Let’s not just let this go, OK? We can’t let things go this easily. Otherwise, we’ll slowly wither away and die.” The worker described an incident in which she was sexually assaulted last September after filming a promotional video for the DPP. She said the film’s director had touched her cheek, shoulder and breast while the film crew slept, and that when she had reported her concerns to the DPP’s deputy secretary-general, Hsu Chia-tien (許嘉恬), she had been treated coldly. Hsu asked “So what? What do you want me to do?,” according to the former party worker.
Hsu subsequently resigned from her post. But as further accusations involving people associated with the DPP have arrived, wider implications are continuing to unfold within that party. President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said in a Facebook post last Tuesday that she had tasked her government with drafting a series of new gender equality reforms, including clearly defining what constitutes sexual harassment. Vice President and DPP Chairman William Lai (賴清德), who is the party’s presidential candidate in next year’s election, apologized to victims and announced new party procedures for filing complaints and investigating reports of sexual misconduct after suggestions it had been negligent. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, prospective DPP candidate for Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan, Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆), announced that he would not be standing due to his role as former deputy secretary-general of the party at the time when the complaint mentioned above was not properly addressed.
The electoral effects of these issues are of course not yet clear — and are obviously not the primary consideration for many, when lives have been negatively impacted by the real and upsetting events alleged to be behind these headlines. However, despite little to go off so far, there have been some early attempts to observe how voters are thinking about the issue. On Monday, for instance, Taiwan People’s News carried data from a Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) primary poll, comparing the performance of several KMT candidates with a DPP candidate ahead of the race for the Zhongzheng Wanhua District (中正萬華區立) seat for Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan. City Councilor Wu Pei-yi’s (吳沛憶) favorability rating had dropped noticeably over the last week, as the #MeToo accusations have engulfed her party, moving her from a position ahead of all of her potential rivals into third. Taiwan People’s News speculated it was a #MeToo effect.
Nationally — in this very short time— there is a mixed picture. A survey conducted by CNEWS directly after the first prominent allegation dropped, between May 31 and June 1, found the DPP presidential candidate Lai’s ratings had risen slightly (to 35.7% in June from 32.3% in May). His rivals, the KMT’s Hou You-yi (侯友宜) and the Taiwan People’s Party’s Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), also rose (to 25.9% from 24.5% and to 24.9% from 19.7%, respectively), with “don’t knows” falling. But a separate online poll commissioned by RW News (菱傳媒), conducted between June 6 and June 10, did see larger movements. Hou’s support rose by 1.43% from last month and Ko’s rose by almost 10% (up to 31.29%), while Lai’s fell from 39.22% to 37.76%. That could suggest a gain for the “third party” candidate as the top two parties have begun to trade blows over #MeToo scandals and a separate scandal involving Hou’s time as mayor of New Taipei. RW News suggests that for Hou, a 6.87% drop in support from 30- to 39-year-old women voters demonstrates that an incident where children at a New Taipei kindergarten were illegally sedated has impacted the views of young mothers.
Of course, absent a larger sample size, none of these efforts prove a lot. But it remains possible that the abuse of power from prominent men in Taiwan will end up impacting how people vote. In the U.S., studies have found that #MeToo primarily mobilized already politically motivated Democrats. Thus in the 2018 midterm elections — when the movement was most salient in the U.S. — it did not have the impact some thought it would on voter behavior. Partisan lines were not suddenly eliminated after the misogynistic comments of President Donald Trump had been highlighted in the 2016 presidential election or after the 2018 swearing in of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. However, as more women candidates were elected to Congress than ever before in that election, it has been suggested that the candidacy strategy of Democratic women candidates being deliberately placed against Republican man candidates in districts with high #MeToo support may have contributed to their success. In other words — as much as it feels distasteful to point it out — it may have proved tactically useful.
In Taiwan, electoral dynamics are very different. Three parties have realistic hopes of competing for the presidency, and some parliamentary seats are elected using a proportional system. What’s more, in this instance the progressive party, which has prided itself on improving gender equality, has been the subject of the most (though not all) prominent accusations so far. This all makes it harder to predict any precise details. But there are those willing to predict the general direction of travel. Michael You (游盈隆), head of the Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation, was cited by Taiwan’s CNews pointing out that DPP could lose support from the youth, women, middle class and the educated sectors if it fails to handle the aftermath of these controversies properly. Meanwhile, Li Yongping (李永萍), executive director of the KMT Policy Association, cited by the same source, predicted that DPP presidential candidate Lai would lose more than half of female votes. Regardless of the depth of that claim, it certainly demonstrates a conviction within Taiwanese politics that #MeToo could be a major variable next year.
Image: Twitter @ChingteLai