Taipei's Progressive Mayoral Candidate: An Interview with Fan Yun
In an interview with the Taiwan Gazette, SDP leader Fan Yun says 2018 will be a turning point for small political parties in Taiwan.
By Aaron Wytze Wilson and Ching-fang Hsu
First gaining media attention as one of the student protest leaders of the 1990 Wild Lily Movement, Fan Yun is a prominent feminist, a sociology professor at National Taiwan University, and most recently, a mayoral candidate for the city of Taipei. As the leader of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Fan advocates for a left-leaning political agenda, instead of resting on Taiwan’s conventional political dichotomy of pro-independence and pro-unification.
The Taiwan Gazette recently sat down with Fan for a short interview, during her recent visit to the University of Toronto.
TG: How is the SDP doing?
Fan: We are still struggling. The 2016 general elections was an exciting experience. We had our first fight, and I think it was quite successful considering the resources we had. At least we established something, and our young candidates’ record was quite good.
But the toughest time for us is now. We don’t have any resources because we didn't get funding from the government. We’re aiming for three seats in Taipei city, and one seat in Taoyuan for the 2018 city council elections,
From a recent survey, we saw we had good support in Taipei city, but outside of Taipei we are not that visible. For a small new party, it is better to focus our resources in one city, once we got elected then we will become more visible.
TG: Thinking back on the 2016 campaign, would there be anything you would change about the SDP campaign?
Fan: I think we probably would have a more flexible campaign strategy. For example, whether we want to win certain seats first, and then think about other things later. But last time we didn't have time to think about it, because we were not that experienced about what a campaign would look like. For example, when I chose the electoral district of Da-An, I really didn’t know that there was a possibility to win. There was actually a possibility to win after I started running, but it was already too late because it was too late to change our campaign strategy.
TG: What about the decision to align with the Green Party?
I won’t say it was not a wise decision. That was a decision we made based on what we knew at that time. We’ll have to think about a campaign strategy next time, if we’re going to cooperate together. For a small new party, you need the candidate more than the candidate needs the party. You have very little to offer to the candidate.
I think we shouldn’t waste these young candidates’ time and political career. After the 2016 election, the Green Party’s strongest candidates left the party. It means that there are problems with the party strategy. If the party doesn’t care about it’s own political future, why should candidates care about the party? For a small political party, the candidates should be bigger than the party.
TG: In terms of electoral strategy, how will the SDP differentiate itself from the New Power Party—another small political party that emerged after the Sunflower Movement?
Fan: In 2016, we didn’t face any pressure to differentiate ourselves, because the New Power Party (NPP) talked about Taiwanese independence a lot, and didn't talk about domestic policy.
But after the NPP got political power, they started to talk more about marriage equality, and also labor issues. I am not in the position to define the NPP. I can only say that, for the SDP, we are very clear about what we are going to do. It means that the policies you see on paper will be the ones that we’re going to do.
TG: Some have the impression that on the political spectrum of independence and unification, the SDP is closer to the middle. How do you see this?
Fan: I really don’t know why people see this; that’s a thing we have to change.In the past, some of those on the left are pro-unification, so people might get the wrong impression.
But if you look at our candidates, our core supporters, the funders, we are all on the side of independence. I think we should let our people know that, as the way our political platform is written. Taiwan is a de facto sovereign state, and we are going to pursue the legal status of independence, and pursue more international recognition of our sovereignty.
TG: In the past few years, the SDP has been an important advocate for marriage equality. But the DPP did not make this a priority when they assumed office. How did you feel about that?
Fan: I think it’s not that surprising. If you looked at the last presidential campaign, Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) only supported marriage equality on social media. It was only tailored to young people, not to the DPP’s grassroots campaign. The pushback is immeasurable. They didn't really educate their own supporters, or the opposition within their party. For example, Premier William Lai (賴清德) has addressed issues related to AIDS very inaccurately.
This is the reason we want a totally different party, to be very clear about what we stand for. We have our policies set up very clearly, and we pick our candidates based on what they’ve done in the past. We invite these people because they’ve been working on front line of these very difficult issues. For example, Miao Po-ya (苗博雅)’s work on abolishing the death penalty, and Jennifer Lu (呂欣潔)’s work on gay rights. It’s very important for Taiwan to have this kind of political party in order to pressure other parties to be clear about their policy positions.