Taiwan elections

Political rookie driven by desire to shake up the system

The New Power Party's Hung Tzu-yung (in puffer jacket) on the campaign trail this week.
The New Power Party's Hung Tzu-yung (in puffer jacket) on the campaign trail this week.ST PHOTO: JERMYN CHOW

Cutting a fresh figure in her lime- green puffer jacket, Ms Hung Tzu- yung waves as she calls out to drivers and passers-by. "Remember to vote, I'm counting on you," she tells them.

The 32-year-old political rookie from the year-old New Power Party(NPP) is fighting for a legislative seat in Taichung.

Her race is considered one of the hottest in tomorrow's elections as the former software project manager looks likely to unseat Kuomin- tang (KMT) incumbent Yan Chung- ying, who has served the area's residents for nearly 20 years.

Just three years ago, Ms Hung was, in her own words, politically illiterate. Then her younger brother Chung-chiu, a 24-year-old army corporal, died while being punished for taking a camera phone into an army base.

Ms Hung became the family spokesman, appearing on the television news night after night demanding answers. She led more than 100,000 people to rally outside the Defence Ministry. Eventually, President Ma Ying-jeou apologised for the incident, the defence minister quit and the Court Martial Act was amended.

It was a political awakening for Ms Hung, who found the parliamentarians wanting. "That is why the political system is so bad now," she said. "Something had to be done."

NEW FACES NEEDED

She is young and is different from those politicians who cannot be trusted. What she says reflects my belief that there is a need to change the system.

MEDICAL TECHNICIAN WANG WEI-LOONG, on voting for Ms Hung Tzu-yung

She said she wants to be the "voice of the people" and to champion issues such as a fair judicial system and a review of the death penalty. When pressed on how she wants to push for those issues, she would only say: "I don't have any historical baggage and will not be pressured to toe the party line."

This has resonated with many voters aged below 40 whom The Straits Times spoke to. According to Ms Hung, they comprise about 40 per cent of her district's eligible voters. She is clearly popular with both the young and the old. Many want to shake hands and snap a selfie with her.

Said medical technician Wang Wei-Loong, 29: "She is young and is different from those politicians who cannot be trusted. What she says reflects my belief that there is a need to change the system."

Running under the NPP banner, Ms Hung is hoping to leverage on the popularity of the fledgling political party. Set up last year by young activists, it is helping to get young Taiwanese - who used to be typecast as apathetic - to vote.

First-time voter Chang Mong-ci said: "We have been complaining about the rising cost of living and were hoping for more help like subsidies, but the old politicians seemed more interested in playing games and quarrelling."

The 27-year-old bubble tea shop owner added: "I feel people like Tzu-yung are listening and will voice our problems... as a lawmaker, she might be able to help fix problems."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 15, 2016, with the headline 'Political rookie driven by desire to shake up the system'. Print Edition | Subscribe