Freddy Lim, frontman of the Taiwanese metal band Chthonic, was elected on Saturday January 16 as a legislator in Taipei's 5th District. The singer defeated veteran legislator Lin Yu-fang of the Kuomintang by more than 6,000 votes, according to Focus Taiwan.
The tattoed and pony-tailed Lim gained a seat for the New Power Party (NPP), during the national elections. Lim claims that his conservative opponents are out of touch with Taiwan's youth, which seems borne out by Lin Yu-Fang of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), calling on voters not to elect a candidate "who has hair that is longer than a woman's hair and is mentally abnormal," according to the Taipei Times.
The death metal singer responded by saying that Lin's remarks "were completely discriminatory." The Chthonic front man, arguably the biggest death metal band in Asia, is hoping to win a seat in Taipei's Wanhua District, a KMT stronghold. Polling suggests that the NPP candidate is in with a chance as he has a large fan base. Tens of thousands attended a free concert and rally in Taipei during December 2015.
A big turnout among younger voters is expected. A key part of the NPP platform is to lower the voting age from 20 to 18. Johnny Yeh, a student at Tsinghua University in Beijing says Lim's party has his vote. He's flying home to cast a ballot for the first time. "I hope that Taiwan can be more independent from the mainland, both economically and politically. Maybe Taiwan can trade more with other countries," he told CNN.
Lim, 39, was elected chair of Amnesty International's Taiwan branch in 2012. Chthonic's music, and Lim's platform, attempting to resolve Taiwan's identity crisis, which centres around whether Taiwan is a part of China or has a completely different identity.
"The government thinks that relying on China will result in economic prosperity, which the youth do not agree with," he said from his campaign centre in Taipei. "If I entered parliament, the most important thing [that I'd like to change] would be the distrust in politics."
He added: "I hope Taiwanese people can appreciate more of the precious freedom, democracy and independence we have today. Even a free society like Hong Kong has become so miserable thanks to the Chinese government's involvement."
Chthonic and Lim have a strong Taiwanese identity, which appeals to many young people on the island. A song called Supreme Pain for the Tyrant tells the story of the failed 1970 assassination attempt on Chiang Ching-kuo, Chiang Kai-shek's son, by a pro-independence activist. "Let me stand up like a Taiwanese / Only justice will bring you peace," the lyrics say. More contentious is the imagery in the video, comparing the KMT to the Nazis.
There is also a desire to declare Taiwan as distinct from China by reclaiming the island's history, before the KMT arrived. Lim often sings in Taiwanese, as opposed to Mandarin, and writes lyrics about aborigines that predate the 1949 arrival of Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang party from mainland China by many centuries. The song Takao tells the story of Taiwanese aborigines who fought in the Imperial Japanese Army in the Second World War.
"Defenders of Bú-Tik Palace," Chthonic explains, is about the 1930 Wushe Incident – in which Taiwanese aborigines were killed for rising up against Japanese oppression – and for "all martyrs who sacrificed themselves in resistance against dictators and fought for independence."
The fight for indigenous rights
The New Power Party, which has emerged as Taiwan's third largest political party, is also campaigning for indigenous land rights. Kawlo Iyun Pacidal is an activist who works at the TV station for Taiwan's indigenous community and is an NPP candidate.
She has recently opposed plans on the east coast of Taiwan to oppose plans for a dog park. The land is claimed as ancestral by the Amis, one of Taiwan's official indigenous groups. For Kawlo, the dog park is the latest example of the majority Han Chinese government ignoring the indigenous land rights.
Once elected, Kawlo plans to work on implementing the Indigenous Basic Act. The law passed in 2005 under the DPP-led government of Chen Shui-bian, but it has stalled, with little or no effect for the indigenous people.
Taiwan's indigenous people inhabited the island long before the Han Chinese migration started in the 17th century. Their ancestral lands have been 'nationalised', first in the 19th century by Japanese settlers and then by the KMT. "The current Ma Ying-jeou govnerment is not very keen on indigenous issues, the main reason being, he is more interested in China issues, and so to some extent even suppresses the vibrant indigenous legislation process," says Chun-chich Chi, professor in ethnic relations at Donghua University.
A liberal victory?
According to recent polls, the liberal Democratic Party (DPP) is expected to win, thanks to the Sunflower Movement, when Taiwanese students occupied the legislature to protest a trade agreement with China. The latest polls put Taiwanese President Ma Ying Jeou's Kuoumintang (KMT) party at 16%, lagging behind the DPP at 45%.
All eyes are upon Tsai Ing-wen, leader of the DPP, who models herself on Angela Merkel. Her party is on course to make big gains in Taiwan's 113-seat parliament. She argues that Taiwan is too reliant and dependent on China – which accounts for 25% of Taiwan's exports. Wealth inequalities and an economy in the doldrums are also important issues. "What people have felt most about President Ma Ying-jeou's administration was the huge distance between the people and the government," Tsai said in a televised debate on 2 January.
The biggest domestic issue is the economy: 41% of respondents to a survey by Taiwan's CommonWealth Magazine said that "poor economic performance" posed the biggest risk to Taiwanese society, while only 8.3% thought that relations with China posed a major risk.
China's hold on Taiwan
China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949, when the defeated Nationalist government fled to the island as the Communists, under Mao Zedong, swept to power. For many years, the island was an authoritarian one-party state ruled by the Kuomintang, which under Chiang Kai-shek controlled much of China before the Communists' rise to power in 1949.
By the early 1990s, however, Taiwan made the transition to democracy and the KMT's monopoly on power ended in 2000, with the election of President Chen Shui-bian of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
But corruption allegations eroded Chen's popularity and contributed to the DPP's loss to a resurgent KMT in 2008 with leader Ma Ying-jeou. Power swung again in 2014 which saw the KMT suffer huge losses at local elections.
Beijing still goes to great lengths to treat the island which it views as a renegade province as part of its territory, insisting on it being called "Chinese Taipei" in international events, even in beauty pageants.