From moms to candidates: The journey of ‘obasan’ party in Taiwan’s elections

From moms to candidates: The journey of ‘obasan’ party in Taiwan’s elections
From moms to candidates: The journey of ‘obasan’ party in Taiwan’s elections
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Taipei, Feb. 3 (CNA) Among the parties that contested Taiwan’s 2024 legislative elections, the Taiwan Obasang Political Equality Party (小民參政歐巴桑聯盟) ran arguably the most cost-effective campaign.

The party, known as TOPEP for short, secured the fifth-highest number of votes with a spend of only NT$2.01 million (US$64,031), beating out established rivals and leaving many in awe of this group of Taiwanese moms.

The upstart political party was formed by a group of mothers and homemakers and derives its name from “obasan,” a Japanese word that is widely used in Taiwan to refer to “aunt” or older woman.

Ho Yu-jung (何語蓉), an “obasan” and the secretary-general of TOPEP, told CNA that the party is primarily made up of local mothers who initially connected through family learning activities in 2006. Over the years, the group’s discussions have evolved from parenting to broader social and political issues, according to the 47-year-old.

After participating in various social movements, including anti-nuclear campaigns, gender equality activities, commemorations for the 228 Incident, and anti-air pollution initiatives, this group of moms realized the necessity to give representation to the voices of the people.

Their decision to enter politics was heavily influenced by the 2014 “Sunflower Movement,” a protest against increased economic integration with China that sparked political engagement among young people.

In the 2018 local elections to elect neighborhood chiefs, city and county councilors as well as mayors and magistrates, 21 members of the TOPEP ran as independents.

Due to limited campaign funds, they employed down-to-earth strategies such as standing at the intersections to greet voters and promote their platforms through soapbox speeches.

With a squad of female candidates, Ho recalled being asked, “Who takes care of the children at home?” during their first elections. That made her wonder if the same question would be posed to male candidates.

Although none of the party’s candidates secured a spot in the elections, 70 percent of them garnered enough votes for a deposit refund.

Officially registered as a political party in 2019, the TOPEP made another attempt in the 2022 local elections with 15 candidates; However, this time, only two candidates with the deposit refund threshold.

Ho emphasized that the TOPEP positions itself as a grassroots party formed by women, and it aims to change Taiwan’s election culture and promote political equality through its candidacies.

With experience from previous local elections, this group of mothers took on a bigger stage by running for the 2024 legislative election, in which 113 seats were contested, comprising 73 district parliamentarians directly elected by voters, six indigenous parliamentarians chosen by indigenous voters, and 34 legislators-at-large selected based on a separate vote for a political party.

Targeting the 34 legislator-at-large seats, the TOPEP and 15 other political parties, such as the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the main opposition Kuomintang (KMT), and the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), all aspired to secure no less than 5 percent of the total party vote to be eligible for seat allocation from this pool.

Following the election results, the 34 legislator-at-large seats in the Legislative Yuan were all allocated to the DPP (13 seats, 36.16 percent of the total party vote), KMT (13 seats, 34.58 percent), and TPP (8 seats , 22.07 percent).

Although it was unable to secure a seat, the TOPEP surprised many by claiming the fifth position with 0.93 percent of the total party votes, amounting to 128,613 ballot papers.

Apart from the three major parties, this group of mothers trailed behind only the New Power Party, which secured 2.57 percent of the total party vote and had held three seats in the previous legislature. The all-female squad surpassed several smaller parties with higher visibility and more influence.

Despite financial constraints, this group of mothers prioritized policy research, hoping to voice the concerns of the people.

Their efforts were seen by many voters as the party drew number one for its ballot number, making their platforms appear at the top of the election bulletin, which significantly increased their visibility and resonated with their supporters, Ho said.

One of them is Iris Ding (丁云鈞), a 43-year-old mom who has been rooting for the party by dedicating her time as a volunteer since 2016.

“When it comes to addressing gender issues, housing justice, and civil defense, I find that their platforms resonate closely with our daily lives. Take gender equality as an example, in the workplace, numerous pregnant women encounter discrimination or bullying, and TOPEP advocates for legislative amendments to address these issues,” stated the mother of two.

Despite TOPEP being recognized as the fifth-largest party and gaining visibility among Taiwanese people after the 2024 legislative elections, Ding expressed concerns about the absence of small parties in the Legislative Yuan. She finds this worry, insisting that Taiwan, as a mature democracy, “should have a multiparty system.”

A significant obstacle impeding small parties from enhancing public representation in the Legislature is the requirement for candidates to pay an NT$200,000 deposit to run for a legislative seat, Ho argued.

The examination of the election results revealed that the majority of votes for the TOPEP came from urban areas and the constituencies the party contested in previous local elections.

Looking ahead to the 2026 local elections, the TOPEP intends to build on its current foundation, aiming to achieve breakthroughs by winning seats and serving as advocates for the people.

Ding, an art consultant, has already decided to continue the journey with other “obasan” as a volunteer.

“It might still be standing and greeting at intersections or campaigning at street corners, handing out flyers,” Ding said.

But she added: “I believe that in 2026, we can have more ways to engage in dialogue with the public.”

(By Lin Chin-yin, Fan Cheng-shiang and Sunny Lai)

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Tags: moms candidates journey obasan party Taiwans elections

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