A new LoyarBurokker from Taiwan reflects on the recent presidential elections there.
“Taiwan has proven to be one of the great success stories in Asia.” — Barack Obama
As a Taiwanese, I cannot agree more with Obama’s comment after Taiwan’s incumbent President Ma Ying-Jeou was re-elected on 14 January 14 2012. But my country still has a lot of things open to improvement as a burgeoning democracy.
For people living in Taiwan, this kind of democracy was not seen on the horizon until as late as 1987 when the government declared the termination of a 38-year-old martial law. Eight years later in 1996, we had our first directly elected president. Most of the younger generation in Taiwan learned about democracy and autocracy from the older generation and mass media. Many still hold today that the two opposing systems are about all the difference between Taiwan and China.
Party Politics in Taiwan
Taiwan basically boasts a two-party political system although we currently have 134 political parties. The ruling KMT (Kuomintang Party) and the opposition DDP (Democratic Progressive Party) are by far the two largest parties. Two decades ago, policy makers and legislators alike on the island thought it would be great to have just two main contesting parties as it is in the U.S., so they overhauled the election laws that eventually opened the door to the present two-party system.
But it was never realized until recently that the election laws they designed back then had been actually playing into the hands of the two major parties, stifling the very growth of small parties. This sober fact has given political leaders pause for thought and they now recognize the growing need to revise the existing election laws.
Luckily, voters at large also perceive that the current election laws have literally confined them to picking a less rotten apple from a basket of no-good apples. We need a third force of sufficient counter power, so goes the new theory. That set the stage for James Soong of the People First Party to stand in this year’s presidential election although the odds of him beating KMT and DDP would be low.
Now That’s Elections in Taiwan
Flags, campaigning wagons, promotion events, print advertisements and online campaigning popped up all over the island in the run-up to the polling day.
You could not escape the candidates’ smiling faces every time you flicked on the TV.
This is the time when a lot of voters find themselves so delirious in the heat of the elections that they have to seek medical attention.
We have no less than five TV channels and scores of radio stations blaring out heated argumentation about the candidates and their policies around the clock. Taking sides, they each openly extol or criticize the candidates, catering to a highly polarized audience.
Three rounds of presidential debates were also held and broadcast live. Observers from nearly every part of the world set foot on Taiwan to witness our direct presidential elections in which the voters’ fervour was beyond words.
All kinds of advertisements, banners and online campaigning are the harmless part of our election culture. It is “paint black” (smear someone as filthy rich and corrupt) and “paint red” (slander someone as pro-Chinese communists) that turn out to be the most spiteful and divisive part of the half-year-long process. Some candidates may resort to unthinkable or sometimes unethical means to turn the tables on other candidates. Rational voters always frown on such base tactics.
Regrettably, the same distasteful scenario recurs in every election. As a result, there are no truths, only a bitter taste, left after the hubbub.
Relations Between Taiwan and China
The relations between Taiwan and China have long been the bone of contention among the residents of Taiwan. The issue unfailingly stokes national consciousness when irresponsible politicians bring it up during elections.
Ma Ying-Jeou, candidate of KMT and president elect, endorses the tacit “1992 Consensus” with China, trying to keep hard-earned peace across the Taiwan Strait. Under the consensus, Taiwan and Beijing both agreed to the untold “one China” principle without publicly seeking to define it, at least not at this stage.
The relations between Taiwan and China have become obviously better since Ma was first elected president in 2008. Our economy has grown significantly thanks to direct flights and trade with China during Ma’s presidency.
In contrast, Tsai Ing-Wen, candidate of DPP, repudiates the 1992 Consensus and dishes out a yet-undefined “Taiwan Consensus,” which many believe will rock the boat rather than calm the waters in the Taiwan Strait. In fact, lots of people, particularly those benefiting from two-way trade, have serious concerns that Tsai’s platform will only jeopardize the status quo.
The moral of this election: Focusing solely on ideology, i.e. on how Taiwan must fend off China and its influences in the name of democracy, may win you big applause from the crowd but it will not get you the ticket to the presidential office after all.
Only taking the middle ground and focusing on the economy and the well-being of the people will win the heart and soul of the silent majority.
Business as usual, win or lose
As the dust of the elections settled, all the mudslinging died out.
Most candidates exhibited civility and grace.
The winning party promised to lead the nation to a better future while thanking the rivals for playing the role of “checks and balances.” And the losing parties exhorted the president elect not to fail the mandate of the supporters. In other words, all the camps accept the results of the election willingly if not happily.
Such are the great things that we would like to see of a peaceful, open election in place of a clashing, divisive one.
By way of introspection, both the winning and losing parties will come up with better policies and a promising future for the country in subsequent elections, which I hope will see increasing consensus and unity within the island.