Taiwan Elections: Results in Asia’s Most Dynamic Democracy
For most people in the Western world and in many dozens of other countries, the mantra of one person one vote is taken for granted. Not so in China, Hong Kong, Macau, or Singapore. Yesterday’s election for the presidency of the Republic of China underscores how democratic change has become part and parcel of life here.
Taiwan is still after 16 years the ONLY Chinese society in the world that has regular, full and free elections. Taiwan is still the only Chinese Society where people can speak their minds on politics freely, and without fear of prosecution. Have you tried that in Tibet recently?
Democracy in the Chinas?
Hong Kong is slowly edging towards full democracy but there is no certainty that it will happen. The Chinese Communist Party knows what will happen if it is allowed there, then Macau will want to have democracy; and because of contacts in these three places, rumors and opposition in mainland will start to mount.
Agitation will begin and dissatisfaction with one party rule will become commonplace, so common in fact that it will be difficult to lock up millions for espousing their views and support of democracy.
A file photo taken in 2007 at Guandu Park, just prior to the last Taipei City Mayoral Election.
But what happened on March 22nd, and why? Well, this post tries to explain some of the background to the results. I won’t summarize the results for you, except to say that Ma Ying-Jeou as KMT candidate was elected by a landslide vote 58% to his opponent, Frank Hsieh, who was standing for the DPP as the representative of the incumbent party and president, Chen Shui-Bien. Frank Hsieh obtained about 42% of the vote, and turnout was a record 76%.
Try that it in the UK or the US! Today’s Taipei Times writes:
A total of 13,221,609 people voted in the election, a turnout of 76.33 percent of the 17,321,622 registered voters. There were 117,646 invalid votes. The KMT ticket won 7,658,724 votes, or 58.45 percent of the ballots, with the DPP pair garnering 5,445,239 votes, or 41.55 percent.
Increasing voter frustration
Since the legislative elections in December of 2007, there was an increasing perception here in Taiwan that change was not only inevitable, but also the preferred option after 8 years of DPP leadership under Chen Shui-Bien. And many voters were worried about the increasing prices, a slowly stagnating economy, stagnant wages, and increasing worker costs.
In the past nine months, many items had risen in cost from rice to gasoline. The confidence of the mid-1990’s had been diminished to such a point that desperation was setting in. The economy was weak, inflation was picking up, things with China weren’t any better than 10 years ago, and… worst of all, a leadership that prided itself on renaming monuments and airports rather than getting on with opening up transportation, communication and finance with the mainland government.
It’s the economy, duh!
Unfortunately, the words that took Bill Clinton into office were words that the DPP consistently failed to hear: despite being told again and again – it’s the economy, stupid! So they ran an increasingly negative campaign that seriously backfired. Yet somehow, the KMT under the new President elect, Ma Ying-Jeou managed to avoid nearly all of the accusations on green cards, fake tapes, accusations, fraud, etc.
In the end, voters simply decided Frank Hsieh did not provide a credible alternative to the current situation; and their campaign ended up just making things worse. If you want to see the full results, the Taipei Times has an excellent map of the results. Just click on the image below.
The evidence of the frustration is loud and clear: all over the island regions turned blue that had previously been green, even DPP strongholds were under attack. In the end, the DPP maintained a comfortable majority in only 3 of the counties around the island. The other two were at best marginal (ie. less than 1%) and even there could be said to be victories for the KMT.
A Positive Campaign
By running a positive campaign with one of the best videos below, the imagery is very positive even if you don’t understand the campaign rhetoric.
And the image of the end of the video is intriguing. Watch the running horses. Of course, the surname of the president elect means ‘horse’.
Fear Sells – Sometimes
There is a certain irony that Frank Hsieh would choose to run a campaign based on negativity and fear, when in fact what voters most feared was a continuation of the stupidity and directionless government of the past six years. To base your campaign on the fear of what a KMT victory might mean was shortsighted. Most swing voters had taken what they had seen in the past six years and realized that such a continuation caused a far greater fear than anything the DPP could conjure up about the KMT. What goes around comes around.
Taiwan is and has always been a multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic, multi-religious, multi-cultural society. There are large groups of indigenous peoples, Hakka, Taiwanese, and other minorities who’ve lived here a long time. In addition, elderly people speak Taiwanese and Japanese, younger Chinese and English. Many people are tri-lingual; and many speak remnants of their ancestral tongues. In recent years, Mainlanders have come from nearly every province to marry locals; foreign workers have come from Vietnam, Philippines, South East Asia, and there is a sizeable contingent of European and N.American residents (short-term and long-term).
There are also large contingents of Overseas Chinese, born overseas who have lived and worked here for decades. To complicate matters further, the legacy of the Republic of China has created a very interesting system which adds to the complexity of race relations on Taiwan. To say Taiwanese are a homogenous group is a huge obfuscation of the truth.
By continually playing on the ethnicity issue, the DPP have in fact created and raised racial tensions within the island between those who were born in Taiwan and who are considered ‘Taiwanese’ and those who were not. As a result, their support, and the current sitting president’s, has been weak among minority groups all over the island.
Worse, listening to some of their advocates on TV one has the distinct impression that Europeans would class their attitudes at the very least as quasi-fascists, or even Taiwanese-Neo-Nazis.
A Perfect Storm for the DPP
Overall, voters on Taiwan felt that the DPP under Frank Hsieh would simply continue to paint Taiwan into a corner that would turn Taiwan from a developing economy of the first order to a country that had squandered its opportunities and had slid back to a third world country. It will be interesting to see how Ma conducts himself over the coming three months, and see if he can pull any rabbits out of his hat.
Today’s Taipei Times probably has the best summary (albeit highly slanted) of the results. I, of course, do not consider myself a DPP supporter any more, and would be supportive of the KMT under its new leadership. Of course, despite being resident here for 15 years, I have no vote to exercise. Oh, well. At least, I made sure that everyone I worked with voted.