Tue, Apr 13, 2004 - Page 8 News List

An EU view of Taiwan's elections

By Gerrit van der Wees

During the past few weeks, Taiwan was prominently on display in the window of the world. Elections are generally exciting fare in any circumstances, but one can imagine that the Taiwanese people could have done with a bit less excitement this time around. Still, it is good to analyze the situation in Taiwan, and see how it looks from the perspective of western Europe.

Before going into the current situation, it is necessary to recall that Taiwan has come a long way from the repressive one-party state of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), which held the nation in its iron grip from the mid-1940s through the end of the 1980s. The democratic transition which took place was primarily due to the hard work of the democratic movement, led by President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

In any society which goes through a major democratic transition, there are always elements which hark back to the undemocratic"good old days." In Russia and eastern Europe, there are such remnants of the communist parties. In Taiwan, at least a part of the KMT/People First Party (PFP) opposition seem to fall into this category: They cannot accept that Taiwan has become democratic and the DPP has come to power.

In addition to the democratic versus non-democratic dichotomy, there is the Taiwanese-minded orientation of Chen's DPP versus the Chinese-minded orientation of the present leadership of the KMT/PFP. During the 40 years of martial law, political power was virtually exclusively in the hands of the Chinese Mainlanders who came over with Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) at the end of World War II. It is only natural that a process of democratization would bring native Taiwanese to a position of power. They represent the large majority on the island.

Still, Chen and his DPP have emphasized ethnic harmony: Anyone who loves Taiwan is considered Taiwanese, irrespective of ethnic origin. The present leadership in the KMT/PFP, on the other hand, has whipped up ethnic discord by twisting and distorting Chen's position.

Going into the election, the issue of a referendum was a major one. In any democratic society, a referendum is a commonplace mechanism to gauge the views of the population on a particular issue. In Taiwan it became a hot potato because its giant neighbor China doesn't like democracy, and the prospect of the Taiwanese people starting to use democratic means certainly looks blasphemous in the eyes of the communist dictatorship.

The problem was compounded when US President George W. Bush got into the act last December: Eager to placate visiting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶), he berated Chen for seeking to defend Taiwan against China's missiles with the help of a referendum. The Washington Post aptly described Bush's move as a kowtow to China.

In spite of the fact that the blue camp jumped on the pro-China bandwagon and urged supporters to boycott the referendum (even the watered-down version), some 7.45 million voters expressed themselves in the referendum, with some 91 percent in favor of the purchase of additional weapons to counter China's threat. The fact that the referendum didn't make it was thus due to the high threshold -- 50 percent of the registered voters. With such a threshold most referendums wouldn't make it in western Europe either.

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