Mon, Dec 13, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: More work needs to be done

I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,

And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat,

and snicker,

And in short, I was afraid.

When you're gloomy there is nothing like Eliot to make you even more so. But how well Prufrock sums up Saturday's events. The Taiwanese were being called upon in rally after rally by Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) to embrace a messianic destiny, to march out of their Babylonian captivity, shrugging off their colonial cringe to find some kind of authentic destiny as Taiwanese. But as Babylon has proved rather comfortable, this was not something that many felt inclined to do. When J. Alfred asks:

Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,

Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?

the Taiwanese voters respond pragmatically "Crisis? Certainly not!"

Let us not pretend that it wasn't disappointing. That a majority of Taiwanese could cast their votes for the parties of thugs, thieves, fraudsters, and scam artists, the parties of bagmen, gangsters, unreconstructed fascists, torturers and murderers beggars belief. Any progressive can only sympathize with Simon Bolivar's bitter last words: "He who serves the revolution ploughs the sea."

But the pan-greens can hardly escape blame for the debacle. There has been a lot of talk of their being too optimistic, running too many candidates and as a result spreading their vote too thinly. Then again there were total messes like Taipei City's second district where vote allocation simply fell apart.

But the disappointment was not the result of tactical failure, but strategic mistakes that were made at the very top. Chen chose to run a presidential election campaign for a legislative election. This means that he centered on symbolic issues of identity politics in a campaign which should have been about the basics -- support for farmers, opening direct links for businesspeople, pensions for the elderly, more school spending, a sustainable National Health Insurance system. Legislative elections in Taiwan are about pork-barrel issues -- the Taiwan voter's fundamental question to a candidate is not "what do you stand for " but "what can you give to me/get for me?" And here the pan-blues with their long practice of clientalism do actually have a better history of bringing home the bacon.

The election is being interpreted everywhere as a rejection of Taiwan separatism. Certainly there was a sense that themes from Chen's campaigning would, if realized, raise tensions with China. But there was also a wide realization that many of these would be impossible to attain, given that the pan-greens would never win the super-majority needed to make constitutional changes on their own. So there was a strange hollowness about the DPP's Chen-centered campaign, an emptiness that resulted in some 2.25 million who voted green in March -- a third of the total votes for Chen -- not showing up at the polls Saturday.

But while voters might have balked at the risky road the DPP seemed to be taking, Taiwan consciousness is not going to go away. Remember it was the strongly pro-reunification People First Party that was the big loser in the election, seeing a quarter of its seats go to the more moderate Chinese Nationalist Party.

For Taiwan-consciousness proselytizers, the message is clear: Do more work. Surely you didn't think that something that elsewhere has taken decades, is going to be accomplished in four or five years? You cannot create a sense of national identity, or national destiny in a handful of election campaigns. Building Taiwan as a nation has to go beyond political campaigning and find its way through civil society into people's hearts. Enough of politics -- for now.

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