Sun, Jul 03, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Attentive electorate needed

By Huang Jei-hsuan

Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-Pyng (王金平) recently led a dozen or so of his colleagues on an ocean voyage near Diaoyutais aboard a Knox-class frigate. He proclaimed that the sojourn at the disputed area was as much a show of force to protect Taiwan's fishing rights as a symbol to reclaim sovereignty of the disputed islands.

It's worth noting that only Wang and a handful of pan-blue legislators showed up on deck to shout those fighting words. Other politicians and Minister of National Defense Lee Jye (李傑) -- reflecting their ambivalence toward the use of a warship -- stayed below deck, out of sight, for the entire journey.

Unfortunately, the international press generally failed to discern this nuance and proceeded to report that the dispatch of a warship received widespread support in Taiwan since legislators from all three major political parties as well as the nation's defense chief took part in the trip.

Meanwhile, Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) declared that a military battle with Japan might be necessary to take back the sovereignty of Diaoyutais. For a seasoned politician, his reckless ignorance of the strategic partnership between Japan and Taiwan seems appalling.

In reality, both of these two pan-blue politicians, stressing their pro-China stance for the benefit of their deep-blue constituency, were echoing China's recent anti-Japan sentiment.

It should be noted that with near certainty one of these two individuals will end up as the candidate for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) in the 2008 presidential election. That means Taiwan's bipolar politics will continue.

The rivalry of the two camps is no garden-variety interparty political game found in most democratic or pluralistic countries, including the US.

In Taiwan, there is no such thing as a "loyal" opposition because "loyalty" is the root of the rivalry -- namely, the pan-green camp prefers a sovereign Taiwan that would maintain close strategic ties with the US and Japan while the pan-blue camp -- with an eye to eventually cajoling Taiwan into China's grip -- is for a Taiwan that would defer to China for now.

Although results of public opinion polls have consistently indicated a substantial plurality favoring the pan-greens' cause, the two camps have been running neck and neck in terms of ballot strength in the past two years. The discrepancy can best be attributed to the existence of a large number of non-political Taiwanese who vote with near total disregard of a candidate's politics.

Personal charm, recommendations of a respected acquaintance or even an offer of bribes, both open -- such as extra benefits for special interest groups -- and secret, could play the most important role in those individuals' decision to vote for a candidate.

Some perplexing phenomena accompany this situation. Looking back on the KMT's 50-year rule, Taiwan's resources are disproportionately concentrated in areas where pan-blue supporters are in the majority. But those are the areas that have the most to lose in case of a takeover by China.

Similarly, people who enjoy privileges such as 18 percent annual interest on pensions by and large support the blue camp. Yet, again paradoxically, they have the most to lose where pan-blue leaders are taking them.

Since 2000, this electorate has produced domestic instability as well as a split government that is notorious for legislative gridlock. Fortunately, stability in terms of international relations has not suffered, primarily because the presidency has belonged to the pan-green camp for the last five years.

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