Wed, Aug 10, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Identity issue raises its head again

By Nat Bellocchi 白樂崎

While much of the media in Taiwan is already focusing on likely candidates for president three years hence, the two main parties have yet to establish their platforms for the forthcoming campaign.

The two countries most important to Taiwan, China and the US, may want to involve themselves in the next presidential election -- both in terms of developing platforms and the choice of candidates -- much earlier than they have done in the past. They should write their plans in pencil, not ink. The complexities and uncertainties found in Taiwan today are likely to continue right up to election day.

Voters complain that the government has not provided reforms in the everyday issues that most concern them. The opposition meanwhile, by virtue of their control of the legislature, are deliberately blocking bills for political purposes. Faced with this, the electorate is tired and disappointed in politics. With national identity likely to be the major issue in the 2008 election, that attitude could bring disaster to the democracy they take for granted.

At this point, the two political parties face opposite problems. The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has a more certain candidate, but an incomplete platform. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is less sure of who it will nominate, but has a platform that will likely need only a few changes. Additionally, both parties face two other elections before the presidential poll -- local elections this year and legislative elections in 2007. The issues in these polls will focus more on domestic concerns and the candidates themselves, unlike the presidential campaign, which will focus more on national concerns, security and cross-strait matters.

The DPP is now in its sixth year in government, and despite it's minority in the legislature, it has had some successes. The participation of different ethnicities in the body politic has clearly improved. So has government transparency. And there is far more recognition of national identity, both at home and abroad.

There have been some improvements in transforming the bureaucracy into national, not party, institutions and reducing corruption in business and government generally. There has been an effort to establish ceilings on the wealth of political parties and to improve the government's public relations.

At the same time, however, the DPP has had little success in two important areas -- with grassroots voters in local elections and attaining a majority in the legislative elections.

In this, the KMT has been successful, retaining the "ward boss" system that has often given it a majority in local elections -- and the "localized" legislators in the party, despite their more liberal ideology. The party doubtless also believes it has been successful in retaining support for its ideological position, but it has done so by forming its own relationship with China, and using its majority in the legislature to block governance almost completely.

The present belief is that Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is almost certain to be the KMT's candidate for the presidential election in 2008. It is still unclear, however, to what degree he will be able to establish his own policies and objectives. In the last presidential election, the party's policies became flexible, and moved very close to those of the DPP. But statements made by the party's leaders during their visits to China this year indicate that its objective is to reinstate the "one China" policy of the past. Ma apparently accepts this, putting it in the phrase "no independence."

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