Sun, Mar 23, 2008 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Out with the old, in with the older

Taiwan's voters have changed government for only the second time, re-installing the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) in the presidency. KMT candidate Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) defeated the Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) by almost a 17 percent margin. Ma was the favorite in the election and opinion polls had at one time put him as many as 25 percentage points ahead of Hsieh.

Public dissatisfaction with the DPP's political record and consequent losses in January's legislative elections sapped party morale, and this was reflected in the results of the poll, despite a narrowing in the performance of the candidates.

The key issues in the last days of the campaign were the "one China market" and the problem of China's oppression, as seen in Tibet. The DPP had seemed to score points by focusing on the possible threat posed by Chinese laborers and poor quality products entering Taiwan, but ultimately the scare tactics failed to produce the effect the DPP had hoped for.

In more direct language, the electorate rejected the DPP's campaign and reverted to the approximate 60-40 pan-blue/pan-green split of the 2000 election. That is, the 10 percent of voters that the DPP stole from the KMT in 2004 have returned to the fold.

The cruel truths of China's oppression in Tibet -- as well as Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's (溫家寶) harsh warnings against Tibet and Taiwan -- were the best possible election gift for the DPP camp, but 12 days of unrest in Tibet were still not enough to make up for the public's dissatisfaction with the party's performance over the last eight years.

Ma will have an easier job as president than outgoing President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), who was plagued by the hindrance of a majority opposition in the legislature throughout his eight years in office. With the KMT's legislative majority, many of Ma's long cherished ideals could easily become hard policies. Here lies an opportunity -- and a danger.

As the opposition, the DPP has almost no real power with which to stop Ma's executive momentum. Single-party dominance in a country struggling to fortify institutional checks and balances poses a threat, and the DPP will need to work hard to monitor erosion of the line between party and state.

The KMT should be especially cautious when dealing with the cross-strait problem. Cross-strait relations should be improved, but implementation of the "one China" principle remains dangerous.

There are numerous reasons for this. For now, this will suffice: The Dalai Lama has repeatedly expressed that he seeks real autonomy for Tibet rather than independence, but still China has dealt with the situation forcefully and brutally.

Let this serve as a stark reminder for Ma: Taiwan's long-term possibilities must not be sacrificed for short-term economic benefits, and toeing China's line offers no guarantee of a peaceful outcome.

Once Ma assumes office, he should begin to repair the increasingly worn US-Taiwan relationship and facilitate cooperation with Japan to reduce the Chinese threat. Hundreds of Chinese missiles threaten this country and Taiwan's president cannot sit idly by as their numbers grow.

Ma must immediately begin to make up for the arms deficit resulting from eight years of KMT budget boycotts. Only real might can serve as a backup to meaningful cross-strait negotiations.

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