Tue, Mar 25, 2008 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Congratulations -- we'll be watching

For all its vaunted intrinsic value, democracy means that its outcomes cannot please everybody. Such was the case on Saturday, when Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) won by a comfortable margin, leaving 41.55 percent -- or 5.4 million -- of those who voted for the Democratic Progressive Party shaking their heads and wondering what will happen to their country.

But the end of the world is not upon us. Unlike what the more alarmist among us have argued, a KMT "return" to power is not coterminous with "death of democracy," nor does it mean that Taiwan is half a strait closer to being swallowed by China.

There are two principal reasons for this.

First, except for a small minority, the 7.6 million people who voted for Ma did so as Taiwanese and chose the KMT because they believed his campaign promises to improve the economy and defuse tensions with China. Those votes were cast with the hope that a KMT win would benefit them and Taiwan -- no one else. Voting is not an act of selflessness; when Americans vote for a candidate, they are not voting to, say, please Canada or Mexico. They think of themselves, their jobs, security and the future of their children. Taiwan is no different. While the outcome may please Beijing, Taiwanese did not vote to make China happy.

Second, those on the losing side of the aisle have not disappeared and their voices haven't suddenly been silenced. Despite Ma's big win, he and the members of his government will need to heed the fact that more than 5.4 million Taiwanese did not vote for them. If they ever forget that, they'll be in serious trouble, perhaps even earlier than four years from now.

Not for many years will the voice of the people have been as important as it will be when Ma assumes the presidency on May 20. Now that the legislative and the executive branches are under KMT control, the onus will be on them to deliver on the promises of accountable leadership they made during the campaign.

The KMT victory does not mean, as some have suggested, that the devil incarnate will step into office. In fact, in the past months Ma has increasingly sounded like a leader for Taiwanese and his party has some good people in it who can be counted on to put the interest of the nation first. These people must be encouraged.

Simultaneously, as Ma steps onto the international scene, he must be brought back into line if he is ever seen to be departing from his promises to serve the interests of Taiwan, and every effort must be made to ensure that the rotten elements in the KMT -- who are easily identifiable -- do not manipulate their victory to serve interests other than those of Taiwan.

Saturday's result was not a return to the authoritarian era, because democracy is now part of the nation's fabric -- and Ma must learn to navigate that environment. But democracy implies work. Hard work. And it imposes responsibilities that go far beyond showing up at the voting station on election day.

Ma won, so let's give him a chance to prove himself. But we'll be watching -- all of us.

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