President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is doing a pretty good job of getting Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) elected. Through his arrogance, slander and distance from the general public, he is alienating even the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) staunchest supporters.
Take, for example, the nation’s Aborigines. Taiwan’s original inhabitants have shown a marked tendency to vote for the KMT in past elections — in the past two presidential elections, the KMT received a majority in Hualien, Taitung and Pingtung. The same goes for legislative districts. In contrast, DPP candidates have consistently found it difficult to get Aboriginal constituents to vote for them.
The reasons for this trend are manifold. Aborigines, who now only make up about 2 percent of Taiwan’s population, have a complex history with the early Han Chinese settlers who emigrated to Taiwan from southern China and are now commonly known as Hoklo.
Most of the people who moved to Taiwan over the past 400 years speak Hoklo (commonly known as Taiwanese) or Hakka, groups that have a long and not always peaceful history with Aborigines. First in the western plains, and then elsewhere, Hoklo supplanted Aborigines, who either moved to the mountains or were slowly bred out of existence.
This is a simplified explanation of a complex process, but it does highlight that Hoklo and Hakka speakers and the Aborigines have not always been on the best of terms.
Then, hundreds of years into this process of integration and assimilation — something similar to what’s happening in Tibet today — Japanese colonizers arrived and went to war with the Aborigines.
Under the Qing Dynasty and during Japanese colonial rule, Hoklo speakers fared rather well, while Aborigines were beaten down. This experience likely bred strong feelings of resentment first toward Hoklo people and then toward the Japanese in people who had originally inhabited this country, but who were then made into second-class citizens.
Then came the KMT and millions of so-called Mainlanders — Chinese fleeing the victorious communists in the Chinese civil war. For the first time, the Hoklo found themselves treated harshly by a new class of rulers who did not accept their autonomy in the same way the Qing Dynasty had, and who did not value their industry, like the Japanese.
Shortly after taking over Taiwan, the KMT began to view the Hoklo with suspicion, either assuming they were loyal to Japan or too alien to be trusted by the KMT. The 228 Massacre and the White Terror era followed, with consequences the ramifications of which continue to play out today.
For once, the Aborigines were more or less ignored, an improvement on their experience under the Japanese. This goes a long way to explaining why many Aborigines view the KMT and the “Mainlanders” it represents in a positive light, while they hold more complex feelings about the DPP and Hoklo-speakers in general.
Despite this historical background, on Wednesday, Association for Taiwan Indigenous Peoples’ Policies Chairman Oto Micya had this to say about Ma: “It is quite clear who we should not vote for in next month’s presidential election. Out of the three candidates, we obviously only have two [Tsai and People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜)] to choose from.”
Why the turnaround?
Simple — after more than 60 years, Aborigines are tired of being ignored. That is what Ma has done for the duration of his time in office, even refusing to respond when Aboriginal groups asked him to acknowledge a “New Partnership Accord” signed by former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and Aboriginal groups.
So much for these staunch supporters.
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