Recent news reports have shown an interesting contrast. As President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) seeks re-election, big company bosses have been praising him and encouraging people to vote for him. The scene at the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is very different, as ordinary people line up to hand in piggy banks stuffed full of cash donations to support DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) presidential campaign.
These contrasting scenes highlight the class division between the two parties and mark the key issue at stake in January’s presidential and legislative elections — social justice.
For many years, the question of independence for Taiwan or unification with China has been the principal issue in Taiwan’s elections, not just at the national level, but even for town and county council candidates.
Ma claims stable relations across the Taiwan Strait as a key policy achievement of his administration, and he keeps attacking Tsai’s cross-strait policies as being too vague. Tsai has stuck to her “Taiwan consensus” and avoided getting dragged into a war of words over cross-strait issues. The KMT’s assault has failed to make much of an impact and cross-strait issues are not playing the essential role in this election that they have in the past.
Meanwhile, questions of social justice have been brought to the fore worldwide, from the revolutions in Arab and North African nations to the Occupy movement in the US and Europe and demonstrations against social inequality provoked by the European debt crisis. Now this wave of protest has finally reached the shores of Taiwan.
Questions about livelihood and social class have never been favorite topics for mainstream parties and politicians in Taiwan, who talk about them only when pressured to do so. However, the two main parties do clearly differ in their social class makeup. The KMT has always been close to big business, so its policies naturally tend to favor the interests of the wealthy and corporations. The DPP was born out of the middle and lower classes, and gets most of its support from the middle class and small businesses, so its policies tend to prioritize the needs of the less advantaged.
During the second presidential debate, Ma presented plenty of figures to illustrate his achievements in office. As impressive as the numbers sounded, they barely register in most people’s lives. Much more familiar and moving for the general public were Tsai’s stories of her encounters with people at the grassroots level.
The election is still three weeks away and we cannot be sure who will win the presidency. However, what is clear is that various controversies that have cropped up, such as the legal status of DPP vice presidential candidate Su Jia-chyuan’s (蘇嘉全) Pingtung farmhouse, the NT$215 million (US$7.15 million) cost of the government-sponsored rock musical Dreamers (夢想家), Tsai’s involvement in the TaiMed biotechnology company, Ma’s alleged acceptance of a political donation from the Fubon financial group, and so on, will soon be forgotten. What will be remembered is that this election has been centered on issues of social justice.
It is not just a contest between Ma and Tsai — with People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) trailing far behind. It is a battle between the KMT and the DPP, the bourgeoisie and the middle/lower classes, one of the world’s richest political parties and one that relies on piggy banks, dollar bills and the ballot paper.