Despite welcoming the New Year with dazzling fireworks and celebratory events, the start of the year in Taiwan feels less festive and more political than usual, with the Jan. 14 presidential and legislative elections less than two weeks away.
Amid their busy campaign schedules, the two main presidential candidates, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), shuttled around the nation on New Year’s Eve, joining crowds at countdown parties.
In his New Year’s Day address, Ma pledged to promote cross-strait peace while building a solid foundation for the prosperity, harmony and progress of future generations of Taiwanese.
He also acknowledged the daunting challenges faced by the economy in the wake of the European debt crisis and promised to address the issue while placing more emphasis on security and peace.
Tsai, speaking at a New Year’s Day event in Greater Tainan, stressed the need for a change of government. She vowed to forge a “Taiwan consensus” on the handling of cross-strait relations, to build a society based on justice and fairness, and to prioritize the needs of the disadvantaged if elected.
It was something of a relief to hear the two main contenders discuss their platforms for the nation after a campaign that has so often been hijacked by rumors, accusations and attacks, in a race generally believed to be too close to call.
As Taiwanese prepare to choose the next leader, we very much hope that the campaign will finally start to focus on the nation’s future and the candidates’ policy platforms, as it should have done from the beginning.
Democratic elections have been the norm for nearly two decades and the peaceful transition of power in 2000 and again in 2008 is an achievement of which Taiwanese are rightly proud. Unfortunately, smear campaigns seem to also have become an integral part of the democratic process, especially in the final stages of an election, and the social confrontations that such campaigns seek to exploit present a serious threat to national stability.
It is the responsibility of the presidential candidates and their parties to address the issues that most concern voters and to present substantive policy options during a campaign, thereby giving voters a basis on which to make an informed choice when they cast their ballots.
Therefore, in the final days of the campaign, we hope the KMT will stop focusing its efforts on Tsai’s alleged profiteering from an investment in Yu Chang Biologics Co and the DPP will spend less time on Ma’s alleged involvement in the Fubon--TaipeiBank merger or his alleged abuse of government resources to monitor Tsai’s campaign schedule.
Those allegations could well be worth further investigation and the two parties could continue to dig up more evidence to back their respective points. However, what voters need most at this moment are solid policy platforms, so that they are able to choose which candidate they think is most capable of offering Taiwanese a better tomorrow.