It is always encouraging to see members of the international community pay attention to Taiwan, whose travails as it navigates the rough seas of its relations with China are often conveniently ignored for the sake of “larger” considerations.
Given the potential ramifications of tomorrow’s presidential elections for regional security and Taipei’s relations with Beijing, it is unsurprising that an army of foreign reporters and academics would be parachuted into Taiwan to observe its rambunctious democracy at work.
Equally welcome is the arrival of international observers who have been invited by local organizations to monitor the elections to ensure that the process is fair and does justice to the sacrifices made by previous generations of Taiwanese who, for decades, did not have the privilege of selecting their leader.
In a highly charged campaign marked by scandals — from the possible falsification of evidence used in allegations against Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) to claims that intelligence agencies engaged in illegal surveillance against her — the presence of neutral electoral monitors from abroad could provide a much-needed dose of sobriety to the whole affair. Or it should have.
The problem is that the organizations behind the invitations extended to the international monitors have at times appeared more interested in underscoring which candidate they hope will win rather than making sure that the electoral process remains transparent and is not tampered with.
One could argue that such an outcome was inevitable, a consequence of the vast resource disparity that exists between the two principal political parties involved in the elections. Despite claims to the contrary, President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) remains one of the wealthiest political entities in the world, turning Tsai into a bit of a David against the KMT Goliath, an imbalance that has only been exacerbated by the overt support given the KMT by Beijing, big business, institutional investors and even some elements within the White House.
As a result, whether it was intended or not, the International Committee for Fair Elections in Taiwan (ICFET), which counts the likes of DPP legislator Chai Trong-rong (蔡同榮) as its executive chairman, has come across as pretty green.
Not to be bested, the pan-blue side recently announced that it had invited its own international monitors, a group that includes former American Institute in Taiwan director Douglas Paal.
Anyone who accuses the minds behind the ICFET of being too green and therefore partial should look at the political affiliations of the Cross-Strait Interflow Prospect Foundation, the think tank that invited Paal and others to come to Taiwan to observe the elections. Its chairman, Louis Tzen (鄭文華), is closely affiliated with the KMT’s in-house think tank, the National Policy Foundation.
Unfortunately for the majority of international monitors who did come to Taiwan as impartial observers, the politicization of the groups risks undermining their credibility. This, in turn, could make it more difficult for their findings to be taken seriously and could give rise to accusations that they are taking sides in the election — especially if serious irregularities were to be uncovered by the observer groups.