Across the nation today voters will go to the polls to elect a president and 79 legislators, as well as, less directly, 34 legislators-at-large, including an overseas Chinese representative. While much of the attention has been focused on the three-way presidential race, the legislative elections are no less crucial.
While these polls are about cross-strait relations and the direction Taiwan wants to go, more importantly for the average person, they are about issues closer to home: the economy, jobs, the growing wealth divide and the sky-high cost of houses.
It boils down to the cost of living, both day-to-day now and the price to be paid for closer business and economic ties to China in the future. Taiwanese have repeatedly said they want the “status quo” to be maintained, but in cross-strait relations, not a stagnating economy.
In the four years since the previous presidential election, housing costs in urban areas have continued to escalate to the point where many young people have been priced out of the market, perhaps permanently. Unemployment has come down slightly in the past two years after hitting a high of 6.16 percent in 2009, but in recent months there has been an increase in “furloughs,” as big corporations plead tough times even as they post high sales figures.
The Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement with China has been proven to favor big business over small companies and corporate Taiwan over the public. So far we have seen just an 8 percent increase in exports to China and a far greater capital outflow in the form of investment.
We have also seen the legislature’s constitutionally mandated oversight powers continuously bypassed or observed in the most perfunctory manner when it comes to cross-strait pacts inked by the semi-official bodies charged with cross-strait relations, while the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party strike agreement after agreement. It is time to put an end to such backroom deals reached “out of friendship” between parties; any and all deals should be government-to-government.
So there are many issues to be considered as voters mark their ballots today. Here is who we think voters should be looking for:
Candidates who will protect and defend Taiwan’s democracy, sovereign independence and the cross-strait “status quo.”
Candidates who are ready to work to improve the economy now, not in four or 10 years, and who will focus on reducing the wealth gap and the urban-rural divide both by improving infrastructure, the education system and the living environment and by improving Taiwan’s safety net of social support programs and subsidies.
Candidates who will protect Taiwan’s hard-fought-for human rights, including the rights to free speech, a free press, freedom of assembly and an impartial judiciary.
Candidates who will work to ensure and enshrine Aboriginal rights, including rights to their historic lands.
Candidates who will work for gender equality and an end to capital punishment.
Candidates who will work to achieve consensus with all points of view, so that we do not end up with a stalemated legislature or one where minority views are continuously trampled upon.
Voters should be asking themselves which candidates are most likely to improve upon what they have today. If a candidate is an incumbent, voters should look at his or her track record and see if he or she has delivered upon what was promised. If not, change could be the better option.