Facing the fear factor
After observing recent legislative and presidential elections in Taiwan, members of the independent International Election Observation Mission have concluded that the elections were largely “free, yet partially unfair” (“Elections ‘free, partly unfair,’ watchdog says,” Jan. 16, page 1), citing several structural problems (eg, vote-buying, misuse of government power, and substantial disparities in party wealth) and extraneous fear factors (ie, undue influence exerted by the US and China under the myth of arguably fictional stability) that posed concerns for and pressures on Taiwan’s democracy, particularly on the freedom and fairness of the choices that Taiwanese voters must take. A case in point is the fear factor that runs against the universal values of a democratic election.
The fear factor might be best characterized by the seemingly abrupt comments made by former American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) director, now US civilian, Douglas Paal just two days before the elections. In a TV interview, he suggested that Washington would not feel comfortable about Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) victory, and it perceived the “Taiwan consensus” proposed by Tsai as vague and impractical.
Such undue influence suggesting the US government’s favoring of candidates — this is the second time in a row influence was exerted by Paal (he did something similar in the 2008 Taiwan presidential election as well) — was once again taking advantage of the fear psychology and economic dependence of Taiwan on China, and insulting to the autonomy of Taiwanese voters.
The comments were not only arbitrary and oppressive, but they strongly undermined the neutrality of the US government in the Taiwanese elections, and ran counter to the principle of fairness and freedom of democracy that every American holds so near and dear.
Even though current AIT Director William Stanton quickly clarified the nature of Paal’s own statement as “personal” and reassured the neutrality of the US, the damaging effect to voters of a fragile democracy sensitive to reactions from her bad neighbor has been made, at a time of economic downturn.
One cannot undo damage to the recent elections, but lessons need to be learned to avoid further missteps. Moving forward, first we would like to urge Paal — now a US civilian and a persona non grata to some DPP supporters in Taiwan — to stop misrepresenting Washington before Taiwan’s elections.
Any misrepresentation of the US government’s preference for election outcomes, and thereby the intervention of Taiwanese people’s free will in the elections, was not only inappropriate and hurtful, but illegal according to Taiwanese election law. Let Taiwan’s freedom ring without undue influence, on her own terms.
In preparation for the next election, the DPP should confront the fear factors head-on, to clarify the “Taiwan consensus” and abolish the image of corruption from the past.
Chiehwen Ed Hsu
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) should not feel proud of their election victory. They utilized a series of “rotten tricks” (奧步: aubo in Taiwanese). Amazingly, so many voters were fooled by these tricks.
In spite of the KMT tricks, presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen and the DPP deserve our applause for their sportsmanship in conceding their defeat and congratulating Ma. If Ma lost the re-election bid, the KMT would have made noisy, violent, massive protests for months like after the 2000 and 2004 elections.