Much of the seemingly astute foreign commentary during and since the election clearly did not help the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in any way. The Western press emphasized that the election was free and peaceful, the result and the process reflecting continuity and the strength of Taiwanese democracy.
Liberals in Europe stressed how the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) victory protected stability in the region, the US was relieved that China was persuaded to refrain from any overt posturing or threatening (contrasted with the 2000 presidential election) and of course China saw the result as a condition for further strengthening economic relations, as a working base for increased cultural and political influence within Taiwan.
On the other side of this political coin, even among liberals and democrats in many places, the failure of the DPP has been seen as a confirmation of the progress of Taiwanese democracy. Furthermore, the fulsome support for the result among the social media in China, that might be seen as the principal voice of the growing middle class there, could spell the death knoll of truly effective DPP opposition for some time.
If it is true that Chinese progressive elements and popular sentiment welcome the recent result as an indication that peaceful transition toward democracy might also occur in China, then we might summarize that the KMT is presently the happy child of powerful global forces on all sides.
Under such conditions, bereft of international prestige, suffering the loss of its charismatic female leader and still unconvincing as a party of social and political reform within the nation, the focus of any surge of energy or radical activity on the part of the DPP is presently impossible to discover. It will be fatal if, in blundering toward a speedy recovery, the DPP simply rehashes in shriller tones the same old politics — China and corruption, but not much else.
It could be argued — against the opinion of so many foreign commentators — that any retraction of the DPP, leaving the field open to the KMT, would be a tragic setback for Taiwanese democracy and hardly representative of a model to be followed by aspiring democrats elsewhere, including Chinese democrats.
We have two parties: One party, the KMT, is old and redundant and bears a savage and terrible history, but wears slightly better suits. It wins elections. The other, the DPP, is young, often hysterical, open to charges of duplicity at its core, and dismally without real ambition to improve Taiwanese political and social life. It loses elections.
To go on voting for the first — as Taiwan did this month — is to live in a very gloomy yet dissolute past and to deny the achievements of the last generation. To vote for the second is to take a risk on a rather flaky bunch of folk, who quarrel as much among themselves as with the KMT, are easily persuaded from paths of political righteousness and who seem reluctant to address the totality of the major social and economic problems facing Taiwan.
The KMT has traditionally been the party of martial law, corruption and strong-arm tactics, and has shown its utter pragmatism in its unequaled about-face from the party in historical opposition to China to the party in symbiotic alliance with China. As has been argued in previous columns, the election result arose from a political situation in which the issue of China and its economic and political relations with Taiwan is a rhetorical driver that overrides any considered political debate.