Thu, Nov 29, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Elections, referendums and identity

By Ian Inkster and Victoria Hsin-hsin Chang 音雅恩,張心心

Many analysts will now be arguing avidly about the mayoral elections and referendums. It will take time for full understanding. The election unseated seven Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidates in 13 of the cities that the party had previously held, including the shock defeats in Kaohsiung and Taichung.

Several commentators have already rationalized the election results as coming primarily from failures of the DPP’s social and economic policy broadly. This seems an obvious sort of position for most modern democracies, but can it be modified or challenged?

It is quite possible that the results were more a result of the perceived failure, in particular, of President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) China policy, a perception resulting from a retreating sense of “Taiwan national identity” that has been misjudged by politicians and media alike.

A clue to this lies in referendum #13, which asked: “Do you agree that the nation should apply under the name of ‘Taiwan’ for all international sports events, including the 2020 Tokyo Olympics?”

The International Olympic Committee has made it clear repeatedly that the name “Chinese Taipei” cannot be changed, because it was determined in the 1981 Lausanne agreement. It is this that made the referendum eminently political.

Unlike the vote for elected officials, in which voters had to be at least 20 years of age, the referendums were open to citizens aged 18 or over, under the amended Referendum Act (公民投票法) passed last year.

The results are not advisory, but mandatory, so we might suppose that Taiwanese were especially considerate of the political impact of their voting.

That referendum #13 was clearly rejected by the electorate is in contradiction of the trend of opinion among pundits and academics about the nature of Taiwanese identity and the present condition of identity politics.

This could be interpreted as a fatal blow to those who have been calling since February for a referendum on April 6 next year to explicitly address the subject of a “Taiwanese identity” referendum.

Statistical analysis from Academia Sinica show that in 2013, public opinion in Taiwan reached a peak of about 65 percent of citizens feeling “as or more” Taiwanese than Chinese on broadly political grounds, with this declining to about 58 percent by this year.

The period of most sudden drop was between 2013 and 2014, especially associated with the youthful Sunflower movement and then by the great victory of the DPP in 2016.

Opinion polls have recently identified a drop in the support for the DPP of about 10 percent as well as a rise in the proportion of voters identifying with a good range of independent candidates.

The figures from the Central Election Committee show that of 10,537,642 valid votes for referendum #13, a total of 5,774,556 valid votes were dissenting, and this vetoed the proposition.

This result certainly challenges any simple notion that Taiwanese political and cultural identities have shifted toward being more confidently Taiwanese and increasingly less Chinese.

Regions varied of course. Within Kaohsiung, which overall was marginally dissenting, the Yancheng (鹽埕), Qiaotou (橋頭) and Meinong (美濃) districts were clearly assenting to the more radical nationalist change, the Gushan (鼓山), Zuoying (左營) and Maolin (茂林) districts all dissenting clearly, with smaller districts such as Taoyan (桃源) and Namaxia (那瑪夏) particularly so.

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