The results of Saturday’s special municipality elections showcased the collective wisdom of Taiwan’s voters, who took the opportunity to tell both the government and the opposition that they want a middle course and pragmatic reforms. The overall distribution of votes also sent an important warning to the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), and the fact that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) only won two cities implies that they will not be able to influence current cross-strait policies, which was no doubt a relief for China’s leadership.
However, the latest expression of public opinion showed the power of mainstream society and highlighted a call for more attention to be paid to protecting Taiwan’s sovereignty. For example, the recent scandals surrounding Taiwan’s participation in the Tokyo International Film Festival and taekwondo athlete Yang Shu-chun’s (楊淑君) disqualification from the Asian Games both caused a great deal of public uproar. A majority of the public also wish to maintain the status quo that makes peace the greatest cross-strait common denominator.
There were many scandals surrounding the elections, such as the alleged corruption surrounding the Xinsheng Overpass, the incident in which Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊) went home to take a nap during Typhoon Morakot, the Cheng Hung-yi (鄭弘儀) swearing incident in Taichung, questions as to whether former premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) and DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) were serious about their election bids and the shooting that happened the night before the elections. These incidents all influenced supporters of both camps in positive and negative ways. However, independent voters balanced things out and that contributed to the final distribution of the overall vote.
Perhaps some will say that the shooting of Sean Lien (連勝文) increased the KMT’s chances in Taipei City and Sinbei City by encouraging traditional KMT supporters to come out and vote. However, it also encouraged pro-green supporters in the south to vote, giving the DPP big wins in Kaohsiung and Tainan. In the end, the KMT may have gained a bit more than the DPP.
The KMT chose to focus on rumors about Chen Chih-chung (陳致中) soliciting a prostitute, but this had the opposite effect, as Chen won election by the highest number of votes of all Greater Kaohsiung City councilors.
The blue camp also took advantage of the legal cases against former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and even sped up legal proceedings so a final verdict could be handed down before the elections. However, this also produced a backlash as supporters of Chen increased their number of seats by 25 in the different city councils. The green camp also attacked the blue camp over allegations of corruption surrounding the Taipei International Flora Expo and the Xinsheng Overpass. This also created a backlash as pro-KMT voters came out to show their support for the blue camp. These issues clearly show the maturity of voters who are now moving to the center and become increasingly rational.
For the DPP, the results clearly show the recognition given to the party by voters. It also helped the DPP distance itself further from former president Chen. The party regained the public’s trust and must now realize that it cannot repeat its past mistakes, and that they must carefully draw up appropriate China policies to make the public feel more at ease and secure.
That Su and Tsai managed to win the favor of independent voters in Taipei and Sinbei City, both traditional pan-blue strongholds, shows that their softer and more rational reform line is worth pursuing to the fullest. The DPP should view the latest election results as proof that they have a chance to regain power. Although the DPP lost by a small margin in Taichung, it was encouraging.
After only a half a year in the region, Su Jia-chyuan (蘇嘉全) was still able to win such a surprising number of votes. This is unprecedented. The DPP cannot keep thinking that things would have been different if certain things had not happened, because in the final analysis, voters gave Su and the entire green camp a great opportunity. As long as the green camp keeps accepting challenges, they will be able to succeed. Anything short of this would be failing to live up to the hopes of Taiwanese.
A look at changes in the makeup of the parties’ political bases around Taiwan shows that while the KMT managed to save face by keeping their hold on Taipei and Sinbei cities, they only just managed to hold on to Taichung. They will now have to change the pace of their cross-strait policies, which have been moving way too fast. The results showed the KMT that they will have to be more respectful of public opinion and think more carefully about their policies.
The KMT has lost the confidence of voters very quickly and apart from experiencing huge losses in the number of voters in their -traditional strongholds, this was also the first time the DPP and the KMT tied in the city councilor elections, with both camps walking away with 130 seats each.
In the borough chief elections, the green camp experienced a large increase, gaining 220 seats, while support for blue camp borough chiefs shrunk greatly to a total of 1,194 seats. The number of independent borough chiefs made a huge jump to 2,343 seats, which clearly shows a collective loosening in the foundations of the blue camp. This is a major warning that Ma will not be able to easily turn around by merely employing slogans like “Let’s Unite” and “Reform and Democracy.” For example, that somebody fired a gun at a public election rally implies that the thunderbolt anti-crime project (霹靂掃黑專案) the government has been carrying out in recent months has been a waste of time.
The changes in public support for the DPP and the KMT will also be important indicators for future legislative and presidential elections. Beijing will of course pay close attention to these indicators when considering pubic opinion in Taiwan. If we follow the views of China’s Taiwan experts that the pan-blue camp is more neutral and the pan-green camp more pro-independence, the Chinese government will have to increase their study and understanding of the DPP many times over.
As late Dutch historian Pieter Geyl said: “History is an argument without end.”
Now we will just have to wait and see how Taiwan’s political parties respond to the situation.
Lu I-ming is the former publisher and president of Taiwan Shin Sheng Daily News.
TRANSLATED BY DREW CAMERON