Sun, Feb 11, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: The reluctant debaters

The now-common practice of televised presidential candidate debates got off to a rocky start, taking three tries and much wrangling to finally get all parties on board in 2004

By Han Cheung  /  Staff Reporter

Talks about a potential debate began in November 2003, but it took three months of negotiations before both sides came to an agreement. Wen writes that as the incumbent, Chen had plenty of media avenues and had little incentive to take part. Lien, on the other hand, was leading Chen in the polls and felt that joining the debate would only give Chen more chances to bolster his support base.

While the two sides initially showed a willingness to participate, they accused each other of being too scared to debate. Items they argued over included whether both sides were truly equals (with one being the incumbent), the format of the debate and the number of events to be held. Both sides insisted that they were happy to participate and that it would be the other side’s fault if the event fell through.

However, public pressure was much more intense than in previous years. In January 2004, Formosa Plastics Group founder Wang Yung-ching (王永慶), then-Academia Sinica president Lee Yuan-tseh (李遠哲) and Cloud Gate Dance Theatre founder Lin Hwai-min (林懷民) issued a joint advertisement in the nation’s major newspapers, imploring the two candidates to stop sniping at each other and to participate in the debate.

Surveys also showed that about 70 percent of voters wanted a televised debate as well. Chen and Lien had no choice but to comply.

The debate was organized by a number of media outlets, including the Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper), and was broadcast on 11 television and five radio channels. Polls show that Chen performed better in the first debate, while Lien took the second one. Between 4 to 6 percent of voters were swayed by the first debate, while between 3 to 7 percent changed their mind after the second.

Lien was still the favored candidate at that point, but Chen had the last laugh, barely beating his opponent by 0.22 percent of the vote.

Taiwan in Time, a column about Taiwan’s history that is published every Sunday, spotlights important or interesting events around the nation that have anniversaries this week.

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