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Wed, Jan 12, 2000 - Page 9 News List

Elections bring renewal and destabilization

New variables are likely to enter the cross-strait relationship as the US and Taiwan prepare to hold elections; the uncertainties generated as candidates face off are likely to persist well into 2001

By Nat Bellocchi

By the time Taiwan is electing its new president on March 18, voters in the US will very likely know who the candidates for the two major parties will be in the elections for the US presidency in November. But the uncertainties over the policies that will direct the relationships between the US, Taiwan and the PRC that the elections in the US and Taiwan generates will persist well into the year 2001.

The uncertainties are caused not only by the question of which candidate will prevail in both elections, but also the size of the vote the winner obtains, and the extent issues relevant to these relationships are debated. In Taiwan, in past elections, domestic issues dominated debates, though at the national level, and especially the presidential elections, under the surface, cross-strait relations were always a very important factor in the voters' decisions. This year, as democracy brings increasing confidence to the voters of Taiwan to demand a more open debate on the fundamental issue by the candidates, the voters decision is more likely to hinge on their perception of who best can manage this relationship. And, on the other hand, the extent of the winner's flexibility on the issue will depend on the size of his vote.

In the US, foreign policy is seldom a major issue in presidential elections. It may gain somewhat more attention this time, as President Clinton seeks to establish a major foreign policy victory as a legacy of his presidency (there is little likelihood he could do so on any domestic issue), and as the Republicans see his foreign policy record as vulnerable to attack during the campaign. The debate on the issue of globalization could have an impact on Taiwan, but it will be important for the US and the rest of the world as well. All issues that include China, however, such as WTO accessions and security issues, could have a substantial impact on Taiwan.

With the Republicans in control of the Congressional agenda, the debates on these controversial issues are likely to be deliberately prolonged to carry some of them through the primaries and into the party nominating conventions. The intermingling of domestic political objectives with foreign policy issues, always present but usually less apparent, will provide limitless opportunities for the speculation that creates greater uncertainties.

Then there is the length of time all of these uncertainties will persist. In Taiwan, once the elections have been held, the new president will have some two months to appoint the personnel for his administration. Some time after the inauguration, the new administration, having settled in and begun to make clearer where it wishes to go in pursuing its policies, will still face important uncertainties in the American relationship (and perhaps in Japan as well).

In the US, the system of primaries that led up to party conventions (where one of the party candidates is nominated), has been substantially altered. More populous states have moved their primary dates forward to February or March to gain more influence on the party selection. In the past, the complaint had been that small states (such as Iowa or New Hampshire), in earlier primaries, had gained too much influence. Now the criticism is that by having the larger state primaries so early, most candidates will have to withdraw before they have had adequate time to become known to the voters.

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