Taiwan has yet to reach full democracy, because its development has been complicated by a variety of factors, including its national personality characteristics, history and relationship with China and the world, academics say.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) won re-election by a margin of 6 percent, or about 800,000 votes, over Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) challenger Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) in the country’s fifth direct presidential election on Jan. 14.
It was generally held that the result of the election was partly because of rhetoric warning voters of the supposed negative impact of a DPP victory on cross-strait relations.
The groups that jumped onto such a bandwagon in the run-up to the election ranged from the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) — Ma’s party — to a number of prominent entrepreneurs, who in the past seldom took sides or talked about politics. Taiwan Affairs Office officials in Beijing and former American Institute in Taiwan director Douglas Paal could be added to that list.
Jim Lee (李筱峰), a professor of Taiwanese literature at National Taipei University of Education, said the so-called “intimidation cards” this year did “the trick” because of Taiwan’s increasing economic reliance on China.
“My guess is that intimidation cards will become more and more effective in swaying voters and affecting election results if the government continues the policy that locks Taiwan’s economy into a monolithic Chinese one,” Lee said.
Lee attributed the susceptibility of voters to the characteristics of Taiwanese, which he said were “cowardice, greed and vanity,” quoting Shinpei Goto, the country’s administrator between 1898 and 1906 during the Japanese colonial period.
“Election tactics like threats and bribery work with voters who have personality weaknesses. Intimidation trumps cowardice, greedy voters could be easily bribed and bestowing small favors upon the voters gratifies their vanity,” Lee said.
The differences in the characteristics between Taiwanese and South Koreans, who usually have independent spirits with strong personalities, explain why the resistance movements against colonial Japanese occupation in Taiwan were much milder than those in Korea, the most famous being the March 1st Movement, Lee said.
“In independent voters, the characteristics are especially salient,” Lee said. “This is because they still have not shed the mindsets developed under the decades-long authoritarian rule of the KMT that disregarded the importance of Taiwan’s sovereignty and the significance of the values of freedom and democracy.”
Tsai received 45.6 percent of votes in the election, about 4 percent higher than the percentage of votes obtained by Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) when he challenged Ma four years ago.
“The small increase in the percentage of votes proved that it’s still hard for the DPP to win support from independent voters,” Lee said.
The re-election of Ma was interpreted by some commentators as recognition of his reconciliatory cross-strait policy, but Michael Chang (張茂桂), a research fellow at Academic Sinica’s Institute of Sociology, disagrees.
“Rather than a victory for Ma, I would say it was a victory for [Chinese President] Hu Jintao’s (胡錦濤) Taiwan policy line — yi shang wei zheng (以商圍政),” Chang said, refering to Beijing’s united front policy to gradually force Taiwan to submit to its political will by throwing the country economic lifelines.