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.
Photo: Fang Pin-chao, Taipei Times
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.
With this approach, “China has had a strong bearing on the livelihood of too many Taiwanese,” he said.
The election result reflected the public’s worries over the disappearance of “peace dividends” under a DPP government whose “Taiwan consensus” — that allows for independence — was unacceptable against the so-called “1992 consensus” — equivalent to the acceptance of a one-China platform, Chang said.
People who have enjoyed the dividends or expect to enjoy more of them voted to ensure their interests and to prevent “systematic risks” to the cross-strait business environment that could have been caused if the DPP had won, he said.
It all has to do with the intimate interweaving of business and politics in China, where “the hidden rule is that business opportunities and deals are made possible behind the scenes, because they are often ‘gifts’ from Chinese officials with political endorsement, in exchange for returned reciprocity,” Chang said.
Taking as an example the smartphone maker HTC Corp, whose chairwoman, Cher Wang (王雪紅), strongly endorsed the “1992 consensus” on the eve of the election, Chang said that HTC would not have been able to tap into the Chinese market without collaborating with China Mobile.
Chang Yen-hsien (張炎憲), a professor of Taiwan history at National Taipei University of Education, said that the impact of intimidation tactics in the election should be examined over a longer time frame, rather than just how it affected the election.
It is true that intimidation works on voters in Taiwan because Taiwan is a relatively young democracy, with the process only starting in the 1980s, and its national identity is still in the process of formation and consolidation, Chang Yen-hsien said.
“While the campaign was heating up, information was heaped upon voters in various forms, like media reports, ads and campaign slogans, rendering people unable to compare the policy platforms of the respective candidates and carefully consider which candidate to vote for in only a short and tense period of time,” he said.
An example to corroborate his contention was that more than 70 percent of Taiwanese are not familiar with the content of the “1992 consensus,” as one survey had suggested, but the issue held sway in the election simply because people were told that the DPP’s rejection of the formula could disrupt cross-strait relations.
“When the election is over and people have calmed down, they can think more clearly. This is how Taiwan makes steady progress in its democratization. We would not have arrived at this point had we not learned from past elections,” he said.
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