The Sunflower movement may have set the stage for major political change in Taiwan, but it is still too early to predict its impact, a US academic says.
There is “simmering discontent” in Taiwan, but the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) could still cling to power in the next election, said Don Rodgers, a professor of political science at Austin College in Texas.
Cross-strait relations are only part of the problem and the bigger issues concern government transparency and responsiveness to the interests and desires of the voters, he said in an address to a conference on the Sunflower movement and Taiwan’s “new political landscape.”
Domestic issues such as property rights, nuclear power, the education system and wealth distribution must be dealt with, Rodgers said at the conference in Washington last week.
Taiwan’s government is not working well, but neither of the two main political parties — the KMT and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) — are respected by a majority of voters, he said.
“There is a sense that party leaders are more concerned about internal dynamics than they are about the voters and listening to the people they are supposed to represent,” Rodgers said.
He said the KMT’s strengths were seen as cross-strait and economic policy, while its weaknesses were ineffectual governance and corruption.
The DPP’s strengths were its Taiwan-centric stance and its traditional support for democracy, farmers and ordinary workers. Its weaknesses were factional infighting, a lack of policy direction and a shortage of skilled politicians.
The big question now was whether, in the aftermath of the Sunflower movement demonstrations, the two parties would change, Rodgers said.
The movement had provided a “fairly large shock” to Taiwan’s political system, but it was still not clear if it was big enough to wake up voters and cause them to feel anxiety and stress about what was going on.
“We have high voter turnout in Taiwan, but we don’t necessarily have attentive voters who pay close attention to the issues,” Rodgers said. “One might assume that the DPP has got it made going into the 2014 and 2016 elections, but that is not the case.”
“A lot of the protesters are unhappy with the KMT, but they are not necessarily going to cast their vote for the DPP,” he said.
The DPP had to demonstrate more unity, a clear policy stance, and a focus on economic and social justice issues, and reconnect with its grassroots supporters with better organization and outreach, he said.
“On its China policy, the DPP needs to emphasize that it is going to work with China, but that it is also going to be transparent and cautious,” he said.
Meanwhile, Taiwanese were “fed-up” with the institutions that were supposed to represent them, University of Richmond political scientist Vincent Wang told the conference.
He agreed with Rodgers that neither the DPP nor the KMT were doing a good job and that both put “party rancor” above national interests.
The Sunflower movement had remained remarkably independent and kept its distance from both parties, he said.
China had continued its “unwavering approach” to unify with Taiwan and the Sunflower movement had not changed its fundamental attitude, Wang said.
No matter who came to power in the 2016 presidential election — the KMT or the DPP — they would face a China that was continuing to rise in power and becoming increasingly sophisticated.