For the next week, Taiwanese are to take time off for the Lunar New Year break, a major holiday that marks a transition from this year to the next, and a sense of new beginnings on the return to life and work.
Politics is also to return to business as usual after the holiday, but the results of the presidential and legislative elections, as well as the election of a new legislative speaker on Thursday last week, mean that the nation is to enter a different political climate from that of the previous eight, and in some ways, 16, years.
The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) still has the presidency, but it has lost its legislative majority — none of the three major parties, the DPP, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) or the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), has that — and it no longer has one of its own members as the legislative speaker, after the KMT’s Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) was elected as speaker.
In certain ways, the lay of the land looks similar to the two terms of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), with one important difference: Chen had to battle a unified pan-blue opposition, in the form of the KMT and the newly formed People First Party under its Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜).
For the next four years, the third party in terms of number of legislators, the TPP, is to play a deciding role, and what it does depends largely on the individual whims of its mercurial chairman, Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), who says he has no allegiance to the pan-green DPP or pan-blue KMT.
President-elect William Lai (賴清德) has said that he intends to follow the policy trajectory of President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文). This is no surprise, as she has navigated turbulent political waters to guide Taiwan into a stronger position internationally.
Former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of the KMT is proud of the “diplomatic truce” with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that he says led to reduced cross-strait tensions, but in the final analysis, Taiwanese voters became wary of where he was leading the country. Had New Taipei City Mayor Hou You-yi (侯友宜) won the presidency, he would have maintained the broad strokes of Ma’s cross-strait policy, just as Lai would Tsai’s.
There is a fundamental consistency in the respective directions KMT and DPP administrations would take the nation, not just because of individual leaders or differing party platforms and agendas, but because of the expectations of their respective voter bases.
Ko’s TPP is the wild card in the legislature, and the next four years is to depend, in important ways, not only on how he leads, but also on how much support he can retain from his voter base.
Ko’s supporters have signed up to his rhetoric of reform and cutting through political corruption, of setting a higher moral bar for Taiwan’s politics and a departure from the perceived mendacity and hypocritical nature of the established parties.
It is admirable that these values are held up, even though they are unfortunately part and parcel of the practice of politics. It would be interesting to see how Ko and the TPP would live up to the standards that they have promoted.
Ko’s supporters seem to have forgiven him the hypocritical moments and self-serving excesses during his brief chairmanship thus far and his conduct during the election campaign. It will be interesting to see whether they continue to support him when they see how he and his legislators-at-large comport themselves in the rough and tumble of legislative politics.
The cynical, manipulative way in which he handled Han’s speakership election might have raised eyebrows among supporters who believed the TPP would genuinely try to keep its head above the fray.
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