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© Copyright www.cosmopolis.ch Louis Gerber All rights reserved.
|Added on April 8, 2000
Taiwan's Presidential Election
39.3% for Chen Shui-bian (DPP)
36.8% for James Soong (independent)
23.1% for Lien Chan (KMT)
Voters turnout: over 80%
There is only one democratic China - Taiwan. For the first time in Chinese history voters have decided on a power shift from a ruling party, the Kuomintang (KMT), to an opposition party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Taiwan has come a long way since 1949. The DDP was only legalised in 1987 - the year in which military rule was abandoned. Chen Shui-bian has made one of the great comebacks in politics. In December 1998 he was defeated when he ran for a second term as Taipei mayor. Today, Chen, 49, a lawyer of humble origins, is Taiwan's President-elect.
His election is a political earthquake in the sense that the opposition rises to power, the KMT loses its 50-year power monopoly and with Annette Lu (DPP) as Taiwan's Vice President-elect the country will for the first time have a woman rise to such a high office. She is a long time advocate of equal rights for men and women. Although the DPP has won the presidential election, it will have to share power since the party only controls only 71 seats in the 225-seat legislature whereas the KMT still holds an absolute majority with its 119 mandates. DPP Chairman Lin Yi-hsiung acknowledged that the DDP will not have a controlling grip on the government as the KMT did. As former mayor of Taipei (1994-98), Chen Shui-bian is already used to political compromise - his Taipei city government was made up of DDP, KMT and independent members. That is what Taiwan needs in the future in order not to end up in a political deadlock.
Aftershocks of the election are felt in and outside the KMT. President-elect Chen Shui-bian largely won the presidential because of the split in the KMT. In the autumn of 1999, President Lee had expelled its charismatic star James Soong from the KMT who ran thereafter as an independent candidate. Soong, the former KMT secretary-general, lacked the political machinery of either the KMT or the DPP, yet he finished second just 2.5% behind Chen. Among Taiwan's 25 cities and counties, James Soong won in 15, Chen only in 10. As the official KMT-candidate Soong would have easily won. After the election, Lee was forced to resign as party chairman by angry Nationalists who (rightly) held him responsible for the KMT's split and defeat. Lee himself had chosen the pale Lien Chan as the KMT's presidential candidate. The Kuomintang also expelled dozens of its members, including parliamentarians, for supporting the non-KMT candidate James Soong. Last but not least, Soong founded his own party, the People First Party (PFP). But he has a long way to go. Can he hold out in the cold and maintain his popularity without any political mandate? Will he be able to attract other important members of the KMT or can the Kuomintang find a charismatic successor to 77-year old Lee Teng-hui? In the KMT and in Taiwan as a whole the Leninist times of the party leading politics are over. Competition within and between parties is Taiwan's future. Even constitutional changes could soon be adopted - e.g. in the direction of a pure presidential system.
Taiwanese voters showed their dissatisfaction with the KMT. The formerly Leninist-like organized party almost monopolised all economic and political resources of Taiwan until the early 1980s. Corruption and nepotism still reign in the ranks of the KMT. Its business assets are estimated at up to US$10 billion.
Is the DPP a party fit for government? The DDP is not only in favour of an independent Taiwan - de facto Taiwan has always been independent - but some of its factions still believe in socialism. The DDP will have to show that it can run the booming Taiwanese economy. President elect Chen has a reputation as a pragmatist. Will he able to control the left wing of his party? As former KMT secretary-general, Soong could well be tainted by dirty dealings. KMT allegations accusing Soong of embezzling millions of dollars from the party when he was a high-ranking Nationalist damaged his image and may have cost him the electoral victory. If there is any truth in the allegations, they may well hinder his career with the People First Party too.
Mainland Communist media did not report at all on the Taiwanese elections. They are afraid of the possible role model effect. The ruling Communists are very insecure - the crackdown on the Falun Gong movement is a clear sign. Western countries should stand firm right now and consider the DDP's request of making Taiwan a member of the United Nations. The Communist regime is about to crumble. Western Taiwanese industrialists who invested on the mainland were very cautious and spoke in favour of appeasing the mainland during the electoral campaign. Their investments made them hostages to Beijing but, at the same time, the mainland's Communists also rely heavily on foreign investments from Taiwan and the West and, therefore, China's margin of maneouvre is very narrow.
The end of Communism in the Soviet empire and the changes in Asian countries such as Taiwan, Indonesia and South Korea could well - in the Internet age - have an effect on the mainland's big cities and their youth. As a presidential candidate, Chen wisely toned down his pro-independence views and China reacted moderately to his election, saying that it will judge the new leader by his words and actions rather than by his past positions. The explanation lies in the mediator role the USA played as well as in the fact that China is simply not in a position to interfere in Taiwanese affairs. At the same time, President Jiang Zemin, National People's Congress chairman Li Peng and Premier Zhu Rongji do all they can to preserve the CCP's power monopoly on the mainland. But, with economic reform still under way, political changes will sooner or later become inevitable in China.