for those of you who have been following our trip via our blog, apologies for not keeping it updated regularly. we have been very busy with meetings set up one after the next and though we have heard many interesting things, it has been difficult to find time to compile our thoughts.
i'd like to share what i have learned from observing the elections and hopefully my comments can help with your understanding of the big upset.
frank hsieh was able to make a tremendous comeback since the DPP lost many seats in the legislative yuan elections in january. with freddy's help, DPP was able to galvanize the youth vote on issues such as one China market (which would take away jobs from youngsters) and promising to help young people with housing. however, his efforts in the last 2 months were not enough to overcome the deep disappointment that many Taiwanese (including pro-DPP) felt over the economy and how President Chen behaved in office. Talking to my aunt, a blue supporter from Taipei, on the morning of the elections, we tried to convince her to vote green. But she argued that recently she feels unsafe where she lives and she admits that she cares more for the future of her kids (i.e. economics trumps all) than the ideals that Taiwan should stand for.
we also went to polling stations in Taipei to observe people voting and watched the votes get counted. it is really a unique example of transparency of the government in that any citizen can watch the ballots be publicly counted at every polling station. what is interesting though is that some people mentioned that the referendum vote was discouraged by the way the ballot boxes were placed (off to the side) or the officials at the polling site didn't explain how to vote for the referendum-- i don't know how true these comments were but i imagine that there is some truth to them. at the first polling station we observed, which apparently serves many old KMT people, was pretty depressing to watch. vote after vote was given to Ma and only every 50 votes was there one for Hsieh. the final results from this station was 75 Hsieh and 1010 Ma....pretty miserable to watch. there were plenty of KMT supporters from the neighborhood watching carefully, eager to make sure Ma is put back into power. but the other polling stations in the area showed the 2 candidates to be closer in votes (apparently these stations served districts that are more diverse with immigrants etc).
vote counting was completed pretty quickly and we soon found out that Ma had a big lead over Hsieh. at DPP headquarters, according to other members who our group who went there, many people were crying. Hsieh gave a concession speech in front of a large crowd of supporters, asking people not to cry for him and he declared that he took all the blame for the election defeat. it was a very noble gesture. on the KMT side, supporters were celebrating the KMT win with firecrackers.
although DPP lost the elections, they now have time to retreat and reorganize the party. clearly people are not happy with the party and even the DPP founding members believe that DPP was catapulted into power prematurely. we heard from a couple of older Taiwanese Americans who came back for the election that going south and into the towns, they found that DPP really has not reached the local level so that people don't really care which party they vote for and will be influenced by vote-buying. they vow to come back every summer with a bus tour to really reach out to the local level and educate people about DPP.
today we went to a roundtable discussion regarding the presidential elections, sponsored jointly by the Institute for National Policy Research and the Asia Research Centre, at the London School of Economics. a bunch of academics presented their impressions of the results of the elections. here are some of their thoughts:
-there was a power struggle in the DPP when trying to choose the presidential candidate; perhaps Hsieh as a candidate failed to integrate the various DPP factions and maybe one faction wanted to be in power so didn't let Hsieh win his own city of Kaohsiung.
-voters have matured and not as influenced by identity politics as previously; KMT's legacy of terror is retreating and DPP needs reorganization.
-Taiwan's democracy is maturing: there was a popular demand for clean government, spirit of compromoise, etc
-both KMT and DPP platforms were similar except for the fundamental ideals of independence or unification and both sides realized that neither is achievable in the near future
-Japan will continue to have a lock of a coherent plan regarding Taiwan because they are internally split by a conservative Right wing (favoring Ma) and a revisionist Right wing (who likes Hsieh because he speaks Japanese and they accept TW indep).
-the fact that only 35% of people voted for the referendum is really a bad sign to the world that TW doesn't care about UN representation, though it is clear that KMT worked hard to encourage ppl to boycott DPP's referendum.
-if the parties had made a joint platform regarding UN for Taiwan, then the referendum most likely have passed (as 97% of DPP's ref was approved).
-it is worrisome that the referendum's value in Taiwan is being degraded and being misused as an election tool
-it is important to keep in mind that the election votes DON'T represent voters' endorsement of one China and unification; it was domestic politics that voters were basing their decisions on
-Ma will have a long, uphill battle from here on because KMT has majority in Legislative Yuan as well so it may be tricky to balance all the various KMT faction interests as well as deliver on the promises Ma made during his campaign
-there is an exaggerated optimism in the KMT; it will be hard for Ma to move as fast as he wants on quotas, charter flights, etc.
-Ma will not rely on secret envoys to China, he will keep communication open and he is under scrutiny.
-both campaigns focused on President Chen as the common enemy; Ma will face many expectations as well as need to perform a balancing act within the KMT and with the DPP
-DPP needs to develop a more plausible economic strategy, and not just be obsessed with identity politics; even better if they can figure out a way for TW to be prosperous without reliance on China
- China doesn't like any Taiwanese leader and its own government is pretty fractionalized.
-the 100 EU parliamentarians that came out in support of TW in the UN is a small portion of the ~700 member parliament that really does not represent the governments of the EU countries
-shifting identity of Taiwanese people: there are 1 million business people and families living in China and this will greatly change self-identification of culture and nationality.
-Ma will be seen as a troublemaker too if he doesn't play along with Chinese interests
i hope some of these notes from what i have observed help you to understand a bit more what's going on in Taiwan with the elections. though it was an upset defeat, DPP will come back stronger (though it may take some time) and FAPA will have to work harder to help Taiwan now that DPP is out of power. just my immediate thoughts, hopefully the rest of the people on the observation tour can update the blog when they have a chance and share with you their impressions of the elections.