TAIWAN: by Jeffry Babb News Weekly
Ma Ying-jeou wins election by reduced margin
, February 4, 2012
President Ma Ying-jeou and the Kuomintang (KMT) have won Taiwan’s presidential election with a reduced majority of only 51.6 per cent of the vote, down by around 6 per cent on the last election in 2008.
Meanwhile, the main opposition party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), represented by its female leader Dr Tsai Ing-wen, scored 45.63 per cent, up 4 per cent on the party’s vote in the last election. The PFP’s James Soong polled 2.77 per cent, down some 5 per cent on the last presidential election.
Taiwan’s politics are frequently very confusing for similar reasons that Ireland’s politics bewilder outsiders. The most important factor in Taiwan’s politics is where the voter stands on the question of reunification with China. The “pan-blue” parties — the KMT, the PFP and the New Party — want eventual reunification with China. The “pan-green” parties — the DPP and the Taiwan Solidarity Union — want independence.
Ma Ying-jeou could quite easily have lost if pan-blue voters, who normally support James Soong’s People First Party (PFP), had not heeded the call of pan-blue elder statesmen and fallen into line to support Ma.
Taiwan is a very insular society. For three centuries, it had virtually no contact with the outside world, then for 50 years (between 1895 and 1945) it was a Japanese colony.
Japanese rule was received more favourably in Taiwan than elsewhere in Asia. They built an education system; most older Taiwanese still speak Japanese. They constructed railways, irrigation systems, roads, public buildings, sewerage systems and dams. Taiwan’s much admired Sun Moon Lake was greatly encouraged by the Japanese to produce hydroelectric power.
The Taiwanese lived in almost total isolation from China until the defeat of Japan in World War II when the island was “returned” to China, a day celebrated, until fairly recently, as Retrocession Day with a public holiday.
The KMT governor Chen Yi was not at all liked by the Taiwanese, and heavy taxation made him even more unpopular. The people of Taiwan, after initially welcoming the return to China, rebelled following the authorities’ high-handed treatment on February 27, 1947, of a widow selling cigarettes. On the following day, the KMT government responded to the uprising by massacring thousands of citizens, among whom were many members of Taiwan’s intellectual and cultural elite. The showdown became known as the 2-28 Incident (or 2-28 Massacre), the number 2-28 referring to February 28, the day the KMT’s crackdown began.
Thus the KMT’s rule of Taiwan got off to a very bad start, although the KMT eventually executed the unpopular governor.
After the fall of mainland China to the communists in 1949, Chiang Kai-shek and the rest of the KMT government retreated to Taiwan. Chiang was followed by whatever remnants of his army could make the trip, plus the cultural, social and economic elite of China, in what has been called “the greatest transfer of a national elite in history”. Chiang also brought with him China’s gold reserves and the vast treasures of imperial China, the latter being now housed in Taipei’s world-renowned National Palace Museum.
Chiang Kai-shek was not kindly disposed to those who opposed his rule. People were too frightened to even say his real name, so years after his death people would only refer to him “the old President”. His son, Chiang Ching-kuo, (CCK) succeeded his father after a brief interregnum.
CCK had developed a fearsome reputation as the head of his father’s secret police, so everyone was mildly surprised when he appointed an apparently colourless technocrat called Lee Teng-hui as his vice-president. CCK was not a well man but it didn’t matter much because his successor would be appointed by an electoral college where most attention was focused on the (very rare) abstentions. Negative votes were virtually unheard of.
Then, to the total amazement of the Taiwanese and the total horror of the KMT, it turned out that Lee was a democrat who proposed holding direct elections for the presidency. This colourless little agricultural economist had become (and remains) the hero of democracy in Taiwan.
Many jokes started circulating. CCK, when asked about his successor, supposedly said teng yi hyer (wait a moment) which everyone misheard as Teng-hui.
Now, the KMT is nothing if not resourceful and it adapted to Lee Teng-hui’s rule. The KMT did not like democracy. The old silverbacks who rule the KMT still hate it. I have never yet met a died-in-the-wool KMT supporter who does not think democracy was a terrible mistake. However, the KMT adapted.
On one occasion it forced the resignation of a talented young minister for justice with impeccable KMT credentials, because he wanted to root out corruption, known as “black gold”. That man was Ma Ying-jeou. He stood for mayor of Taipei, the island’s centre of commerce, culture and government — and won. Now he is a two-term president.
The Taiwanese still don’t like the KMT, nor do they like China or talk of reunification. Ma’s “Ten-Year Plan” for reconciliation with communist China almost cost him the election. But enough Taiwanese know Ma is competent and as honest a man as is ever likely to be elected president. And both Beijing and Washington are very happy with the result.