Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Taiwan's Legislative Election and the Future of the DPP

For those of you who don't keep up with the political climate here in Taiwan, last Saturday there was a major election for seats in the legislature. The DPP (the ruling party) was battered brutally, winning less than a quarter of the legislative seats. The general expectation was that they would lose seats, but the lashing they received was far worse than even their worse critics expected.

Back in 2000, the DPP took over the reigns of power from the KMT, which since coming to Taiwan in 1949 had been the de-facto ruling party. Chiang Kai Shek was the first president and ruled for many years. Some saw him as having been a pious Christian, while others knew him as nothing more than a gangster, womanizer, thug, and dictator. Yet compared to his evil counterpart Mao Tse Dung in China, he was an angel.

Over the years, and especially due to the efforts of presidents Chiang Jing Kuo (Chiang's son)  and Li Deng Hui, the KMT reformed the economy and allowed government to transform itself from a brutal and corrupt dictatorship into one offering multiple viable political parties. Nevertheless, many people were ready for a change.

The people spoke in that 2000 election, electing Chen Shui Bian as president. The opinion of many people is that Chen basically thought his election was a mandate to do whatever he wanted. And for four years, they say he did. Meanwhile, the economy faltered.

Chen won again by the narrowest of margins in 2004. However, his election was tainted by what many say was a fake assassination attempt staged on the eve of the election against himself and Annette Lu, the vice-president, who happened to be in the same vehicle with the president while campaigning in the president's home county (for security reasons, isn't there a law against the president and vice-president being together like that at the same time?). Anyway, conspiracy theorists allege the shooting enabled the DPP to garner sympathy votes, and to keep military personnel, who would have generally voted for the KMT, on military alert and thus away from the polls. This conspiracy theory is far from having ever been proven. The alleged assassin wasn't named until after his body was found and claimed to have been a suicide.

Meanwhile, rightly or wrongly, people continued to blame the economy on Chen as things got worse instead of better. Others say Chen tried to divide the people of Taiwan by emphasizing differences among its many ethnic groups and those born in Taiwan versus the mainland. Many detest what they see as corruption and yearn for clean government. Others detest the president's desinization campaign (distancing from mainland China) and are extremely fearful of Taiwan moving too far in declaring independence and of China's impending military response.

These people all spoke out together last Saturday. Talking to neighbors and teachers and reading the English newspapers here the last few days, the general consensus is that the KMT didn't defeat the DPP; rather, the DPP defeated itself, or even more precisely, the president caused the party to defeat itself. Many traditional supporters of the DPP either stayed away from the polls, or casted votes the other way in great sorrow out of pained, loving devotion for Taiwan.

Some say the DPP will perform much better in the upcoming March presidential election due to the need for balance in political power between the legislative and executive branches. However, maybe the KMT will win that one as well, giving the DPP the same humble opportunity to take a good hard look at self-reform that the KMT was offered 8 years ago.

I certainly don't take sides here in political discussions here in Taiwan, where a discussion of politics amongst acquaintances can quickly lead to bitter arguments in a culture that values harmony (Taiwan's legislature is famous for occasional fist-fights that break out between legislators while in session). And I'm not much into politics in general anyway. 

Having said that, I liked the words of Ma Ying Jiu, the leader of the KMT. After the election results came in, Ma said: "Power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely. The KMT should remember this sentence. if we are too arrogant with victory, we will lose the presidential election... We want to present people with a completely new image. It will not be the restoration of old times if we regain power in March. Instead, it will be the beginning of a new era."

Time will tell. 

Father God, please help things to improve, especially for those who find themselves jobless and struggling even to find food. Please also use the current climate here to lead people to the hope, love, and peace which ultimately are only found in You and Your Kingdom, not in the kingdoms, governance, or elections of men and women, wherever they may be. In Christ's name, Amen.

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