Taiwan opposition win bears close watching
In Taiwan's Legislative Yuan election, considered a prelude to a presidential election scheduled for March, the largest opposition Nationalist Party won 81 seats, more than two-thirds of the 113-seat national assembly, in a landslide victory. The ruling Democratic Progressive Party won just 27 seats, far short of its self-claimed victory mark of 45.
It was a far more severe than expected rebuke for the administration of incumbent two-term President Chen Shui-bian, who has served for nearly eight years. We wonder what effects the election results will have on the future of Taiwan and the situation in East Asia, where China-Taiwan relations play a vital role.
As such developments affect the area's security and economic matters, Japan needs to keep a close eye on the situation as it progresses.
The main pattern in Taiwan's elections has been such that Nationalists have been campaigning for reconciliation with China, while the pro-independence DPP has been expanding its strength based on the rising "Taiwanese consciousness."
In the latest election, the Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang, not only criticized the DPP's China policy which has been in a stalemate due to its mostly confrontational tactics but also attacked a series of corruption scandals involving those around Chen and failures in economic policy. As a result, the Nationalists succeeded in mobilizing people's dissatisfaction with the current administration to achieve the landslide victory.
Successful campaign strategy
The Nationalist Party also formed a united front with other opposition parties, including the No. 2 opposition People First Party. Also, the party's characteristic organizational power was fully utilized to great success.
The DPP's campaign was spearheaded by party leader Chen himself, who appealed to the public, saying unification with China would be the only option if the Nationalists won an overwhelming majority. However, the public was not receptive to his appeal.
Now the Nationalist Party is one step away from reclaiming power after eight years in opposition. The party's victory was so impressive that even its senior members were surprised by the result.
Even so, we doubt this major victory will be reflected in the presidential election.
In Taiwan, a pendulum effect has been observed for years as the victorious party switches from election to election.
The Nationalist Party took about 51 percent of the proportional representation votes this time, while the DPP took about 37 percent. The difference is smaller than that in the number of seats both parties garnered overall. The figures from the proportional representation votes are considered similar to the popularity ratings of the parties.
Can DPP recover?
The key to victory in the presidential election for the DPP is how much momentum the party can regain under the leadership of former Premier Hsieh Chang-ting, the party's presidential candidate, with party members and supporters' sense of crisis as leverage.
However, even if the DPP manages to maintain its hold on the presidency with a come-from-behind victory by Hsieh, its handling of the government will be unsure in the face of opposition control of the legislature.
The Nationalist Party now has the right to propose a motion to remove the president as it obtained more than two-thirds of the legislative seats. If the party succeeds in winning the support of independents and controlling more than three-fourths of the seats, it would be possible to change the Constitution.
If Ma Ying-jeou, the Nationalists' presidential candidate and former party leader, wins the presidential race, the ruling party will totally dominate the administration, bringing back memories of the era when Taiwan was ruled by a Nationalist Party dictatorship.
At the time of the presidential election, a referendum also will be held on whether the island should join the United Nations as Taiwan, an idea espoused by Chen. China has heightened its readiness against Taiwan as it sees the move as a step toward independence. As the United States and France also oppose the idea, the issue is gaining international attention.
Japan declared it may not support the move if it changes the status quo in the relations between China and Taiwan. Given this, Japan should persuade Taiwan not to damage the area's stability.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 14, 2008)