Amid much regional turmoil, Taiwan has reason to be confident.
Earlier this year, when Taiwan's President Lee Teng-hui was pushing
for constitutional reforms, he told fellow members of the ruling
Kuomintang that while abolishing a layer of government and
bureaucracy at the provincial level might hurt the party, it would
be good for democracy. According to that principle, Saturday's
elections in Taiwan should also be good for democracy and the
The opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) surged to win 12
of the 23 contested mayoral and executive posts, and the KMT
(Nationalists) lost control over all but a handful of mostly minor
municipalities. Nobody in the KMT can be happy about that but the
results demonstrate that democracy is functioning well in Taiwan.
That is important chiefly because with the challenges that face
Taiwan--especially across the Strait--the country needs to be seen
to have not only strong leadership but a confident citizenry.
Whatever other messages the voters sent Saturday, by turning away
from the KMT they told the world that they are not afraid of change.
That suggests a sense of security that will serve Taiwan well on
both the domestic and international fronts.
The local races were fought and won on basic issues. Clearly,
local KMT candidates paid for public anger or dissatisfaction with
the ruling party's handling of public safety and welfare issues at
the national level. In an interview with AP-Dow Jones before the
election, DPP Chairman Hsu Hsin Liang said his party leans toward
small government and increased welfare spending. Though those things
seem to us to be mutually exclusive, the larger conclusion to be
drawn here is that Taiwan is looking more and more like all
developed democracies. Instead of being viewed as objects to be
wooed with dirty money, or frightened by threats that only one party
is capable of dealing with Beijing, the voters are now firmly in
charge and they are telling the pols what they want.
It is also evident that people voted for the DPP without fear of
what Beijing might do or say. But it will be interesting to see in
the days ahead whether the local shift brings new possibilities in
national and international politics. Although the party's openly
pro-independence members have now split off to form their own group,
the DPP makes no secret of the fact that it is opposed to
reunification. As Chairman Hsu told AP-Dow Jones: ``Never, never,
never.'' At the same time, however, the DPP is more enthusiastic
than the Nationalists about expanding trade and other economic ties
with the mainland. Whatever China makes of all this, most analysts
are not any more worried about the possible consequences than the
voters seemed to be.
Most important of all, Beijing now has powerful new information to
consider when it decides whether to use the carrot or the stick with
Taiwan. By going to the polls and voting the way they did, the
people of Taiwan have sent a signal that they will not be
intimidated. Whatever else it has learned, China must now know that
threats--even missile tests--don't work.
Change is a sign of progress in Taiwan because it demonstrates
that democracy has become a dynamic force. People invariably tire of
the same faces and if the opposition never wins that usually means
some part of the system is not functioning properly. And the whole
point of the exercise is to draw on the collective wisdom of the
populace. On Saturday, the voters of Taiwan gave the DPP a taste of
power, thereby supplying all political leaders with a new and
updated road map to guide them into the future.
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