Taiwan Communiqué No. 100, February 2002

December election victory for DPP

It has been a couple of months since the December 2001 legislative elections in Taiwan. Since the previous issue, Taiwan Communiqué no. 99, appeared just before those elections, we have not been able to do a retrospective yet.

The results showed a significant increase for the DPP, going from 69 seats to 87 seats, which made the party the largest in the Legislative Yuan. The Kuomintang, which had been the largest party with 123 seats, dropped down to 68, almost half of its previous majority.

Of the other parties, the opposition Peoples First Party of James Soong made its expected gain — to some 46 seats — while the newly-founded “Taiwan First” Taiwan Solidarity Union made a strong showing with 13 seats. The rabidly pro-unificationist New Party almost vanished from the political landscape when it dropped from 11 seats to only one seat.

Not without some satisfaction we may point out that this outcome is almost exactly in line with our own predictions, which we published in Taiwan Communiqué no. 99. In fact, our prediction was much closer to the actual outcome than any of the opinion polls making their way through Taipei just before the elections. See http://www.taiwandc.org/twcom/99-no1.htm

Prediction TC Actual outcome
DPP 85 87
KMT 65-70 68
PFP 40-50 46
TSU 10 13
New Party 4-5 1

The only one where we were a bit off was the New Party, and that’s because we couldn’t fathom the depth to which they would plunge.

On the following pages we publish two commentaries about the elections, one from the Taipei Times, and one by Mr. Michael Fonte, of the Washington-based Formosan Association for Public Affairs (FAPA).

A new day dawns for Taiwan

This editorial first appeared in the Taipei Times on 2 December 2001. Reprinted with permission.

The voters of Taiwan have sent a clear message to the parties: "We are not satisfied with your performance, none of you are completely trustworthy." There was no big winner in yesterday's elections — no party won an absolute majority in the legislative polls. The stage is set for a partisan realignment.

The DPP is now the biggest party in the Legislative Yuan, having won 36.5 percent of the vote and 87 seats — a considerable increase of 22 seats, but far short of a majority. It remains under considerable threat from the opposition parties as it struggles to form a new Cabinet and in governing the country afterwards. The DPP fared poorly in the local elections, winning in three new areas but losing six of the seats it had held.

Acutely aware of its difficulty in cultivating talent and in local politics, the DPP was quite conservative in its nominations, which totaled less than half of all legislative seats. The party is also well aware of voters' disappointment with the government's performance as Taiwan struggles with its first bout of economic contraction and soaring unemployment. Shifting ministerial appointments, brash decision-making and policy flip-flops do not win voter confidence. These are the lessons that the DPP should learn from the ballot box.

The KMT has suffered a massive blow; only time will tell if it was a deadly one. The party lost its legislative majority for the first time. It must now really learn how to be number two, after winning just 31 percent of the vote — a significant drop from its previous 46.4 percent showing — and 68 seats — a nosedive from the 110 seats it had held.

The elections were a clear sign of the KMT's continuing decline. Badly battered by defections to the People First Party (PFP) and the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU), the party tried to maintain a business-as-usual attitude while promising reforms. Voters showed their unhappiness with the KMT's policies and the sluggish pace of its internal reforms, and their disgust with the way the KMT has handled its role as an opposition party. In the past year the KMT showed that it was not only ignoring the message voters sent in last year's presidential election, it completely misinterpreted it. This time there is no room for error. KMT Chairman Lien Chan should step down to take responsibility for the party's poor performance.

Yesterday was PFP's electoral "baptism." It increased its number of legislative seats from 20 to 46. But its performance was not enough to send PFP Chairman James Soong into the legislature. He was No. 11 on the party's slate for legislators-at-large, but only the top nine on the list will gain seats. Meanwhile, despite its victory in the Kinmen County Commissioner election, the New Party has almost completely vaporized, after most of its support base shifted to the PFP.

Despite being Taiwan's youngest political party, the TSU proved to have strong appeal, thanks to the all-out support it received from former president Lee Teng-hui, its pro-localization banner and a platform focusing on political stability. Even though it fielded second-rate candidates, the TSU has won 13 legislative seats.

It will take time for post-election groupings to take shape. Possible mechanisms for realignment include President Chen Shui-bian's cross-party alliance for national stabilization, Lien's proposed national alliance to uphold the constitution and Lee's proposed Taiwan Advocates group. As the smoke clears from the intense campaign, party leaders should take heed of the lessons delivered yesterday as they jockey for places and power inside or outside a coalition government. The people of Taiwan have spoken — party leaders must now prove they were listening.

Elections strengthen ties with US

By Michael Fonte, senior policy advisor at the Formosan Association for Public Affairs (FAPA) in Washington. This article first appeared in the Taipei Times on 12 December 2001. Reprinted with permission.

The US State Department gave a ringing endorsement to Taiwan and relations with the island in the wake of the Dec. 1 elections. "Taiwan's democracy is one of the reasons that the ties between the people of the United States and Taiwan are so close — and will continue to flourish in the future," said State Department spokesperson Susan Pittman.

Congressional praise was also effusive. "The Taiwanese people are rightfully proud of their achievements. Taiwan's recent entry into the World Trade Organization, together with its successive democratic elections, puts the people of Taiwan in the front ranks of democratic peoples around the world," Representative David Wu said. Newspaper comments added their own high marks for the democratic process in Taiwan, but how to relate to Taiwan drew some very different responses.

China's election frog
China frog to Taiwan's election prince: "No matter what you've turned into, you're still part of me."

In a 4 Dec. 2001 Washington Post op-ed, conservative William Kristol called for drawing Taiwan into an explicit security arrangement with the US and other Pacific democracies.

Kristol has been hectoring the Bush administration from the right, often directing his fire at the State Department headed by Secretary of State Colin Powell. He clearly had the Department in his sights with this salvo: "China hands in Washington will desperately try to avoid the clear implications of this vote: America's `one China' policy is dead."

Kristol concluded his piece by calling for "some sort of collective security arrangement among the Pacific democracies, with the United States at its center. Mainland China would complain that such a grouping would exclude it. There is, however, an easy answer to the rulers in Beijing: embrace democracy."

The next day, The Los Angeles Times ran an editorial entitled "Taiwan is fine on its own," which counters Kristol's argument. First it praised Taiwan's democracy and supported President Chen Shui-bian's refusal to accept the "one China" principle as a basis for negotiations. "If Taiwan were to accept the "one China" idea, there would be little left to negotiate over," the editorial rightly stated.

The editorial then went on to rebut Kristol. "The American anti-China lobby is seizing on the election results to try to push Washington into making an overt economic and military show of support for Taiwan. That would be a mistake."

It concludes, "Beijing would only be inflamed and forced into a corner by an overt American display of such support. This is no time for the United States to rock the boat. It is Beijing, after all, that has to fear the example of Taiwanese democracy."

While Kristol's positive discussion of Taiwan and its democratic development is most welcome, his prescription for an explicit collective security arrangement is not as simple or "easy" as he would make it out to be.

There are other conservative analysts, members of Congress and even policymakers in the Bush administration who might agree with Kristol. But, at this juncture, the "contain China" crowd does not reflect the full Bush administration approach.

There are other US national interests which most would argue have to be taken into account in East Asia and an "in-your-face" policy toward China might well jeopardize them. Keeping the anti-terrorism coalition cohesive is but one such interest that no leading US official wants to disturb. On the other hand, US policy definitely does not leave Taiwan on its own.

The Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) remains the law of the land and Bush administration officials note this fact regularly. Whereas China's bureaucrats quote the Three Communiqués as the operational documents governing US-China relations, Powell and his deputy Richard Armitage bring the TRA front and center in their conversations about Taiwan.

The TRA is clear in considering any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the US.

The TRA supports arms sales to Taiwan of a defensive character and states that it is US policy to maintain the capacity to resist any resort to force that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people of Taiwan.

Taiwan is not, then, on its own and President George W. Bush has stated clearly his commitment to the security of the country. As Taiwan's democracy has deepened, US support has grown stronger. The US "one China" policy, as it is now articulated, involves a peaceful, mutually agreed upon resolution of the Taiwan Strait issue and, precisely because Taiwan is a democracy, the consent of the people of Taiwan.

This is not an anti-China policy, nor does it need to be construed that way. It is also not a one PRC policy, as Beijing would have it. Rather, US policy accepts both China and Taiwan as equal partners in a discussion of the future.

It is true that, because of US official recognition of China and unofficial links to Taiwan, the implementation of US policy toward Taiwan does not treat Taiwan as an equal partner. There are growing signs of change, however.

Bush, in a letter to Senator Frank Murkowski dated May 11 this year, agreed that the US "should find opportunities for Taiwan's voice to be heard in [international] organizations in order to make a contribution, even if membership is not possible," and stated that his administration "has focused on finding concrete ways for Taiwan to benefit and contribute to the WHO" [World Health Organization].

Bush said that some of the "practical ways" already discussed with Taiwan representatives included: "support for the participation of Taiwan experts on WHO advisory panels, support for Taiwan's participation in WHO-organized conferences, and expanded health-care cooperation between Taiwan and the United States."

"As we pursue those goals," Bush concluded, "we will continue to urge the PRC and the international community to be more receptive to Taiwan's participation in the WHO and other international organizations."

The Bush administration has also given much more leeway to high-level visits by Taiwanese officials. While still maintaining the fiction that these are transit stops, administration officials added "dignity" to the usual "safety and convenience" as code words for Chen's brief visits to New York and Houston. Members of Congress greeting Chen at both stops and his Wall Street visit turned these into public events.

Taiwan's democracy is one of the reasons why the ties between the people of the US and Taiwan are so close and will continue to flourish in the future, the State Department spokesperson noted.

US policy is moving toward treating Taiwan much more like an equal partner and the Legislative Yuan elections advanced that agenda greatly.

Legislative vice-speaker tussle

DPP's attempt at political harmony shot down

While the December 2001 elections pointed Taiwan in the direction of political tranquility and maturity, a subsequent event jarred it in the opposition direction.

In order to attempt to achieve a cooperative spirit in the new Legislative Yuan, the ruling DPP said it would support the incumbent speaker, Mr. Wang Jin-pyng, although he is a KMT-member. In the previous session of the legislature, Mr. Wang had showed a considerable amount of impartiality and had been able to bridge the political divide between the DPP and opposition parties.

The Chen government supported Mr. Wang under the understanding that it could forward a DPP candidate for the position of vice-speaker, which would then be broadly supported _ also by the opposition parties.

KMT-PFP cooperation?
KMT chairman Lien Chan's thoughts: "I'm glad he (James Soong) finally realizes the only place for him to sit is behind me."

However, it first had to come up with its own candidate, which proved to be no easy task: as the date of the speaker-election approached, President Chen indicated his support for Mr. Hong Chi-chang, a medical doctor. Dr. Hong -- one of the DPP's longest serving legislators -- was an early member of Taiwan's democratic movement in the 1980s, and became a leading figure in the party's New Tide faction.

This led to a bruising battle, since other factions within the DPP felt that New Tide already had its fair share of important positions in the government. Prominent DPP legislators, such as Dr. Chai Trong-jong and Dr. Shen Fu-hsiung were also in the race for the vice-speaker position. In the end, Dr. Hong did become the DPP's candidate by barely edging out Dr. Chai with one vote, 38 to 37.

That was only the beginning of the DPP's anguish, since only a few days before the speaker and vice-speaker vote, James Soong's PFP approached the KMT and suggested that the two opposition parties team up for the vice-speaker position by supporting one candidate, former KMT economics minister Chiang Ping-kun. The ploy worked, and to the DPP's dismay, its candidate was defeated on 1 February 2002 by a vote of 115 to 106.

The move destroyed President Chen's attempt to achieve some harmony in Taiwan acrimonious political landscape, and set the stage for further politicking the old way _ as further explained in the following editorial of the Taipei Times.

A return to the bad old days

This editorial first appeared in the Taipei Times on 2 February 2002. Reprinted with permission.

Talk about starting off on the wrong foot. Yesterday should have been a good day for Taiwan, as the legislators elected in the Dec. 1 elections took their seats in the Fifth Legislative Yuan. Unfortunately, the election for the legislature's vice speaker created a major uproar, with lawmakers pushing, shoving and shouting to be heard. There were also widespread rumors of political parties buying votes. It looked like a return to the bad old days, when Taiwan's legislature became famous around the world for its melees.

It was hardly an inspiring start for freshmen legislators, who occupy about half of the seats in the new legislature. They were given a crash course in legislative bullying and rule-breaking. Instead of the legally-mandated secret vote, legislators had to follow their parties' request to flash their ballots to other lawmakers.

However, the most unacceptable aspect of the day was that the opposition parties chose to thumb their noses at the government by running their own candidate in the vice-speaker election — dashing hopes that a new legislative session might focus on badly-needed legislation, rather than political power plays.

Even though the DPP is now the biggest party in the legislature, with 87 seats, it had endorsed the re-election of the KMT's Wang Jin-pyng as speaker in the interests of fostering goodwill. As a result, Wang was re-elected yesterday with a record-breaking 218 votes.

The DPP had hoped that its goodwill gesture will encourage other parties to back its candidate for the vice speaker's post, Hong Chi-chang. However, PFP Chairman James Soong came up with a cunning scheme to kill any hopes of establishing a relatively friendly atmosphere in the legislature. He sweet-talked KMT Chairman Lien Chan into endorsing a pan-blue camp candidate for the vice-speaker's job, former technocrat and freshman KMT lawmaker Chiang Ping-kun. Chiang defeated Hong in the second round of balloting yesterday, 115 to 106.

From the way Soong took Chiang with him to campaign for votes this week, it was clear the PFP leader was using Chiang to provoke hatred between the KMT and DPP. If Soong succeeds, localized KMT lawmakers may be kept from working with the pan-green camp through match-making by the Taiwan Solidarity Union in the 2004 presidential election. Another option is that localized KMT lawmakers may join forces to stand up against Beijing's favorite puppet — the PFP — so that Soong would not have a good chance at the presidency. The PFP could then wave the pan-blue banner in order to take over the KMT and suck dry the party's flesh. The PFP really knows how to kill many birds with one stone.

Who Soong thinks he is fooling — besides Lien — is anyone's guess. Such low-down tactics may have succeeded in hoodwinking Lien, but they can't deceive the general public. Soong has shown his true character once again.

Perhaps Lien thought he would be able to salvage some of the face he lost in the December elections by having the KMT control both the speaker and vice speaker posts. However, the KMT has forgotten that the DPP's goodwill gesture in handing over the speaker seat was appreciated by a majority of the people. The KMT may have won the battle in the Legislative Yuan yesterday, but it has lost the heart of most people in Taiwan.

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