Taiwan Communiqué No. 79, February 1998

Local Elections

The Kuomintang's "comeback"

... or rampant vote-buying ?

On 24 January 1998, elections were held in Taiwan for small city mayors, township chiefs and county councils. The Kuomintang held on — more or less — to the share of the vote and the number of seats won in the previous elections (see "1994 local elections, rampant vote buying", Taiwan Communiqué no. 60, pp. 6-8), prompting some pro-Kuomintang commentators to refer to a "comeback" after the ruling party's stunning defeat in the November 1997 County Magistrate and City Mayor elections.

However, these local elections did not reflect the political shifts taking place at the national level in Taiwan, and showed a continuation of the political stagnation at the local level due to the decades-old domination and stranglehold of the Kuomintang on local politics on the island.

The results in numbers were as follows:

No. of seats Percent of the vote
Township Chiefs:
New Party

232 seats
29 seats
55 seats
0 seats

319 seats

County Counselors:
New Party

523 seats
113 seats
243 seats
10 seats
1 seat

890 seats


Voter turnout was a low 60 percent, partially due to the cold and rainy weather sweeping the island, but more importantly, the little interest in these elections by the electorate. The lack of interest was due to a number of factors:

Press reports in Taipei on the day after the elections reported that the Taiwan High Court had stated that 477 cases of vote buying, and 15 cases of election-related fraud had been reported. In addition, at least 11 candidates in the election had been targeted by police in a crackdown of organized crime.

The (virtual) disappearance of the New Party

One interesting aspect of the elections was the virtual disappearance of the pro-unification New Party. The party had already received a strong beating in the November 1997 elections for city mayors and county magistrates, when it received only 1.3 percent of the vote.

In these local elections it was only able to muster 10 county counselor seats (1.1 percent) while it didn't get any township chief position. It is thus clear that the party has virtually no support outside its narrow powerbase among the Chinese mainlander minority in Taipei, and will thus play an role of decreasing significance in Taiwan politics.

Remembering "February 28th"

51st Commemoration

28 February 1998 will mark the 51st commemoration of the "February 28th Incident" of 1947, in which tens of thousands of Taiwanese were slaughtered at the hands of the Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist Chinese troops. The date represents a burning memory in the minds of the Taiwanese, who were subjected to four more decades of repressive Kuomintang rule after that.

It wasn't until 1987, when — under pressure from the burgeoning Taiwanese democratic movement — that Chiang's son Chiang Ching-kuo had to repeal martial law, setting the stage for the rapid democratization of the island's political system in the subsequent years.

In earlier issues of Taiwan Communiqué we have presented background information on the tragic events of 1947 in greater detail (see "February 28 1947" in Taiwan Communiqué no. 74).

Here we simply wish to emphasize the great significance of the date in Taiwan's history, and remind the international community that in the collective memory of the Taiwanese people, the "February 28th Incident" takes a central place equivalent to that of the Holocaust in the memory of the Jewish people.

New book upcoming: "Formosa calling"

Within the next few months, a new book will be published about the events surrounding "February 28th". It is written by Mr. Allan Shackleton, who served as Industrial Rehabilitation Officer with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) in Taiwan in 1947.

After World War II had ended, Mr. Shackleton — who had served as a young soldier in the First World War, and fought in Northern France against the Germans — volunteered to serve as an officer in UNRRA.

Not long after he arrived on the island, the "February 28th Incident" happened, followed by large-scale executions of Formosans at the hands of Chinese Nationalist troops brought by Chiang Kai-shek from the mainland.

During this period, Mr. Shackleton traveled widely through the island, and was a first-hand observer of the brutality and repression. After his return to New Zealand in December 1947, he was so appalled at what he had seen that he spent many weeks writing "Formosa Calling."

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Mr. Alan Shackleton during his travels in Taiwan

Mr. Shackleton made his manuscript available to George Kerr, who referred to it in his monumental work "Formosa Betrayed", but the work was never published .... until now. Mr. Shackleton passed away in New Zealand in 1984 at the age of 87.

In our next issue, we will present further information on the book, and when and where it will be available.

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