Taiwan Communiqué No. 84, December 1998

Taiwan's election surprise

Chen and Hsieh: Loss in Taipei, victory in Kaohsiung

On 5 December 1998, some 10 million Taiwanese people went to the polls to elect a new Legislative Yuan (parliament) as well as mayors and city councils for Taipei and Kaohsiung. It was a high voter turnout by any standards: on the average some 70 percent, while in Taipei it reached 80 percent. It is a sure sign that democracy is here to stay in Taiwan.

The results showed some interesting surprises: while Taipei DPP mayor Chen Shui-bian was unseated by KMT challenger Ma Ying-jeou, in Kaohsiung just the opposite happened: DPP challenger Hsieh Ch'ang-t'ing unseated longterm Kuomintang incumbent Wu Den-yi.

In the Legislative Yuan, the ruling Kuomintang held on to about 46 percent of the vote — the same as in the December 1995 elections — but the Democratic Progressives lost a few percentage points to the more outspoken Taiwan Independence Party and the newly established New Nation Alliance. Together these three opposition groups garnered about 33 percent of the vote, the same as the DPP had before.

The big loser in the Legislative Yuan election was the pro-unificationist New Party, which went from 13 percent in 1995 to only 7 percent of the vote in this election. The party dropped from 21 seats to 11 seats. The remainder of the vote (some 13 percent) went to unaffiliated candidates and splinter parties.

Election results

The number of votes and percentages in the Legislative Yuan elections are given below. Due to a complex system of proportional seats and positions reserved for aborigines and overseas Taiwanese, the Kuomintang ended up with 123 seats or 54.7 percent of the total of 225 seats, while the DPP garnered 70 seats or 31.1 percent of the total seats.

KMT DPP New Party Other small parties & non-affiliated TOTAL
No. of votes 4,659,679 2,966,835 708,465 1,700,850 10,035,829
% of votes: 46.43% 29.56% 7.06% 16.95% 100.00%
No. of seats

Regular Districts 96 52 7 19 168
Aborigines 6 - - 2 8
Proportional seats 23 15 3 0 41
Overseas Taiwanese 4 3 1 0 8
TOTAL: 123 70 11 21 225
% of seats: 54.7% 31.1% 4.9% 9.3% 100.0%

In Taipei, KMT challenger Ma Ying-jeou received 51.1 percent of the 1,498,901 votes cast, while incumbent DPP mayor Chen Shui-bian received 45.9 percent. New Party candidate Wang Chien-shien ran a distant third with 2.97 percent of the vote -- one-tenth of what the New Party's mayoral candidate received in 1994.

In the race for Kaohsiung mayor, DPP challenger Hsieh Ch'ang-t'ing received 48.7 percent of the vote, edging out KMT incumbent Wu Den-yi (48.1 percent). The New Party's candidate received 0.8 percent, while an unaffiliated candidate got 2.35 percent.

Towards a new Taiwanese identity

The main conclusion, which must be drawn, is that democracy is now firmly entrenched in Taiwan. The voter turnout was high by any standard: almost twice as much as the recent elections in the United States. This represent a major turnaround for a nation, which twelve years ago was still under the Kuomintang's repressive martial law, and only had its first democratic election in 1992.

While the defeat of Chen Shui-bian slows down his momentum towards the presidency, the statistics of the Taipei election show that Mr. Chen this time actually got more votes and a higher percentage of the vote than in 1994: 45.9 percent now, while in 1994 he received 43.7 percent of the vote. He thus broadened his support, if ever so slightly.

Mr. Ma Ying-jeou's victory was mainly due to the shift in support he received from right-wing New Party followers, who are almost exclusively mainlanders. In fact most followers of the New Party didn't vote for their own candidate, but crossed over to the Kuomintang: Mr. Ma was thus able to draw 51 percent of the vote, while the New Party received only some 3%. Back in 1994 the New Party received a tenfold of that: 30.2 percent of the vote.

The election campaign also showed a strong swing towards a new Taiwanese identity: during the campaign President Lee Teng-hui coined a new phrase "New Taiwanese" — to include mainlanders such a Mr. Ma Ying-jeou — while Mr. Ma's own campaign slogan was "Taiwan first, Taipei first." In spite of this, though, some of the mainlanders still consider themselves "Chinese" and have little affinity with, or affection for, Taiwan.

Mr. Chen did emphasize the Taiwanese identity in his campaign, but at the same time has worked hard to reach out to the mainlander community, urging them to consider Taipei their home, instead of harking back to "recovering the mainland" or "unification" with Communist China.

On the surface the campaign itself was devoid of substantive issues. Mr. Ma promised to make Taipei a "world class city" and used a drawing of a jogger as his campaign logo, while Mr. Chen campaign theme was "We have a beautiful dream, let's continue with it." The two weeks of frenzied campaigning had a carnival atmosphere, with caravans with loudspeakers roaming the streets, multitudes of banners promoting the candidates all around, even President Lee donning silly costumes, and there were nightly campaign rallies attended by up to 100,000 people.

Below the surface, the important issue of relations with China played a significant role. The Kuomintang portrayed itself as better equipped to deal with China. Under President Lee, the KMT has attempted to carve out "international breathing space" while formally remaining committed to eventual unification with China.

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Mr. Ma Ying-jeou to incoming Chinese tank: "Taiwan First, Taipei First"

The DPP, on the other hand, has emphasized Taiwan's separate identity, and remains committed to formal independence as a free and democratic nation, that lives in peace with all its neighbors, including China.

In the southern city of Tainan, broad support for the DPP position was shown in the results of a referendum, which was held concurrently with the elections. Of the 124,775 voters in the city who expressed their opinion on the matter, 96,923 (or 77.9 percent) stated that they opposed having Taiwan ruled by China.

Taiwan Communiqué comment: In view of the election outcome, it must be concluded that support for both DPP and KMT positions has remained stable and relatively unchanged, and that the coming presidential election campaign in March 2000 will show whether the KMT can hold on to its position a bit longer, or whether the DPP will make its breakthrough -- which will come, sooner or later.

It is also ironic that the DPP's platform of independence is now being portrayed as "provocative" to China. It was the Kuomintang which fought its Civil War against the Chinese. The Taiwanese were never a part of that Civil War, but now their future as an independent nation is being held hostage by the Chinese: they threaten with missiles and make it difficult for Taiwan to be a full and equal member of the international community.

We thus strongly object to the crisis-mongering in some Western publications, which try to imply that a win for the DPP would lead to a new crisis in East Asia ("Crisis looms over Legislative vote ", Wall Street Journal, 3 December 1998), or would "…foil U.S. China peace" (Los Angeles Times, 25 November 1998). It would be more responsible of these publications if they emphasized that Taiwan has become a free and democratic nation, deserving international recognition, and that China's designs for Taiwan are totally outdated and run contrary to any democratic principles.

Former ambassador Nat Bellocchi:

New American policies for a new Taiwan

At the Second International Symposium on Taiwan's National Security, which was held in Taipei on 7 November 1998, ambassador Nat Bellocchi, the former Director of the American Institute in Taiwan, gave the following analysis of 20 years of experience with the Taiwan Relations Act. The U.S. Congress passed the Act in 1979 after president Jimmy Carter decided in December 1978 to break diplomatic relations with the Kuomintang regime in Taipei.

Mr. Bellocchi concluded that the Taiwan Relations Act served its purpose very well in that it strengthened the relationship between Taiwan and the United States in spite of the 1978 break in relations between the US and the Kuomintang authorities. However, the TRA has not been useful in developing new American policies that can recognize the legitimacy of the democracy that now exists on Taiwan. He also makes the point that nowhere in the Act it uses the term "unofficial", which has become the title of what the US calls the relationship.

Mr. Bellocchi then focuses on areas where problems have arisen, and makes suggestions where the Act can be strengthened.

One area is the section dealing with security. He states that the third Communiqué, signed on August 17th 1982 between the US and China, clearly contradicted the TRA in that it foresaw a gradual reduction in arms sales to Taiwan. The Administration's argument was that China had stated its intention to resolve its issue with Taiwan peacefully.

The renewed threats by the PRC against Taiwan in 1995 and 1996, as well as the continued threats by the Chinese authorities to use of force against Taiwan (made as recently by Chinese President Jiang on 28 November 1998 in Tokyo — Ed.) shows that the Administration was overly optimistic about China's intentions, and that the more critical view of Congress was justified.

Mr. Bellocchi also shows how — even during the Chinese missile firings of 1995-96, which landed as close as 12 miles off the coast of Taiwan — the Clinton Administration did not want to use the word "threat", but merely called the Chinese actions "irresponsible." The reason was that under the Taiwan Relations Act the word "threat" would have called for the initiation of consultations with Congress, as step the Administration apparently wanted to avoid .....

Mr. Bellocchi then focuses on two other important issues, which receive some attention in the TRA, but with wording that was perhaps appropriate at the time (1979), but did not keep up with the changes that subsequently took place. In order to apply to today's new Taiwan, new American policies should be developed, which recognize the changed circumstances democracy has brought to Taiwan.

The first issue is human rights. Section. 2 (c) of the TRA reads: "Nothing contained in this Act shall contravene the interest of the United States in human rights, especially with respect to the human rights of all the approximately eighteen million inhabitants of Taiwan. The preservation and enhancement of the human rights of all the people on Taiwan are hereby reaffirmed as objectives of the United States." Mr. Bellocchi states that this shows at the time of the drafting of the Act, there was concern in the Congress that the people of Taiwan might not be given the right to determine their own future.

The second issue is membership in international organizations. Sec. 4. (d) states: "Nothing in this Act may be construed as a basis for supporting the exclusion or expulsion of Taiwan from continued membership in any international financial institution or any other international organization." Mr. Bellocchi argues that in the Taiwan Policy Review of 1994, the Clinton Administration actually took a step backwards by formally stating it would not support Taiwan's membership in international organizations that require statehood, a distinction the TRA did not make at all.

Mr. Bellocchi states that, given the transformation of Taiwan into an entirely different kind of entity, the United States needs to adapt its policies to the new reality in Taiwan. He argues the TRA can serve as a basis for change, but does not advocate changing the TRA itself. Rather, he argues for policies that better accommodate to a democratic Taiwan could be pursued with the support of the Act as written, in particular in the two areas indicated earlier: human rights and membership in international organizations.

He states that with regard to human rights, there was considerable disappointment in Taiwan when President Clinton made his statement on the three no's in Shanghai. In rationalizing the statement, the Administration claims that it represented no change from the past. Mr. Bellocchi argues that in one sense it clearly does: From 1979 to 1995 it was standard policy by all who dealt with the PRC and Taiwan, that the U.S. does not respond to questions of support or non-support of independence. U.S. policy has remained that the two sides were to determine Taiwan's status, peacefully.

Mr. Bellocchi states that now that there has been an explicit statement from the U.S. in this matter, there should also be a clear and explicit statement that any change in Taiwan's status should have the consent of the people on Taiwan. He says that if one reads the hearings and the subsequent comments by drafters of the Act, it shows that such a position was clearly the intent of Sec. 2 (c). Arguments that this requirement is implicit in the U.S. position that there be a peaceful resolution, does not sufficiently cover this commitment.

Likewise with the issue of Taiwan's membership in international organizations. Mr. Bellocchi states that Section 4 (d) of the TRA could be used as a basis for beginning the process of seeking support for participation by Taiwan in the international community.

Mr. Bellocchi argues that in the U.S., it is understood in government and among experts that Taiwan is fully qualified, and even needed, to participate in the international community. This could be accomplished if the U.S. would adopt a different public stance toward this issue in its relationship with the PRC: Instead of moving toward a more closer identification with the PRC position on the Taiwan Strait issue, without changing U.S. policy, it could alert the PRC that the U.S. believes Beijing's policy toward Taiwan is dangerously outdated. That the democratic political system that now exists on the island is irreversible, and that no viable resolution, whatever it might be, is realistic without the consent of the people on Taiwan. Justifying support for participation by Taiwan in the international community should be seen in this light.

Mr. Bellocchi states that this would require more political will in Washington than the recent past has shown. He acknowledges that Beijing's strong opposition is no small obstacle to overcome, but a more realistic approach by the U.S., and hopefully by the international community, is needed, that recognizes the changed circumstances democracy has brought to Taiwan, but which does not seek to interfere in the ultimate resolution of the differences on the two sides of the Strait.

Mr. Bellocchi concludes by emphasizing that the TRA has not been useful in developing new American policies that can recognize the legitimacy of the democracy that now already exists on Taiwan, and the need to correct its exclusion from the international community of which it is a part. These are the most important commitments Taiwan needs from the international community, including the U.S.

He also emphasizes the need for Taiwan itself to gain a reasonable domestic consensus on the relationship with the PRC. Such a consensus does not necessarily need to be on a final resolution of this issue, but rather on an interim arrangement leaving open the free choice of the people on Taiwan for the future. He states that such a consensus might do much to garner international support for the two issues, human rights and its place in international organizations, mentioned in the TRA.

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