Recent Taiwan election crisis overshadows new democracy

Chen Cheng Huan

Chen Cheng Huan

The 2004 Taiwan presidential election ended in the worst possible way – thousands marched to the presidential office demanding a recount after President Chen Shui-Bian won in a narrow re-election on March 20.

The assassination attempt on incumbent Taiwanese President Chen Sui-bian, the day before his re-election, was only the beginning of the country’s political turmoil.

Chen, who’s rocked the boat for years with his aggressively independent stance against China, won the election by a slim 30,000 votes, a margin of just 0.2 percent.

The margin seemed even smaller when election officials revealed that 300,000 ballots were “spoiled” in voting.

Chen’s opponent, Kuomintang (KMT) Party candidate Lien Chan, called for a recount, the country’s high court sealed the ballot boxes, and thousands of KMT protestors occupied the streets outside the presidential palace.

A similar script played out in America four years ago over the vote recount in Florida, but, regardless, the two bear little resemblance.

As an overseas student from Taiwan, I have witnessed the transit of the nation from an authoritarian regime into a more liberal one.

After the abandon of Martial Law in 1987, which was a turning point for becoming a democracy, Taiwan has shifted to a democratic and multiparty country.

People now have tremendous freedom and the power to choose their ideal government and political leader under an electoral system similar to the one in the United States.

However, to expect Taiwan’s democracy to be like the one in the United States is unrealistic.

For one thing, the age of Taiwan’s democracy is short compared to the United States, which has struggled through more than two hundred years to learn the meaning of the word.

For another, even many in the United States fail to recognize that it is the faith of God, not the political system, that has held people together during the tumultuous election and has served as the stable force of the country’s peace and democracy.

In Taiwan, group identification remains a problem. It can be easily observed during elections.

Negative campaign propaganda and slanderous attacks between party members and supporters indicate Taiwan is still far from transforming into a full-fledged member of the world’s democracies.

Some people in Taiwan claim to be native Taiwanese just because their ancestors had moved to the island earlier than those who moved after the 1949 defeat of the National Party in mainland China. They do not like to be called Chinese and they hate to see any possible reunion between Taiwan and mainland China.

Undoubtedly, they have the right to prefer that Taiwan remains an independent country apart from China, to voice what they want and how they feel about the status quo of the country.

The sad thing is, because of their lack of education and open-mindedness they tend to allow their emotions to overcome their logic.

Thus, they easily fall into the hands of the deceitful politicians who will do anything, even create an ethnic schism among people, to gain and secure power.

Three days after the disputed presidential election, the capital city was all but paralyzed by supporters of the losing side protesting alleged irregularities in voting and demanding a recount.

Both KMT and DPP parties, while agreeing in principle on a recount, were wrangling over how to organize it, how long it would take and who would do it.

The law is silent. There has never been a national recount.

The crisis has put Taiwan’s democracy in question.

Before the election, KMT candidate Lien Chan was seen as a favorite, mainly because his party seemed to offer the hope of stability and less contentious relations with the mainland.

President Chen, on the other hand, appeared to have lost ground. His DPP had won some support for its nationalist policies and insistence on distancing itself from Beijing.

International observers, however, had questioned the wisdom of provoking the mainland.

For years China’s official position has been that it will go to war rather than permit what it considers a rebellious province to declare independence. It would be na