The significance of a Chen Shui-bian election victory
As Taiwan goes to the polls today, a New York-based political analyst argues that a Chen victory will best protect Taiwan's security and have a much greater significance than a victory by any other candidate
By Cao Chang-Ching 曹長青
The Taipei Times
Saturday, March 18th, 2000
In the final sprint in Taiwan's presidential election, the topic of which of the three candidates -- Chen Shui-bian, Lien Chan or James Soong -- will win became a heated topic of conversation and media speculation not only in Taiwan, but also in the US.
Recent editions of The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and Business Weekly gave more coverage and analysis to the DPP's Chen Shui-bian, which gave this observer a certain feeling: perhaps the KMT dynasty has finally come to an end.
The US media gave Chen a lot of ink for two reasons: the American press believes that political parties should take turns holding power, and that no political party should stay in power forever and become a dynasty.
Now the best way to end the KMT dynasty is to vote Chen into office, according to observers.
There are four significant things to consider if Chen Shui-bian should win the election oday.
First, it will cut down on the practice of "black gold" politics if not eliminate it completely.
Taiwan's "black gold" politics is well known around the world.
James Soong, the independent presidential candidate who says he is "free from corruption" allegedly has more than US$8 million (equal to the US president's salary for 20 years) that he cannot explain. Obviously, he had the opportunity of sharing in ill-gotten gains because he had been a top official of the KMT, and he was found out only because he fell out with his former boss.
Nobody knows how many other "James Soongs" there are in the KMT. What people do know is that, with billions of dollars in funds, the KMT is one of the richest parties in the world, and it has set aside more than US$60 million to play the vote-buying game, according to an article in The New York Times.
One of the major reasons that engendered the "black gold politics" is the KMT's prolonged rule in Taiwan.
It has ruled the country for more than 50 years, and if one adds its period of power in China, its length of holding power surpasses that of the Communist Party of the former Soviet Union.
Any party will become corrupt after such a long time of ruling, and only shifts of power can shake the stout constructions of "black gold politics."
Second, a Chen victory will show how democracy in Taiwan has matured and indicate that changes in society are in store.
As mentioned by The Wall Street Journal, if the KMT is voted out of office today, it will be a victory for Taiwan's democracy. The change in political parties will show the world that Taiwan is moving in the direction of a mature democracy.
Without a doubt, the more democratic that Taiwan society is, the more support it will win from the international community, especially from the US.
If Chen Shui-bian wins today, it will not only upgrade the country's democracy but also bring hope for a change in Taiwan.
The major selling point of the KMT is that it wants to maintain the nation's "stability." Actually, the KMT slogan sounds very similar to the slogans uttered by tyrants in Beijing.
An interesting phenomenon in world politics is that all the dictators and retrogressive political powers play the card of "stability" when they are in trouble, warning that there will be turmoil, disaster and war if they are not in power. Therefore, it is extremely important for them to stay in power -- and forever -- or so they say.
In Western democracies, all parties emphasize "change" when it comes to election time. Because only "change" can push a society to make progress and push a government to become more efficient.
Does change generate instability? Experiences in the West indicate just the opposite.
The US is also having a presidential election this year. Both the Republican and Democratic parties say they want "changes."
Leaders and candidates in the US call for changes and make changes all the times, and precisely because of the changes, the shifting of power and the checks of balances of the government, the US is now the most prosperous and stable country in the world.
In stark contrast, Beijing's leaders are the zealous advocates of "stability" and they stress "stability over everything." Ironically, China is one of the most unstable countries in the world, and even a spiritual group of the old, weak, sick and disabled are perceived as being able to knock the government down. It well explains how shaky Chinese society is.
It is thus clear that elements of instability are lurking around when politicians emphasize "stability."
Third, it will not worsen Taiwan's relations with China if the voters of Taiwan elect Chen as president. Indeed, it will force the Chinese authorities to accept the de facto independence of Taiwan.
Just because Beijing believes that threats work, it incessantly uses them. When the people of Taiwan stand up and vote "no" to intimidators and put Chen in power, Beijing will have no choice but to consider negotiations under equal status -- state-to-state -- with the country, because almost all Western experts believe China simply has no military strength to actually carry out an attack on the island nation.
As Stephen Yates, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, recently remarked, Beijing can only begin a serious dialogue with Taiwan when it truly understands military threats will not work.
Fourth, the issue of independence and reunification will cease to be major issue in Taiwan's future presidential elections if voters put the DDP in power now.
Western scholars generally agree that China's military strength will be equal to that of Taiwan in about five years. Obviously, it will be less advantageous for the Taiwanese people if they wait for another four years to vote the DPP into office, because by then China may have the capacity to attack the country.
At this point in history, there is the least risk -- and the best opportunity -- for voters to elect Chen now.
Having no other tricks to play, Beijing simply would have to recognize the reality of Taiwan and deal with a Chen government. Gradually the issues of independence and reunification will become less and less significant and will not be big topics of debate in future presidential elections in Taiwan.
Instead, other important political and economical policies will be the focus of candidates as they campaign across the nation.
If voters choose Lien Chan today, will they be prepared to re-elect him and the KMT again in 2004 when China's military power becomes stronger? If so, not only will the KMT dynasty continue, but Beijing's belief in threats will be confirmed.
The communist dictators on the other side of the Taiwan Strait not only forbid their own citizens to choose their leaders, but even attempt to disallow the Taiwanese, a people who have never been ruled by the communists, to choose their own leaders freely. How overbearing these dictators are! Will the people of Taiwan resign themselves to such bullying now and again in 2004?
If Chen wins today, then four or five years later, China will hardly find any reasons to attack Taiwan, even its military strength equals or surpasses that of Taiwan. And the international community will not tolerate any Beijing offensive.
Therefore, in this reporter's opinion, a Chen victory today will best protect Taiwan's security and have a much greater significance than a victory by any other candidate.
Cao Chang-ching is a writer and journalist based in New York.