A ground view from Taipei

Having been in Taipei also during the 2008 presidential elections, I have to admit that I have been disappointed by how little the elections have been present in daily life in 2011. In 2008, the city was plastered with faces and banners demanding Taiwan’s right to join the United Nations and the World Health Organization. Even as a bystander I could feel the heat building up to a boiling point. The issue of Taiwan’s international status was so hot then, that I decided on the election day to rather watch the outcome of the polls from Hong Kong, and more importantly to verify that Taiwan had not yet come under Chinese missile attack before I boarded my plane back to Taipei. For the 2012 elections, it appears safe for me to stay in Taipei.

This year, the issues fought about the hardest in the campaign seem mainly to involve topics such as the legality of piggy banks for campaign donations and the correct display of fruit prices.

Granted, also now in 2011, political talkshows on TV are going on for hours, in the newspapers wars are fought, and slowly but steadily Ma and Tsai’s faces start to show up on Taipei’s buildings, buses and billboards (I personally have not come across Soong’s face yet). Occasionally also a taxi driver would get into a political discussion with you, but so far I have not experienced a staunch supporter of either candidate, most could find positive and negative points in Ma and Tsai (again Soong has not received much consideration), even when they claimed to have a clear political inclination to one camp.

The assessment of the candidates that I could gather from my, admittedly, rather unrepresentive sample of people that I talked to shows mainly that the voters find it hard to decide for one or the other candidate.

As stated above, I have yet failed to meet anybody who gave credit to James Soong, apart from one friend who thinks that he is a warmer person and more in touch with his emotions than Ma Ying-jeou. According to her, if a child, crying and looking for its mother came running up to Ma, he would back away instead of giving the child a hug – especially if the child had a dripping ice cream cone in its hand. But even my friend has not decided yet who to give her vote to.

While Ma has been described to me as pretty much anything ranging from an evil villain to the saviour of Taiwan, nobody at all seems to genuinely like him as a person. If charisma was to play a vital role in this election, he can already start packing his campaign utensils. However, he appears to score higher when it comes to policies, although green supporters naturally despise him for his China connections.

For Tsai, the most commonly detected flaw is her failure to define her policies. Nobody can pinpoint what she is trying to do with regards to China, but also in light of issues that trouble Taiwan domestically, such as unemployment or the economy, she does not manage to paint a clear picture. However, I have never heard even one derogative word on the ground about her being a woman aspiring to run a government, despite Taiwan still being a strongly male-dominated society. Chapeau for that, even in Europe we can learn from this example.

Sigrid Winkler recently received her PhD from Free University Brussels, and is currently conducting post-doctoral research in Taiwan.