And by Their Friends Ye Shall Know Them

As the Taiwan presidential campaign enters its final week, one striking development has been an outpouring of support for President Ma Ying-jeou by some of Taiwan’s leading businesspeople, including Evergreen Group President Chang Yung-fa 張榮發 and Far Eastern Group Chairman and CEO Douglas Hsu (徐旭東).

On the one hand, it is perfectly understandable that commercial and industrial heavyweights should wish to speak out for Ma, as KMT rule has witnessed a growing rapprochement with China that has greatly enhanced Taiwan’s business environment. This cozy relationship between the party and big business can be traced back to Republican-era China, and may be best represented by the “Aladdin” classic “You Ain’t Never Had a Friend Like Me”. On the other hand, the impact such enthusiastic expressions of support may have the general populace remains to be seen, and reports have already begun to emerge of tensions between management (“suits”) and labor (“shirts”) over which candidate to support.

Apart from rallying old friends to its cause, the KMT has also attempted to use the friends issue against its main rival by utilizing a tactic that might best be referred to as “Pin the A-Bian 阿扁 on the DPP”, where victory is achieved by convincing enough voters (especially independents and first-time voters) that DPP candidate Tsai Ing-wen is little more than a successor to the corrupt administration of former President Chen Shui-bian. Whether this tactic can succeed remains to be seen, however, especially since Tsai and the DPP have been able to attract widespread support by avoiding extensive corporate sponsorship in favor of small-scale campaign contributions by ordinary citizens. The results have been strikingly clear in the “three little pigs” fundraising campaign (see my earlier post on this subject), which ended up netting more than NT$200 million from over 143,000 piggybanks donated by supporters nationwide. In order to count this mountain of small bills and even smaller change, the DPP had to recruit 150 volunteers who worked more than 3,000 man-hours for 20 days to operate various bill and coin sorting machines.

The differences between KMT and DPP supporters can also be seen in campaign rallies, as well as the mobilization processes that precede them. The KMT has been running “get out the vote” efforts for decades (including the use of occasionally questionable tactics), and has a stronger ground game due to its links to local elites. It also has the advantages of incumbency, including arranging for government agencies to spend tens of thousands of dollars on advertising related to campaign issues.

However, while the numbers of people attending KMT rallies have consistently been impressive, the degree of uniformity (people wearing identical baseball caps and carrying identical flags) often fails to match the level of enthusiasm, with attendees trickling out during (and at times even before) Ma’s stump speeches. In contrast, DPP rallies (especially those for Tsai) have tended to be much more vibrant and spontaneous (see the following video).

While crowd size and enthusiasm are hardly reliable indicators for predicting election results, the trends described above suggest that this election has indeed turned into a contest between “The People” and “The Machine”. Moreover, the tendency by many analysts to emphasize the importance of Cross-Strait ties and the “92 Consensus” (九二共識) has caused them to neglect the fact that in many ways this election is really about quality of life issues. As I noted in an earlier post for The China Beat, Ma was able to thrash DPP candidate Frank Hsieh in 2008 only partially due to popular desire for closer ties with China; the more important factor was disgust with the corrupt antics of the Chen Shui-bian administration. Moreover, as is also the case in the United States, the majority of voters appear to be concerned about the economy, especially stagnant (or even falling) wages, rising unemployment, higher prices, and an increasing number of companies forcing their workers to take unpaid leave.

If this continues to be the case, and if no last minute “surprises” occur (such as yet another shooting, a new “scandal”, or James Soong suddenly terminating his campaign and announcing unqualified support for the KMT), there is a real risk that Ma may end up losing this election, perhaps by an even larger margin than most people would have expected. If this does occur, then all the KMT’s CEOs and all of its chairmen may not be able to put its rule back together again.

Paul R. Katz  is a Research Fellow in the Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica.

In praise of a ‘normal’ election

Taiwanese elections used to be very exciting events.  Not this time.  Even with the presidential and legislative elections combined, the electoral season this time round is marked by its relatively dull and uneventful nature.  Is this good?

I think so.  Elections in mature democracies are not normally eventful. Excitement is usually about how debates are won or lost.  Taiwan’s elections, particularly presidential ones, have, historically, been unusually eventful. Think about the PRC testing of missiles in response to the 1996 elections, Chinese threats of potential consequences should Chen Shui-bian be elected in 2000, and ‘the two bullets’ in 2004. Taiwan’s democracy is better off when its elections are less eventful.

Lest anyone think that the dull election so far implies Taiwan’s democracy is not so healthy I would like to point out that the tight competition between Tsai and Ma should put everyone at ease.  To an independent academic observer like me, at this stage of Taiwan’s development who or which party wins matters less than democracy winning.

In light of the very poor shape the DPP found itself after the 2008 elections, it is very heartening to see it making such a strong showing this time.  I am glad that Tsai is giving Ma a good run for his money not because I like her or the DPP – not being a Taiwanese I have no personal reason to prefer one Taiwanese party or leader to the other – but because a healthy democracy needs a strong opposition and keen electoral competition.  I would say the same of Ma and the KMT if the tables were turned and Ma were challenging Tsai as an incumbent president.  Whoever is in power and is dedicated to deepening Taiwan’s democratization should welcome strong electoral competition.

Whichever party wins the elections, Taiwan’s democracy has proved itself to be robust and healthy, as the incumbent party and president is being seriously challenged for a second term.

If Ma should win, the testing election should reassure all that he and his administration have been put under real scrutiny and passed.  His record and platform are clear for voters to assess.

If Tsai should win, there should be acceptance that she is given a mandate to introduce changes, though it is not entirely clear what changes she has in mind. It would have been better if the implications of a Tsai victory will be spelled out in greater detail by Tsai in the remainder of the electoral season.  Voters have a right to know what to expect as they cast their votes.  Tsai’s statement that she is willing to form a coalition government does not give a sufficiently clear picture for voters to gain a real sense of what to expect if they enable her to win the presidency.  There is still enough time for her to rectify this problem.

Returning to the subject of being dull and uneventful, I think Bill Clinton got it right about elections: it’s about the economy, stupid, he famously said.  At least it should be.  Taiwan elections have so far focused too much on cross-Strait relations. They should not.  Tsai is right in saying that Taiwan needs a consensus on cross-Strait relations. It should not be about forming a consensus on how to deal with Beijing, implying that Taiwan reaches a consensus on its identity. That is not going to happen soon. No party in Taiwan can impose that, or get everyone to agree to one narrative.  The consensus should be for all political parties in Taiwan to agree to take a non-partisan approach to cross-Strait relations. Cross-Strait relations are an existential issue for Taiwan, and as such require a non-partisan approach.

Taiwan will be better off replacing its colour politics (Green vs. Blue) with competition over how to define a better framework to lead Taiwan to development. Taiwan benefits when it should not matter much to Beijing whether the DPP or the KMT wins elections. This will of course not happen anytime soon,  but let’s celebrate that Taiwan’s elections have not been made eventful over cross-Strait relations this year.

Steve Tsang is Professor of Contemporary Chinese Studies, as well as Director of the China Policy Institute and the Taiwan Studies Programme at the University of Nottingham. 

Voting for the Legislature: Process and Perceptions

The prediction of election results is plagued with weak assumptions and missing information, yet these pitfalls seem to discourage few from making claims days if not months before the election date. Taiwan is no different. For the upcoming Legislative Yuan (LY) election, most predictions expect a closer balance in seats between the KMT and DPP, consistent with both changes in DPP nomination strategies as well as minor shifts in the general political climate.  Instead of delving into partisan distributions to anticipate election results, I wish to highlight an additional area of concern: public perceptions of the legislative electoral system.

Public perceptions of the LY in historically have been rather negative, yet this gives limited insight into perceptions of the electoral rules. As the second election under a two-vote mixed system, we expect that Taiwanese voters have a better understanding of the mechanical effects of the system. Simply put, those who were confused by the new rules the first time should have most of this confusion allayed after actually voting and viewing the election results. Yet, post election surveys in Taiwan showed around 60% of respondents claiming not to understand the system, with slightly lower rates among voters. This is despite efforts by parties and the Central Election Commission (CEC) to explain the new system. If accurate, this would cause for concern as to whether public preferences were being adequately translated into representation. Comparable surveys elsewhere are rare, but between a third and a half of voters in Japan, Korea, and New Zealand claim to not understanding their system, even as strategic voting follows patterns consistent with an understanding.

Further evidence from Taiwan shows that while respondents claim a lack of understanding, knowledge of the technical aspects of the system are high, suggesting that rather than an ignorance of the system there remains a disconnect in expectations. Considering the DPP’s poor showing in 2008, one shouldn’t be surprised that DPP supporters were more likely to claim to not understand the 2008 system, even after controlling for other demographic factors.

What does this mean for 2012? With many district races expected to be closer than before and greater parity in expected seat distribution, fewer claims of misunderstanding post-election should arise. Yet, if supporters of one party disproportionately claims to misunderstand the electoral system (especially if this party is in the opposition), this risks dismissing such results as unfair. Furthermore, with the People’s First Party (PFP) running a separate campaign, this opens greater opportunities for strategic voting within the pan-blue camp, and thus an additional means post-election to identify whether claims of misunderstanding are connected to cross-coalitional voting.

Timothy S. Rich is a Doctoral Candidate in Political Science at Indiana University.

The Importance of the Invisible Election

This is the last weekend before next Saturday’s presidential and legislative elections.  As of this past Wednesday, no polls are allowed to be released ahead of the voting day.  A sort of ‘quiet’ time, so to speak, to let voters take stock and make up their  own minds without the ‘noisy’ poll results of the past many weeks clamoring for their attention.

Observing the election campaign on the ground since October, I noticed a curious though not totally unexpected occurrence — i.e. the legislative election is largely ‘under the radar’ — a bit ‘invisible’ — in relation to the presidential elections.  News such as PFP chairman James Soong joining the race, the three little pigs, real estate scandals, charges of violation of bureaucratic neutrality, excessive spending on the 100-year celebration, the Yu Chang biotech scandal, the persimmon price raucous, even the US visa-free nomination have flooded the airwaves but they are (made to) focused mainly on the presidential race.

The ‘presidentialization’ of elections is not totally unexpected.  As in the US, all focus is on the presidential race when congressional elections are held concurrently.  Scholars have also observed that even in parliamentary systems, there is an increasing focus on the party leaders who are jockeying to be the next prime minister.  Taiwan seems to conform to these observations.  The extra spice to Taiwan election version 2012 is that by all predictions the presidential race is going to be a photo finish.

So, apart from the brief attention surrounding the announcements of the party list candidates, the media and voters are relatively more fixated on the race for the presidency, seemingly oblivious to the other race.  Yet, in this semi-presidential system, the legislative elections will be a strong determinant on the complexion of executive-legislative relations for the next four years of the next presidency.

From my vantage point here in the southern port city of Kaohsiung, the city’s road intersections are plastered with the usual campaign billboards and flags of the presidential and legislative candidates.  Town hall style meetings and campaign events still occur around town but the legislative campaign here is decidedly low-key, definitely quieter than in the past.  In this pan-Green stronghold, pundits predict that the DPP will win 6 of the 9 constituency seats which leaves the KMT with only 3.  Across the whole island, the closeness of the presidential election is providing cover to a likely substantial change in the next legislative make-up.  Election experts and pundits alike predict that the KMT is likely to scrape by with a small majority due to favorable electoral districting but the DPP will definitely improve substantially and even the PFP may pick up some seats.

Notwithstanding the inattention of the voters and media to the legislative races, the simple fact is that the consequence of this ‘invisible’ election will be very visible indeed.  No one can totally rule out that the specter of a divided government will not come back to haunt Taiwan nor predict with confidence that with a drastic change in legislative make-up the next president (and executive team) will face a friendly and cooperative legislature

Alex Tan is Professor of Political Science at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand

A Referendum on the “1992 Consensus”

A few days before the election, Taiwan’s presidential race is too close to call. It has been like a tug-of-war without an obvious winner for the past few weeks. Unlike the earlier stage of the campaign when Tsai Ing-wen was the obvious underdog with little or no chance to win, she is now posing a deadly threat to Ma Ying-jeou’ road to re-election.

However this assertion probably cannot be backed by any reliable opinion polls in Taiwan. In fact Ma has been the favored candidate who leads Tsai by a margin of 2% to 10%, or even higher in all polls. But as any experienced observer of Taiwan’s politics will say immediately that Taiwan-based media are not credible when it comes to election polling. This is largely caused by their respective political colors and partisan agendas. And for anyone who is running as a KMT candidate, a lead that is smaller than 5% in pre-election polls is almost like a verdict of defeat. This is because potential DPP voters are systematically under-represented in standard polling practices from past experiences.

Today many turn to the Exchange of Future Events of Cheng-chi University for hints. Using a different methodology, it has a more credible, though short, record confirmed by post-election results. In its recent official release issued on January 3, the agency predicted a Tsai victory by a margin of 7.2%, and 52 seats (or 46% of the total) for the DPP in the legislative election. But its accuracy is also subject to reasonable doubt, since the project is still young and the weighting scheme it adopts may need to be tested more rigorously as time goes by. Plus, like its analogy to the financial market, the likelihood in any market of a sudden correction of 7% cannot be ruled out.

At this point, this tight race reminds me of what had happened in 2000 and 2004. The last one-and-two punches landed by the candidates before the bell rings, sometimes referred to as “ao-bu” (Taiwanese pronunciation for low or disreputable tactics), can and will matter in an intense and tight competition like the current one. A further factor that is likely to have a decisive impact is already widely discussed (among other likelihoods such as gambling at the election result): i.e. will James Soong make any dramatic move, and will a larger proportion of his supporters swing back to Ma’s or to Tsai? Considering all of above, it is clear to me that in this presidential campaign no one can claim victory or feel assured to celebrate before the votes are practically all accounted for on January 14.

I think many issues mentioned in the media and in this blog are all important in this campaign. Cross-Strait relations, the widening gap in income disparity, welfare and justice issues, rising real-estate prices, national health and tax reforms, and the gender, age, and ethnic backgrounds of voters. Also important are the dynamics associated with campaign tactics, including proper use and misuse of government resources and governmental leaks and legal battles, name calling, framing or “counter-framing”. But to me the most significant meaning of this election is that it can be seen as a referendum on Ma and his party’s line in hastening their pursuit of economic integration and dependence on China in the past four years. After all the nasty rhetoric, debates and name calling, it all comes down to a very simplified term called the “92 Consensus”.

The 92 Conesus is credited as the “foundation” of all friendly engagements and accords signed between Ma and Beijing’s representatives since 2008. These accords contain many economic concessions originating from Beijing’s “good-will” as many have said. However, as some Taiwanese businessman have gradually realized, in China one does not and cannot win competitive bidding or make business deals openly in a market that is highly regulated by Chinese government and officials. The hidden rule is that business opportunities and deals are made possible behind the scene because they are often “gifts” from Chinese officials with political endorsement, in exchange for returned reciprocity. Recent accords signed with Beijing, plus highly advertised privileged purchases of Taiwanese products and agricultural produce from many Chinese provincial governors and representatives traveling to Taiwan bear the resemblances too well.

Ma was careful on many occasions to defend himself from being portrayed by his opponent as a protectorate of Beijing. And yet he has no hesitation about claiming “peace dividends” derived from recent cross-Strait developments as the major accomplishment of his first term, and the beginning of Taiwan’s “Golden Era”. Objectively speaking, this 92 Consensus was construed by the KMT and the CCP, and become widely supported by Taiwan’s key media and business interests, and by mainlander population and pro-unification voters. Even the U.S. appears to approve this development when cross-Strait tensions in effect became reduced following this “Consensus”. But this has been not the DPP’s and Tsai’s position. They argued that the alleged Consensus is a conspiracy of China, a sugarcoating of China’s strategic ambition to swallow Taiwan. The KMT is accused of being Beijing’s accomplice and Ma a liar. Today, both the CCP and the KMT have issued stern warnings: no one should expect business to be conducted as usual if Tsai were elected and the Consensus was not respected as a result. Taiwan might be cornered once more like it was under Chen Shui-bian, not just politically but also economically. But this warning does not seem to stop Tsai from mobilizing a large crowd and catching up from a distant polling position. Why? Are her party and supporters deaf or blinded from the reality? Why is Tsai able to pull the DPP back to the front stage and become a serious contender?

I observe that Tsai and the DPP have been successful in channeling the widespread discontent and distrust already existing in Taiwan for some time against the incumbent administration. Tsai’s campaign boosted the morale and turned the DPP from living under the shadow of Chen Shui-bian’s corruption scandal to become a newly reborn political force. It is evident that Tsai’s support comes from where the DPP has been the favored party, from regions where manufacturing workers, farmers, fisherman, self-employed and small enterprises make up the majority of the population. And her party is still the only viable alternative for Taiwanese nationalists, and some social activists like environmentalists. She is also more appealing to the younger generation in comparison to other DPP big shots. She can lead and unite a divided DPP, and get support from the other part of the electorate that feels bullied by the KMT and Beijing’s alliance, coerced to accept Beijing’s gifts, threatened or marginalized by all the “good things” and concessions allegedly radiating from the 92 Consensus. Tsai promises that she will build a “Taiwan Consensus” to replace the “92 Consensus” if elected. She is of course vague and cannot offer any specifics at the moment. And realistically this is a very difficult, if not impossible, promise to keep since she is bound to be boycotted and undermined by both the KMT and Beijing from the first day on if she becomes elected, without any doubt.

At the end of the day, as happened in Taiwan’s past elections, the Blue and the Green camps each stands on the north-south, mainlander-Taiwanese, upper-lower social stratum, high-flying cross-strait businessman and ordinary grass-roots people cleavages. And while nationalistic confrontation appears to have receded, it is engrained in the debates surrounding the “92 Consensus” versus the “Taiwan Consensus”.

I think that of course Ma still has a shot to win the presidential campaign, but the DPP will succeed in gaining more seats in the Legislature. If it cannot upset the KMT’s dominance this time (though I think the chances are high), it can perform more effective checks on the administration power than before. I have no doubt whatsoever that the DPP has rebounded convincingly from its humiliating defeat in 2008. The turning around of Tsai’s campaign, and the DPP candidates for the legislative election was not a result of her charisma or the DPP’s brushed up platform, but rising dis-satisfaction with Ma’s leadership and the tilting of the KMT’s policy toward special interest groups who are sucked into the “gifts” Beijing have awarded them, or may award them in the future. I am sure that voters must have heard the warning shots fired by KMT officials, business hot shots and Beijing. But for them the more important priority resides in putting the political brakes on the seemingly runaway westbound express train driven by Ma Ying-jeou and the KMT’s business allies.

Professor Mau-kuei Chang is Research Fellow at the Institute of Sociology, Academia Sinica.

What if…? Taiwan-China relations under a DPP-led government

In just a few more days, the curtain will finally rise for the much-anticipated Presidential and Legislative elections in Taiwan. Speculations are rife whether the DPP candidate Tsai Ing-wen will be able to successfully challenge the incumbent Ma Ying-jeou. Most observers predict that it will be a close race, and I personally believe that the DPP does indeed stand a good chance – but alas, in face of Taiwan’s notoriously unreliable opinion polls, such speculations are not very rewarding.

Still, many people have voiced their concerns about the possible consequences for Taiwan-China relations in the vent of a DPP victory. For the most part, the forecasts have been uniformly gloomy: the general logic assumes that a DDP-led government would be unwilling and unable to accept the ambiguous “92 consensus”, which would lead to a complete breakdown of  Taiwan-China negotiations, causing havoc to Taiwan’s business interests on the mainland and in the Asia-Pacific region, while the temperature in cross-Strait relations would drop to new freezing point. In recent weeks, scores of leading pan Blue-politicians and representatives of Taiwan’s business elite have capitalized precisely on this catastrophic scenario, warning about the dire consequences if the DPP should “rock the boat” in cross-Strait relations. I believe that those concerns are largely unwarranted. Indeed, I even propose that a change of government in Taiwan could actually be beneficial to a healthy development of cross-Strait relations.

First, I consider it highly unlikely that Beijing would be so foolish as to carelessly cast away the achievements of cross-Strait integration, which both sides have labored so industriously to achieve during the past four years. The costs, both in economic and political terms, would be too enormous to be considered seriously. From the many integration projects in the world (the European Union, for one), we know that integration is incredibly difficult to achieve, but also extremely hard to undo. In many fields, the liberalization policies have fundamentally altered, for better or worse, the basic rules of cross-Strait interactions. Economic players on both sides of the Strait have adapted to the new rules, and restructured their behavior accordingly. Technically, it would of course be possible for Beijing to “turn back the clock” – indeed, the ECFA agreement explicitly provides an “exit clause”. Such a rash act, however, would cause major upheavals in the delicate fabric of economic ties between the two sides, and any hope of eventually building up political “trust” would be rendered utterly remote.

Furthermore, we can safely assume that China’s policy makers in charge of cross-Strait policies are no fools, and have already drawn up contingency plans for the eventuality of a DPP victory. So far China has remained remarkably low-key on the topic, which I take as a sign that Beijing wishes to keep its options open.

Second, it is quite possible that in future cross-Strait negotiations, a DPP-led government might even be able to achieve more benefits for Taiwan. This effect, known as “Schelling’s paradox of weakness” to political scientists and well-documented in the European integration process, assumes that a government whose choices are constrained by a highly skeptical electorate can actually gain more leverage in its negotiations with other states. Beijing knows that it will need to provide more incentives, both economically and politically, to convince the majority of DPP-supporters of the wisdom of further cross-Strait integration – thus enabling a DPP-led government to carry on the process. The same logic, incidentally, applies to the thorny question of Taiwan’s political status: the leadership in China is fully aware that the DPP cannot and will not accept the “92 consensus”, and that no amount of pressure can force the DPP to yield. Hence, in order to safeguard the achievements of the past, China might be compelled to grudgingly – and maybe tacitly – accept an alternative formula which can satisfy both Beijing and the supporters of the pan-Green camp, and which will allow both sides to save face.

Of course, I may be wrong on both accounts. It is also possible that China will decide to take a firm stance on what it regards as the political principle of territorial integrity, and hazard the consequences of a breakdown in cross-Strait exchanges. In that case, however, we should ask ourselves whether the whole project was worth the trouble in the first place. Taiwan, after all, is a democratic society, and the question of how to frame the country’s de-facto sovereignty is still up to the voters to decide. If the integration processes across the Taiwan Strait should indeed prove unable to cope with this simple fact of life, then it might be better discarded rather earlier than later. The longer the process lasts, the more painful it will be when it finally runs aground – which it must inevitably in the long run (unless we assume that the KMT will remain in power forever).

In my opinion, the impact of a DPP victory for cross-Strait relations will be manageable. In the economic realm, at least, exchange will continue on the basis of what has been achieved to date. The political process, in contrast, might be temporarily impaired, as Beijing may be reluctant to enter into new major agreements, and pin its hopes on a return-to power of a more China-friendly government in the future instead. Such a stumbling block could actually be a good thing, since it will provide both sides with an opportunity to take a step back, explore new possibilities for a mutual understanding, and even come up with ideas on how the mechanism of integration might be improved.

As a true German, let me finish on a metaphor from car-manufacturing: the misfiring of an engine can be a very burdensome thing and lead to the breakdown of the whole machine. At the same time, a temporary malfunction should remind us that no mechanism can forever run smoothly, but requires constant maintenance and care. On very few occasions, it might even lead us to insights on how a completely new, and better, engine may be designed.

Stefan Fleischauer is Co-Managing Director of the European Research Center on Contemporary Taiwan (ERCCT) at the University of Tuebingen. 

China’s influence on Taiwanese politics

In a democracy, every election has the feel of a possible revolution. The commanding heights of power can be transferred from one group to another. Incumbents feel threatened. There is invariably a temptation to use or abuse the levers of power so as not to lose power to a group of challengers, which ruling groups feel or fear are ignorant of how the world works and what one’s own nation needs. These generalizations hold true for Taiwan as they do for other democracies. The ruling KMT sincerely feels it would be a disaster if it fell from power.

What makes Taiwan different is the role played by an outside force, an authoritarian China, or, more accurately, the ruling CCP, on and in Taiwan’s domestic affairs. Authoritarian ruling groups in China use their superpower clout not only to threaten, with economic retaliation, any government which carries out normal relations with the government of the independent nation of  Taiwan but also uses resources to try to influence the outcome of the vote by Taiwanese. This foreign government on the continental land mass of Asia make deals with interests in southern Taiwan, the base of the challenger party, the DPP, implicitly threatening that voting for the DPP could cost local people, citizens on the island of Taiwan, where it hurts, their wallets and pocket books.

The power-holders in China also threaten the challenger party on Taiwan that if it does not accede to China’s one-China principle, the expansionist claim that the country of Taiwan is actually a local part of a China ruled by Beijing, then the CCP government will not cooperate with a DPP government. Instead, the Taiwanese people will be punished for voting contrary to the will of world power China.

To this Chinese ruling group, one that is increasingly repressive, chauvinistic and assertive, it does not seem to matter that the challenger party on Taiwan is in no way a threat to China and is committed to continuing intense economic relations with China as in fact actually occurred the last time that a DPP member was President of Taiwan. The present DPP candidate has made clear that she would not pursue the policies of the previous DPP government whose leader tried to mobilize support on Taiwan by putting a thumb in Beijing’s eye. The Taiwanese people rejected those silly games as proof that that DPP president had taken his eye off the ball, that he did not devote himself to improving the lives of the Taiwanese people. For that reason, the DPP was punished in the 2008 election. It learned an expensive lesson which it does not want to pay again. The present DPP candidate will not play games on the China issue. She will focus on the real problems of the Taiwanese people. She will try her best to work with China based on common interests.

The real question then  is, can the CCP take yes for an answer or is there, inside of the mind-set and politics of ruling groups in China a possibility that the CCP regime would act toward Taiwan in nasty ways, as has been recently the case with Chinese policies toward Vietnam. That is, there could be a China problem which is too frequently made invisible by the mistaken view that there is a Taiwan problem, when Taiwanese of both political parties want the warmest relations possible with their neighbors in China.

It is often said that Taiwanese vote largely on the basis of local economic concerns. But China has been inserting itself into those local economic matters with a desire to influence electoral outcomes. Among other things, the January 2012 elections in democratic Taiwan will reflect how successfully or poorly this Chinese interference in Taiwan affairs has been.

Edward Friedman is a politics Professor and East Asia expert at the University of Wisconsin at Madison

What’s in an anthem? Tsai Ing-wen’s difficulty with the national song

As the world heads into 2012, Taiwan moves closer to electing its next president. It is a tradition in Taiwan to hold a flag raising ceremony in front of the presidential hall at the start of every year, and hundreds of people make their way to the Ketagalan Boulevard early in the morning just to attend the event. Besides rejoicing in the pleasant atmosphere of seeing the “blue sky, white sun, red ground” (qingtian bairi mandihong, i.e. the R.O.C. flag) beat in the sky and the Honor Guards marching neatly before the presidential hall, the early birds are rewarded with hats and scarves produced in the colors of the flag. The high point of the event is marked by raising of the flag while the crowd sings the national anthem.

With the election just around the corner, it is usual for the candidates to avoid meeting in public and New Years Day is no exception to the norm. While President Ma attended the flag raising ceremony in the country’s capital, unsurprisingly, DPP candidate Tsai Ing-wen and fellow supporters chose to celebrate the beginning of 2012 at their home base in Tainan. Compared to Taipei, Tainan’s fair weather was just right for early morning events, even though in this case, the flag might not beat as hard without strong wind attending to it. Aside from the lovely weather, what is worth noting in the “green” ceremony is that Tsai seems to have some trouble singing the national anthem. In other words, she skipped a few lines.

In order to fulfil the demands of good citizenship in Taiwan, one is expected to know the national anthem by heart and rise to the anthem whenever it is played. As a person who grew up and went through proper education on the island, Tsai can be expected to know the national anthem well, just like any other good citizen should.

So she missed a few lines, big deal right?

Wrong. Tsai’s refusal to speak the words should not be slighted, as it is loaded with political meaning, especially at this critical juncture. What Tsai deliberately skipped over may be said to be the essence of the anthem, Doctor Sun Yat-Sen’s teaching of the Three Principles of minzu, minquan, minsheng (nationalism, democracy and people’s welfare). The opening lines that Tsai “forgot” due to amnesia go as “sanminzhuyi, wudangsuozong, yijianminguo,” which literally means “the Three Principles of the People are the purpose of the party, for the establishment of a republic.”

Once the words of the anthem are put under the spotlight, it is clear why Tsai avoided singing the lines. Referring to the national anthem, the “party” could mean no other than the Kuomintang or Nationalist Party, which happens to be the DPP’s main rival in the coming election, while the “republic” could stand for no else than the Republic of China, something that has haunted Tsai ever since she began campaigning for the election. Party rivalry aside, the major stumbling block for the DPP effort to reclaim office is cross-Strait relations. With Taiwan successfully rebuilding its relationship with China under the KMT administration in the past three years, leading to increased economic exchange across the Strait, the DPP confronts the pressure of doing better or just keeping up with the KMT’s record. The dilemma that Tsai faces in this election is whether to hold firmly to the DPP’s basic purpose of Taiwanese independence in order to consolidate the support of party hardliners, or to ease up on the DPP’s basic position in search of potential opportunities for interactions with Beijing.

So far, the result has been disappointing. Tsai Ing-wen and the DPP has failed to provide the public with a clear platform on cross-Strait relations. With the election just around the corner, tackling the issue of cross-Strait relations may be “too little too late” anyways. If most of the voters in Taiwan are rational enough to focus on the big picture of peace and prosperity across the Strait, other considerations aside, the DPP can look forward to a tough battle ahead. The key variable now lays with James Soong, who succeeded in dividing the election in 2000.

In the end though, leaving politics aside, it is a pity to see Tsai make the effort to skip the first line of the national anthem. After all, “democracy” is one of the key values proposed in the Three Principles (and what the “Democratic” Progressive Party stands for) and “republic” has a much deeper meaning than just the now politicized state title of “Republic of China.”

Tony Tai-Ting Liu is doctoral student at the Graduate Institute of International Politics, National Chung Hsing University, Taiwan. He can be reached at:

Dafydd Fell’s campaign impressions

I have been back in Taiwan for a couple of weeks now, giving me a slightly different perspective from that in my office in London. Officially I have been on vacation in southern Taiwan until yesterday, and Kenting is not the best location for establishing the national election mood. However, I wanted to share a few initial impressions of the campaign.

A first one is that the enthusiasm level is lower than I have ever experienced in a presidential election. Although most of the audience at the New Year party probably were not old enough to vote, I was struck by how a passionate New Year music event in Taoyuan could go dead on Ma Ying-jeou’s appearance. I have not found people enthusiastic about any of the candidates so far. Of course this may change as I widen my circles of conversation this week and start to attend some campaign events.

I have written separately about the way the presidential campaign has overshadowed the legislative campaign. Nevertheless, I have been pleased to see quite extensive media coverage of the legislative races at this stage. Actually on the ground legislative campaigning appears more extensive than the presidential one. Comparatively DPP candidates appear more willing to include Tsai Ing-wen in their campaign posters, but as Michael Turton has noted on his blog a high proportion of KMT candidates also have Ma on their street posters.

A second thing that I notice is the high degree of government purchased print and television advertising promoting government achievements. I know that this was a feature of previous elections, but my impression is that the level is higher this year. I can see it is important for citizens to understand what their government is doing, but the level of government paid advertising looks like an attempt at free advertising for the ruling party. Ideally what is needed is comparative statistics on the use of these kind of ads.

Thus age old problem of ruling party abuse of public office for electoral benefit appears as serious as at least the 1990s. Though a trivial case, the New Year party mentioned above exemplified this phenomenon. On the stage next to President Ma were the KMT legislative candidates for Taoyuan County seats, but none of the opposition party candidates. This was an event organized by the KMT controlled Taoyuan County government. I cannot be certain whether there were similar practices in DPP controlled counties but clearly this problem remains unresolved.

The third point is the role of the third party, the People First Party. For much of the late Chen Shui-bian era the PFP was in the process of being swallowed by the KMT, at most it was a semi-independent KMT faction. What is especially interesting this year is how the PFP and Soong Chu-yu are operating more like the New Party of the 1990s. In other words, they are actually trying to maintain real distance from the parent party and attacking both sides. This was apparent from seeing PFP candidates appearing on pro Green talk shows and often being more critical of the KMT. It is still not certain how effective this will be in allowing the PFP to win a handful of legislative seats, but it does reflect a changed strategy by Soong. Also it reveals that there is a market to be tapped among voters that probably chose Ma in 2008 and are having second thoughts this time.

A last impression is how the KMT is trying to revive the ghost of Chen Shui-bian. The anti-Chen appeal did make a major impact on a number of campaigns from 2005-2008. By the 2008 presidential campaign Ma was strong enough that he could run a relatively positive campaign and no longer rely on the Chen ATM. Since this election is looking so close, Ma’s team is trying to relink the DPP and Tsai to memories of the Chen era scandals. It is still unclear how effective this will be and given the poll blackout it will be harder than ever to judge the mood of the electorate.

Dafydd Fell is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies. His new book is entitled Government and Politics in Taiwan.

Same sex marriage in Taiwanese elections

It would have been Asia’s first country where gays could legally marry: Almost a decade ago, the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) drafted a bill, which would make same sex marriage legal on the island. After eight years in power and almost four years in opposition, the draft has yet to be reviewed by the legislature. Neither the DPP nor the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) seem too eager to promote LGBT rights.

Incumbent President Ma Ying-jeou supported pride parades in Taipei, where he was mayor for two terms. Ma Ying-jeou also stated that homosexuality was natural and couldn’t be oppressed and that gay rights were part of human rights. Since his time in the presidential office, however, his administration has been mostly quiet about same sex marriage.

It was only recently that the government announced it would explore the topic in the national human rights report. Originally it was expected to be released on December 10 to coincide with the international human rights day. The government has, however, announced that the report will be published in February – after the election. Earlier in July, Interior Minister Jiang Yi-hua didn’t give any specific information about the report, but said further study on the topic and a consensus in Taiwanese society were needed before same sex marriage could become legal.

The country’s LGBT organisations critisised the announcement as another move by politicians to draw support from the gay community just before the elections, without actually passing such a law. The DPP’s presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen went a step further and pledged to support civil unions should she be elected. Another promise was offered by the same party that drafted a same sex marriage bill nine year’s ago, which still hasn’t materialized.

Gays still good for slander

Ironically, both candidates have themeselves been “accused” of being gay. Ex-president Chen Shui-bian of the DPP suggested, three years ago, that there was a DVD showing president Ma Ying-jeou having sex with a former radio DJ. What followed was some speculation in the local media, but the failure of the ex-president to present the alleged DVD put the topic to an end.

DPP candidate Tsai Ing-wen, on the other hand, was asked by a former DPP chairman to clarify her sexual orientation. Declining to answer, Tsai said that it would make her an accomplice of gender oppression, since everyone had a right to privacy.

Gays absent from this year’s presidential TV debate

During a TV debate in 2008, a representative from the Tongzhi Hotline – an organisation providing phone counseling to LGBT’s and their families – was given the opportunity to ask both candidates about their prospective gay politics. Ma Ying-jeou emphasized his support of gay issues, but fell short of promising same sex marriage. Both he and his then contender, the DPP’s Frank Hsieh cited a lack of consensus in Taiwanese society.

In this year’s official televised debate, there was no LGBT representative among the 12 civic groups that were picked to ask questions, sparing the candidates to justify their own and their parties’ policies regarding same sex marriage.

While the same sex marriage issue in Taiwan is less influenced by Christian beliefs and the concept of sin, this is a society deeply rooted in Confucian values such as filial piety. Hence, the concept of having off-spring is still a very important one, especially for the prospective grand parents.

Anti-gay movements have therefore focused more on traditional family values, and less on religious beliefs. Last April, the “Chen Ai Alliance” (Alliance of true love), for example, started a petition attacking the government’s plan to teach gender and sexual diversity in primary and junior high schools. The organisation spread fear among parents, saying that the proposed reference books could confuse their children regarding their sexual orientation at an early age, implying that they could become gay themselves. The Ministry of Education finally gave in and suspended the distribution of the state-approved teaching materials.

Apparently, politicians in both camps are still cautious about same sex marriage, obviously fearing a too progressive stance that would translate into less votes – despite the fact that Taiwan is widely seen as one of – if not the most- gay-friendly nations in Asia. A lack of influential religious opposition compared with western countries and a fairly open and tolerant society, however, could still make Taiwan the first country in Asia to allow same sex marriage. Such a move would not only support the nation’s LGBT-community, but also give the island – at least temporarily – more attention in the international media, making Taiwan stand out even more as one of the most democratic societies in the region.

Martin Aldrovandi is a Swiss journalist working for Radio Taiwan International

Rumors, scandal and the outcome of Taiwan 2012

The campaigns for the January 14 presidential and legislative elections in Taiwan will be remembered mostly for the allegations and counter-allegations made by the main contestants in the race rather than their policy platforms. It would therefore be logical to assume that the headline-grabbing scandals will be determinant factors in voting decision.

They will not. Despite claims, which first emerged in Next Magazine and have since been picked up by international media, that the National Security Council ordered the national security apparatus to spy on President Ma Ying-jeou’s opponents in the election, there is little evidence that such allegations have had any impact on expected voting patterns. This also appears to be the case with repeated allegations that cabinet officials have violated political neutrality by supporting Ma.

The same applies to the charges by Ma’s Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) that Tsai Ing-wen, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate, illegally profiteered from her role in Yu Chang Biologics Co when she was vice premier. In both cases (there were other, lesser ones), documents have been brought forth that appear to support the claims advanced by the accusers.

Rather than influence voters, however, the controversies simply have reinforced pre-established views about the candidates and the parties they represent. For the pan-blue, or pro-KMT, camp and the media associated with it, the allegations against Tsai appear to have compounded the view that the DPP was, and remains, corrupt, claims that played a significant role in bring Ma into office in 2008.

On the pan-green, or pro-DPP, side, the allegations of illegal surveillance — which Tsai, if perhaps hyperbolically, has likened to the Watergate scandal — seem to confirm the view that the KMT was, and remains, authoritarian and inclined to use state resources to clamp down on its opponents. Conversely, the DPP’s claims also seem to have reinforced the perception within the pan-blue camp and abroad that the pan-greens are “irrational,” “paranoid” and prone to conspiracy theories.

One consequence of those congealed perceptions is that voting patters have remained unaffected, seriousness of the scandals notwithstanding. How else could we explain the fact that opinion polls conducted before the scandals and those that were held in their wake have yielded very similar results?

In a presidential campaign that can only be described as underwhelming, the scandals and the subsequent negative campaigns have failed to convince voters to change their longstanding political preferences. Where refreshing policy proposals, rather than the vague promises served, could perhaps have swayed voters, scandal failed to do so. The only thing that was achieved in the process is that the age-old blue-green divide was brought into sharper contrast, a consolidation that, sadly, will prevent Taiwan from moving forward as a developing democracy.

J. Michael Cole is deputy news chief and a reporter at the Taipei Times newspaper and a correspondent on China for Jane’s Defence Weekly.

Is Taiwanese politics becoming boring?

It used to be great fun watching Taiwanese politics. For Northern Europeans, accustomed to business-as-usual parliamentary democracy, Taiwanese politics had a lot of excitement to it: parliamentarians throwing tea cups and fists at each other in the plenum, people prostrating on the ground and crying hysterically, fireworks, horns and what not. Yet, this time around, the election campaigns seem to be rather bland, at least so far.

Has something changed in Taiwanese political culture? Taiwanese politics used to be highly contentious and society strongly politicized. There are a number of underlying structural reasons for this. Politicization, popular interest and participation in politics reached a zenith during Chen Shui-bian’s second term in office, when a vicious battle for control of the political system raged between the two main political camps. After the 2004 presidential election, the DPP had its best shot yet at dismantling the KMT’s structural dominance, although eventually, these efforts failed, and the DPP was for some time left in the doldrums.

The popular enthusiasm on display in Taiwanese politics is nowhere more evident than in its ubiquitous mass rallies—zaoshi wanhui (造勢晚會). Taiwanese political parties regularly used to be able to mobilise hundreds of thousands of people for various political mass activities, especially before and around presidential elections. The height of this battle-by-mass-rally political culture occurred around the years 2004–06 that saw a number of massive rallies attract people in the high hundreds of thousands. Some events even drew millions of people, such as the “hand-in-hand rally” organised by the pan-greens before the 2004 presidential election and a counter-rally by the pan-blues two weeks later. Post-election, the losing political team topped up by organising a week-long demonstration stand-off outside of the presidential offices.

There are, of course, a number of election rallies planned now as well: the DPP is reportedly aiming to organise some 30–40 mass rallies with at least 50,000 supporters attending each of these, while the KMT went all-out in securing permission to hold mass rallies on the highly symbolic Ketagalan boulevard in Taipei on 12–13 January, just before polling day. Nonetheless, the level of enthusiasm appears to have declined from previous years.

Undoubtedly, one reason for this relative lack of popular interest this time is that on the most contentious issues concerning identity and Cross-Strait relations, the main candidates have been circumspect, even ambiguous. These issues have previously shown themselves to be double-edged swords to politicians. Consequently, both of the main candidates, Ma Ying-jeou and Tsai Ing-wen, have threaded cautiously on them. The role of political parties has been crucial in organising political mass action in Taiwan. It is therefore unsurprising that when leading politicians avoid the use of these contentious issues as mobilising tools, this results in less popular participation.

Whether or not Taiwan experiences a return to the days of competitive mobilising of people power to sway the political balance, partly depends on the two political parties again becoming more evenly matched, also in the legislature, and the DPP taking a second shot at breaking the KMT’s structural lock-hold on power. However, it is not at all certain that ordinary voters will put up with another protracted and divisive power struggle. The scars from previous battles are still raw.

Dr Mikael Mattlin is a researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs. His recently published book on Taiwanese politics is titled Politicized Society: The Long Shadow of Taiwan’s One-Party Legacy (Copenhagen: NIAS Press, 2011).

[I will post a review of Mikael’s book here soon; it is excellent and highly recommended. Jon]

Ma’s Watergate?

On December 28, Next Magazine published an investigative report describing an alleged operation by which the head of the National Security Council (NSC) bypassed official channels to order members of the Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau (MJIB) to provide information about Tsai’s campaign activities, meetings, etc. to the Presidential Office.

The story cites multiple sources inside the MJIB, NSC, and the National Security Bureau (NSB), and the reporters obtained copies of internal MJIB documents that specifically describe illegal operations against Tsai (mentioning her by name). Most egregiously, requesting agents to assess how various meetings Tsai held would shift vote counts in the respective areas. The report also gave the dates of the operation, starting from Tsai’s victory in the DPP primary back in May 2011, and named 28 agents in charge of various geographic zones. The report went on to say that these reports were forwarded to the Weng Shih-tsan, Director of the NSC Secretariat, “for the reference of President Ma.”

All the agencies involved, as well as Ma himself, quickly denied any wrongdoing. Nonetheless, there are sufficient grounds to believe the main substance of the allegations is credible. This can be demonstrated by the process of elimination of the other possible hypotheses, of which there are two.

First, there is the hypothetical possibility that Next Magazine simply fabricated the story. Although many people look down upon it, Next Magazine is the best investigative media that Taiwan has got. It probably has broken more scandals than all the rest of Taiwan’s journalists put together. Even when reporting salacious or sordid stories – which they do frequently, to shift the copies off the shelves – their reporters are usually very careful to verify sources and where possible to procure hard evidence (photographs, documents, etc.). They also, as a matter of policy, give people accused a chance to reply before publication (for example, in this case, the various agencies were informed of the article the day before and asked to comment, and a summary of those comments was printed at the back of article). Finally, the Next Group (including Next Magazine, Apple Daily, and now Next TV), run by Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai, is by no means considered a “green” media outlet.

Putting all that together, it is highly unlikely they would destroy years of reputation-building by simply fabricating such an explosive story. Indeed, the costs could possibly be quite a bit higher than commercial, considering the legal and other forms of pressure the government could bring to bear. Instead, we can be confident that the Next reporters did talk to some sources in the relevant agencies, and that the documents they have displayed were given to them by one of these sources.

That brings us to the second alternative hypothesis, which is that some agents within one or more of the intelligence services themselves fabricated the documents and scripted the interviews which were presented to Next’s reporters. That is, the reporters were victims of an elaborate disinformation campaign; they received information and evidence that appeared to be authentic, but was not.

Connoisseurs of conspiracy theories will undoubtedly find this pleasing. But it quite comprehensively fails the Occam’s razor test. It would require a complex coordination among a number of agents from multiple agencies, all of whom would be at significant risk if any of them made any slipups. Furthermore, the motive for such action is totally unclear.

Moreover, the history of these agencies, especially the MJIB (known during the Martial Law era as the Garrison Command) makes such activities seem plausible. Wiretapping has always been widespread in Taiwan, and as recently as Chen Shui-bian’s term in office, the KMT accused him of carrying out quite similar election-related operations. Amid such accusations, a law to prohibit misuse of the intelligence agencies was enacted for the first time in 2005. Ma made a very specific point of including in his inauguration speech in 2008 that under his Administration, illegal wiretapping would not be tolerated, showing that he understood this to be a current issue.

Third, one of the main lines of defense from the MJIB so far has been that any information gathered was done for the protection of candidates. However, according to the relevant regulation, coordinating responsibility for candidates’ security lies with the NSB; the MJIB is only one of the agencies the NSB can authorize to assist it with this responsibility. The Next report specifically says that the MJIB carried out this operation and passed its information directly to the NSC, bypassing the NSB (one of the NSB sources was apparently angry about this). The NSB statement is notably circumspect, not mentioning the operation itself, only denying that any “high-ranking official” within the NSB had criticized the NSC, and then going on to offer praise to NSC Secretary General Hu Wei-chen for his uprightness. An additional piece of circumstantial evidence is that Weng Shih-tsan, who reportedly played the key role in transmitting the intelligence, was himself a long-serving agent of the MJIB before being transferred to the NSC in 2010.

What does it mean?

Thus, for purposes of political analysis, we can only conclude that the operation described by Next did in fact occur. However, what we do not know is to what extent President Ma was directly aware of these activities. He has denied ordering any such operation, or receiving any such intelligence information. It is well within the realm of possibility either that orders were given in a very vague way; or that they were given by someone else actually or purportedly acting on Ma’s behalf; or indeed that no orders were given, but the MJIB and/or the NSC acted on their own initiative as an effort to please Ma or some others of their superiors at one or another level.

What impact might this have on the campaign? The DPP is citing a number of instances where KMT figures took measures suggested that they had prior knowledge of Tsai’s activities (such as meeting or calling the person Tsai was to meet). It is very difficult to pin down any one of these incidents conclusively. More importantly, it is even less easy to ascertain what if anything Tsai might have gained from any particular meeting in terms of votes, much less to what extent any preemptive actions from the KMT side would have reduced such a gain.

As for political responsibility at the top, the DPP and Tsai’s campaign have strongly asserted that Ma must have known about the operation, but they have hedged their statement slightly (given the likely difficulty of proving his knowledge) by saying that if he didn’t, it proves his incompetence. Certainly if a genuinely rogue operation was carried out, it would constitute a quite serious lapse in the chain of command, and one would expect Ma to be genuinely angry about it. However, one can also imagine that he might prefer to wait until after the election to take any disciplinary action. The calls of some, such as the International Committee for Fair Elections in Taiwan, for an independent investigation are warranted, but it is hardly realistic that such an investigation could not only be properly organized but also make a conclusive finding within less than two weeks. At most, announcing an investigation before the election might earn Ma some credit for trying his best. At worst, it could be seized upon as some kind of admission of guilt. Surely Ma would play it safe and try to ride it out.

Here the lessons of Watergate are instructive, although perhaps not in the way the DPP and sympathizers have been asserting. Recall that the Watergate burglars were caught red-handed almost five months before the election, and investigators quickly found evidence of financial connections to the Nixon campaign. However, Nixon steadfastly denied any involvement, and he was re-elected as easily as he could have expected. Even as the investigation expanded, and key White House officials resigned and were indicted, Nixon continued to deny his involvement and to resist resignation for over two years after the burglary. If the “smoking gun” recording of him discussing the cover-up had not emerged, he might well have been able to serve out his term.

What will the impact of the revelation of the operation be on the election results? In principle, such an impact might be significant. Although the shock value would seem to favor the DPP, Ma and the KMT are doing their best to counterattack, accusing Tsai of making irresponsible accusations, etc. Voters who have already made up their minds are perhaps rather unlikely to change their votes either way as a result. However, in a very tight race, even rather small shifts of undecided voters could have a decisive impact.

However, regardless of who the actual or intended end users of such information were, the mere existence of such operations itself poses a threat to the integrity of the election process. As such, it behooves a serious examination from all who are concerned with or study Taiwan’s politics, as a concrete indicator of why the health of Taiwan’s democracy, vibrant as it is, cannot be taken for granted.

For interested readers, here is the NSB press release and a report about the NSC release. The MJIB press releases are here and here  and the relevant law is available here. All links in Chinese.

Bo Tedards is a Taipei-based political analyst and formerly Director of International Cooperation at the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy.

10 questions to the Presidential candidates from a netizen’s perspective

1. Recently, the U.S. congress tried to pass acts like SOPA and Protect IP in order to make the law ​​more stringent on protection of intellectual property rights, but it has also led to concerns of controlling over Internet and suppression of freedom of speech. Taiwan has always closely followed in the footsteps and aligns closely with the United States on intellectual property issues, so how do you look at the endless violations of copyright online, and how would you protect the inviolability of freedom of expression online?

2. Regarding network environment and network infrastructure applications, Taiwan is rapidly lagging behind other Asian tigers. What do you think the crux of the problem is? How will you solve this problem?

3. Net Neutrality is the basis on which successful web site services such as Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Youtube, etc. have been able to develop. However, there is little discussion of this issue in Taiwan, while some Internet service providers have been trying to (or already have) set bandwidth limitations over specific sites and modes of transmission. What is your view on this?

4. The ECFA that Government signed with China is designed to reduce the bilateral trade restrictions, however, the biggest barrier between Taiwan and China is nothing but Internet and information. It is well known, China’s Golden Shield is the most complex system for filtering and control of Internet speech. The gradual implementation of the Web site registration and users’ real-name system, among other measures, are turning the Internet in China into an Intranet. Many websites from Taiwan are blocked in China, and many Chinese websites in are extremely slow in Taiwan, which is extremely inconvenient for netizens to communicate on both sides. If you are elected, will you prioritize this issue, and how will you negotiate with China?

5. One of the things that all Taiwanese can agree on is the poor quality of Taiwan’s media. Hence, many citizen reporters have come forward and begun to use their personal efforts to cover issues ignored by the mainstream media on the Internet and raise enthusiasm from more people for public affairs. How do you view the rise of citizen media? If you are elected, will the Government you will be leading recognize the right for citizens to report? And what measures will you take to encourage more “small media” to appear online?

6. “Open data” is one of the most prominent topics online. Its main purpose is to let more people access to government information through popular pipelines like the Internet, so that in a democratic society citizens can supervise the government and representatives not just during election time. At the same time, the large amount of data that government controls are valuable and can serve as the basis of the application for Internet entrepreneurs under the premise of not violating the principle of privacy and confidentiality. Do you know what the inadequacies of the Taiwan government on open data are? If you are elected, how would you gradually improve them?

7. Digital divide is a phenomenon of modern society, which has many definitions and evaluation criteria, I am not attempting to repeat this, but it is definitely the key to national progress. However, with more and more Internet services that require larger bandwidth and faster and uninterrupted Internet connections, the “haves” and “have-nots” gap is now even more difficult to preempt. Government has always approached this problem by supplementing the hardware when the real gap lies in the ability to use and to learn quickly. Do you recognize the new problems caused by digital divide, and how will you deal with them?

8. To directly listen to public opinion through the Internet, and to have dialogue with netizens is what many leaders of democratic countries regularly do. Even the leaders of China have attended such direct online events and to answer questions from Internet users. The views of netizens may not necessarily be representative, but they are certainly the fastest channel for government to understand the response to policy and current events: to rule by reading newspapers is surely outdated. Because of the election, citizens have the opportunity to throw questions to the Presidential candidates. After the election, this opportunity is gone. If you are elected, can you promise to hold virtual town hall meetings with netizens regularly every quarter or six months, and to answer questions by yourself directly?

9. Non-polluting Internet business is more suitable for the Taiwan government to invest in than energy-intensive and polluting petrochemical or electronics industries. Yet, for decades the government has not changed its direction, still betting on heavy industry or the so-called high-tech industry, resulting in uneven distribution of resources that are seriously squeezed. While environmental pollution in Taiwan has reached the end of the bearing capacity at the moment, do you consider to direct resources to the Internet industry and to adjust the industrial structure?

10. The Internet is about to or has been pervasive, affecting social, national, and even international levels. Would you consider establishing a high-order “Chief Internet Officer” in the governmental system, or recruit an “Internet consultant” in particular on the list of national policy consultants? If so, what kind of authority and responsibility will you give him? If not, why is that?

Portnoy Zheng (鄭國威) is author and editor at Global Voices Online and owner of the pan-science blog

Switch or Shift? Facts and Notes from the Field about a “Language Turn” while Campaigning


Every direct observer of the vibrant campaigning Taiwan who does not just rely on TV News reports and texts in English or Chinese is struck by the noice, soundtracks, polyphony and multilinguism of the campaign. Indeed, beyond the historical political liberalization process, the Taiwanese electoral culture is also the product of the different linguistic fields for which different forms of linguistic capital and language proficiencies are expressly required for candidacies to ROC top positions.

Social representations of language use in the Taiwan society, and basic sociolinguistic-like analysis might stress the sole official language – Mandarin Chinese referenced as “National Language” –  and a classical diglossia between this “higher” language versus “lower” ones including other mutually unintelligible Sinitic languages or “dialects” and marginally Aborigine Autronesian languages. Ethnic and political boundaries would complete this demolinguistic panorama with Taiwanese and Hakka languages for DPP Southern middle class versus KMT urban Northern high-educated upper-class in Mandarin.

The legitimate agents of such statements are the reporters and academic observers who are themselves conditioned by linguistic habitus, did not study this topic or rely on very smooth corpora. However, an ethnographic approach of language strategies of electoral candidates might fine-tune this description by pointing the struggle between two social fields with different linguistic economies resulting of the social integration process of the ROC to the Taiwan society at the turn of 21st century.

The fact is that grassroots elections preceded the arrival of the ROC in Taiwan, and local elections were held as soon as ROC institutions settled in the island. By proscribing the Japanese colonial language, Taiwanese languages became languages for campaigning. The other fact is that the Media were strongly held by the State and the Party with an exclusive promotion of Mandarin while the top positions were reserved to Nationalist Party leaders.

From the late 80s, these two fields went in contact with memorable clashes such as CHU Kao-cheng using Taiwanese for the first time at a national institution. With the direct election process for top positions of the ROC, KMT Mainlander political staff who was not proficient in Taiwanese languages had to start to learn them as soon as the early 90s with James SOONG and the younger generation whose the best representative is MA Ying-jeou.

Notes from the 2012 field:

This on-going process may seem to come to a critical point for this 2012 presidential bid. Indeed, since 1996, at least one candidate was able to make the show in Taiwanese languages – i. e. LEE Teng-hui, CHEN Shui-bian or Frank HSIEH – but among the candidates of the on-going race, none of them is at ease with the linguistic habitus of electoral meetings. Ethnicity is not relevant as an explanation because if SOONG and MA might be categorized as Mainlanders, the loudly advertised Hakka identity of TSAI Ying-wen does not induce automatic Hakka performance in front of an assembly of Hakka supporters.

The point is not the strategy which does not look like to have changed, but the problem of proficiency of the candidates in Taiwanese languages. All the candidates are multilingual but as learners of “foreign” languages for legitimate languages such as English at school and then Taiwanese languages with special coaches for special purpose : electoral campaigning. As learners of any foreign languages, they need to practice or might regress : preliminary observations point that SOONG, MA and even TSAI are not proficient as they were able to be ten years, four years ago or even just last year!

Finally, multilinguism remains beyond the symbolic initial speech for TV debates during which every candidate greet the audience in three or four different Sinitic languages;  or the candidates for vice-presidency who are outstanding performers in Taiwanese such as WU Dun-yi and SU Chia-chuan. Plurilinguism is also changing from Taiwanese languages to English in which both heavy weights candidates feel more comfortable to speak, and these striking speeches performed in English at the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei last November 22th by TSAI and MA.

The final rush will show if it is a temporary switch to be forgotten during the three ultimate weeks whether it is the beginning of the irrevocable shift of the linguistic practices in public life in Taiwan.

Yoann GOUDIN is a Ph. D Candidate in Didactics at INALCO (Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales) in Paris. He is currently a visiting scholar at the Institute of Linguistics at Academia Sinica, and recipient of the TFP (Taiwan Fellowship Program) awarded by the Center for Chinese Studies, ROC.


Does the US have a preference in Taiwan’s elections?

In a recent post on this blog, Bonnie Glaser of CSIS asserted that the US announcement of Taiwan’s candidacy for the Visa Waiver Program and the recent spate of high-level US visits to the island were signs of a “clear preference” of the Obama administration for President Ma Ying-jeou over his challenger, Dr. Tsai Ing-wen of the DPP.

I cannot agree.  US officials have clearly stated that the VWP announcement had its own timeline, and was simply the result of Taiwan fulfilling a set of criteria set by the United States.  Indeed the negotiations on Taiwan’s participation in the Visa Waiver Program were initiated by the Chen Shui-bian administration and took several years in coming. Of course it is likely that the Ma administration has worked harder to fulfill those criteria with the upcoming elections in mind, but that is another story.

On the high-level visits: another reason for the recent spate might be that the Obama administration is listening more closely to Congress, which has been increasingly vocal in arguing for more high-level visits to the democratic island. If the US government would let the Taiwan elections play a role in decisions to send high level visitors to the island, it would actually be in clear contravention of its own stated policy of strict neutrality in the Taiwan elections. We can trust the US to stick to its words, can’t we?

But Glaser’s article is also problematic for other reasons. It portrays the US as having “lingering worries” and being concerned about “Tsai’s unwillingness to be forthcoming about concrete policies towards the Mainland that she would pursue if elected.”

There may be some officials in some corners of the US government who still cling to such a position, but there many others in the Obama administration and in Congress who are more concerned about President Ma drawing too closely towards China at the expense of relations with the United States.  They are pleased with Tsai’s vision of rebalancing Taiwan’s relations and moving it closer to the US and its allies in the region.

Dr. Tsai has shown herself to be a creative and pragmatic thinker, but the response — from Ma and from Beijing – has been to revert to old and empty “One China” mantras.

The “lingering worries” officials are also barking up the wrong tree: if they really want stability in cross-Strait relations they need to lean much more heavily on Beijing. The root cause of the instability is that China does not wish to have a democracy on its doorstep, and that it sees Taiwan as a springboard for its power expansion into the Pacific. Taiwan is not threatening China in any way, except by being a vibrant democracy.

Perhaps these US officials should wonder aloud whether the Chinese leaders are both willing and able to continue the stability in cross-Strait relations the region has enjoyed in recent years. They might add that it is far from clear that the leaders in Beijing and their advisers fully appreciate the depth of the mistrust of their motives and PRC aspiration in countries surrounding China, and particularly in Taiwan.

The other problematic aspect in Glaser’s analysis is that she portrays a win by Tsai Ing-wen as adding a problematic issue to a long list of contentious issues, ranging from North Korea to the South China Sea.  It is a fiction to believe that by accommodating China on the Taiwan issue, one could get it to be more cooperative on other issues. China will play hardball on those other issues no matter what happens in Taiwan. The only way to get it to play by international rules is for the US to play hardball in return.

Winston Churchill once remarked that “One can always rely on the Americans to do the right thing …. after they have exhausted all other options.”   One would hope that the United States has learned its lessons from its earlier mistakes and that it will now be fully supportive of Taiwan and its democracy. The United States needs to show it wants to be on the right side of history.

Gerrit van der Wees is Senior Policy Advisor to the Formosan Association for Public Affairs and editor of Taiwan Communique, both based in Washington DC.

Daily shorts Dec 28

Ma’s history of underachieving is good reason for him not to be re-elected for another four years, so says Jerome F Keating. He also discusses how leaks from the US and its recent emphasis on the visa waiver programme demonstrate it is meddling in the election. Michael Turton weighs in on the US interfering in the election. Taipei Times editorial discusses how the timing of the US visa waiver announcement is very bad, as is the timing of unprecedented visits from US officials. In similar non-interference vein, a Chinese official urged the port city of Xiamen to make more effort to strengthen ties with Taiwan ahead of the election.

Having made their plays for independent voters, the candidates now turn their attentions to the base (although if you need to shore up the base at this stage, its probably a bad sign). According to Michael Turton’s discussion of the discrepancies in the latest polls, targeting the base might be a really good or a really bad idea, but frankly, no one knows. For the record though, the latest China Times poll puts less than 5% between Ma and Tsai, while the TVBS poll has 6% between them. Apple daily puts 8% between them. In each case, Ma has a handy lead. The DPP plays down the latest Apple Daily poll.

This Taiwan Thinktank poll has Tsai trailing by 0.4 percentage points, with James Soong being the deciding factor in the overall outcome – “I believe that if we voted with the current figures, Tsai would win but not by a large margin. The first factor is the shift in James Soong’s votes. The other factor is votes from those who live overseas. But the bigger factor is still Soong.” Soong is down with that, averring that if he wins 5% of the vote then the KMT will lose. A more believable poll shows that young people are worried about their futures, particularly in regard to future job opportunities. Having courted them by dressing up their platforms up with social media flim-flam, will the parties actually come through for this cohort?

United Daily News scrutinizes the four qualities that Tsai has emphasised about herself: “ability to maintain a manner neither self-effacing nor overbearing in facing China; ability to engage in humble soul-searching in facing the people; ability to grasp the international situation facing the world; and ability to keep up with the times. The bit-chomping author blows up each claim as soon as he (I bet it’s a man) has listed them.

Ma cites how improved relations with China has provided Taiwan with a new line of defence.  Ma also responds to Tsai’s allegations that he has sacrificed Taiwans’ sovereignty. From the same piece, Ma harrumphs, “Maybe the milk fish farmers in Tainan, southern Taiwan, will still vote for the DPP as they usually do, but they have acknowledged that being able to sell fish to China is a good thing.”

All three candidates are campaigning hard in their latest stops on the trail (Tsai to deliver an important cross-Strait relations talk in Kinmen). Tsai and Ma continue to exchange words following their presentations last Friday over the issues of national identity and democracy.

Peng Ming-min has a long interview piece in the Taipei Times relating to his role as Chairman of the International Committee for Fair Elections. Peng is a smart guy with pro-democracy bona fides, but he’s also one of the fathers of the Taiwan independence movement. Saying that ‘the committee is neutral and non-partisan’ doesn’t change the fact that their judgements will instantly be written off as partisan prejudice.

Tsai discusses how democracy has become more constrained under the Ma administration. I just finished reading this article that says the same thing about Chen’s administration. So do we now consider LTH as the paragon of democratic values?

President Ma had a simply wonderful Christmastime, visiting several locations on Christmas eve. Dressed for the occasion in a spiffy white jumper and down-to-earth-just-like-you-and-me blue jeans, Ma did carol singing, gift giving, board playing and attended Midnight Mass.

Finally, the Taipei Times has an article based on the post that Bonnie Glaser made here just before Christmas. Alas, your favourite Taiwan 2012 election blog did not merit a mention, forever doomed to anonymity by the callous indifference of the descriptor “an online article”.

Mail me at, follow me on Twitter @jonlsullivan, or access my papers at

Observations from a Taiwanese politics correspondent

With three weeks left before the election day on January 14, here are my observations of the tightly-contested elections:

US messages

The American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) announced on Dec. 22 that Taiwan was nominated for inclusion in the US Visa Waiver Program (VWP), saying that it was “the culmination of hard work and cooperation between the authorities in Taiwan and the United States.”

Despite the AIT stressing that the announcement was unrelated to the presidential election, the fact that the announcement came three weeks before election day still had the political implication of a US preference in the election – at least for Taiwanese politicians.

In the first of three televised platform presentations on Dec. 23, President Ma Ying-jeou wasted no time in highlighting that the US decision was a reflection of warmer bilateral relations during his term and it was part of his successful diplomacy while the Democratic Progressive party (DPP) said the candidacy has been a collective effort of the government and the Taiwanese people.

This is not the first time the US was said to be sending messages with political implications at the wrong time.

In September, London-based Financial Times quoted an unnamed US official as saying that the US was concerned about stability across the Taiwan Strait if DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen was elected.

The US also sent deputy secretary of energy Daniel Poneman, the highest-ranking US official to visit Taiwan in over a decade, to Taipei last week.

The US should do what it preaches – maintain neutrality in Taiwan’s upcoming presidential election.

Do you believe in polls?

Public opinion polls on the presidential election conducted by various news agencies, thinktanks and institutions have been published almost on a daily basis. Anyone who follows them regularly would find the results very confusing.

While several recent polls showed that Tsai’s support rate had caught up with – even surpassed – Ma’s, most polls still say Ma is ahead.

Sources have said the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) internal poll showed Ma is leading by 7-8 percent, which represents over one million votes while the campaign of People First Party (PFP) chairman James Soong and the national security authority, which conducted its own poll privately, both believed Tsai is going to win by a margin of 2-4 percent, which translates into 260,000 to 520,000 votes.

When Tsai was asked about her opinion toward public opinion polls, she has always said that her campaign will take them “as references.” So you get the idea.

The DPP’s support rate in presidential elections in the past were often underestimated by 10-15 percentage points. It appeared that this year is not the case because more pan-green supporters were willing to express their preferences.

Impact of negative campaigning

The KMT and the DPP have engaged in a war of negative campaigning as the KMT has brought up the case about Yu Chang Biologics Co. and questioned Tsai’s role and alleged improper profiteering before, during and after the formation of the biotech company.

The DPP has answered with a controversial case of the merger of two banks in 2002 when Ma served as Taipei City mayor.

Both parties have accused the other side of “character assassination.”

It seems to me that the negative campaigning from both sides did not benefit their campaigns, as many people expressed their displeasure of the smear war in the newspapers, blogs and social media websites.

As the one which first launched the attack, the KMT’s motive was intriguing. If it is leading by 7-8 percent in support rate as it claims, launching such attack one month before the election day would be unnecessary.

Some analysts observed that, because the election has been so tightly-contested, the KMT was hoping to vie for the support of swing voters by doing this – even if it ended up influencing only one per cent of the electorate.

Legislative Yuan elections

The KMT is trying to secure 60 of 113 legislative seats in the legislative elections while the DPP is eyeing 50. These goals tell different stories.

The KMT’s goal of 60 shows how bad the party has done since 2008, when it won 81 of 113 seats. However, if it is able to win 60, the KMT will still control the legislature.

The interesting thing is, while the DPP’s slogan for the LY elections appeal for support to gain more than half of the 113 legislative seats, the party already knew it would not accomplish the feat, which was why it has a goal of 50.

A phenomenon worth noticing is the so-called “split voting,” which means a voter votes for party A in the legislative elections and party B in the presidential election.

There have been reports in southern Taiwan that KMT legislative candidates asked voters to support them and said it’s fine to vote for Tsai in the presidential election. The main reason is the KMT, Ma in particular, has been unpopular in the south.

Chris Wang is a politics reporter and analyst for the Taipei Times

Daily shorts Dec 24

East Asia Forum discusses US and Chinese interests in the election. The Washington Times has a similar article. The KMT gives five reasons to be suspicious of the TaiMed case and Tsai’s involvement. The KMT United Daily News explains why the TaiMed and Fubon scandals are completely different kettles of fish.  The latest China Times poll puts Ma ahead by 5.2%. Do they think increasing the number of decimal places will make it more believable?

Ma and Tsai exchanged words over the interpretation and validity of the 1992 consensus. Former president LTH considers Ma’s insistence on the 1992 consensus is not based on fact and also urged voters to support the DPP – ““Ma’s continuous remarks that the ‘1992 consensus’ exists is unacceptable as it is an action that distorts history and is effectively lying to Taiwanese.” Ma denies selling out Taiwan to China over agreements made between Taiwan and China during the past few years. Tsai warns of unification with China if Ma is elected for a second term – “If President Ma is re-elected, this generation might face the issue of ultimate unification.” Jerome F Keating discusses the outcomes of the legislative election

Finally, this being the season for being thankful, I would like to extend my gratitude to the contributors who have helped make this blog such a success thus far: Sigrid Winkler, Dafydd Fell, Michael Turton, Jens Damm, Mikael Mattlin, Sheng-chih Wang, Julie Chen, Linda Arrigo, Gunter Schubert, Harry Wu, Chris Wang, Paul Katz, Muyi Chiu, Dalton Lin, Tim Rich, Malte Kaeding, Sasa Istenic, Chun-Yi Lee, Julia Famularo, Wang Hong-zen, Jeremy Taylor, Bonnie Glaser, John F. Copper, Scott Simon, Cal Clark, Lin Pei-Yin, Ko-hua Yap, Jerome Soldani, Tony Liu, Ben Goren, Michal Thim. My thanks to everyone who has helped spread the word, and for retweets to @TimMaddog, @Taiwanderful, @davidonformosa, @chungiwang, @Koxinga8, @KeepTWfree, @TaiwanCorner, @taiwanreporter, @filination, @Brownlaoshi, @blickpunktaiwan, @Portnoy and so on.

The campaigns won’t stop for Christmas, but the blog will be taking a few days off. If anything interesting happens, be sure to let me know by mail at or Twitter @jonlsullivan. Normal service will resume on Dec 28, and we have a great line up of people to guide you through to Election Day. Happy Holidays everybody.


US Prefers Ma but will work with Tsai

Today, the U.S. finally announced that Taiwan has been officially listed as a candidate for the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (VWP).  The announcement was made just three weeks before Taiwan’s presidential elections.  It came on the heels of a visit to Taiwan in early December by US Deputy Secretary of Energy Dan Poneman, the highest ranking US official to visit the island in eleven years.  In September, U.S. Assistant Commerce Secretary Suresh Kumar traveled to Taiwan.

This spate of visits and policy decisions comes after an extended lull in the US-Taiwan relationship, with only a trickle of official exchanges and a lot of rancor over Taiwan’s re-imposition of a ban on imports of U.S. beef in January 2010.  The recent steps are welcome; they further consolidate an already strong US-Taiwan relationship.   Taiwan is America’s ninth largest trading partner and a growing import market for US exports.  Last year US exports to Taiwan surged 41 percent to $26 billion.  Nevertheless, the fact that these steps were taken so close to Taiwan’s elections calls into question the Obama administration’s claim to being neutral about the election’s outcome.  Although US officials studiously avoid saying so directly, there is a clear preference for Ma Ying-jeou to win a second term in office.

US worries about a DPP victory derive in part from the US experience with Chen Shui-bian, who pursued pro-independence measures that Beijing judged as provocative, resulting in heightened tensions in both cross-Strait and US-China relations.  Even though the DPP and its presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen have learned lessons from that period, the US still has lingering worries.  Tsai’s unwillingness to be forthcoming about concrete policies toward the Mainland that she would pursue if elected has exacerbated Washington’s concerns.

Obama administration officials’ preference for a Ma victory is also a consequence of their hope to avoid introducing additional contentious issues to the increasingly complicated US-China agenda.  Bilateral tensions have run high in recent years over a long list of issues, including North Korea, South China Sea, China’s military modernization, and China’s currency valuation and trade practices.  US arms sales to Taiwan in January 2010 and September 2011 infuriated the Chinese and soured US-China relations as well, but the impact was relatively confined and short lived compared to the likely Chinese reaction to the return of the DPP to power.  Past experience demonstrates that when Chinese fears of Taiwan independence spike, other issues are crowded out in US-Chinese consultations, making compromises and solving problems even more difficult than usual.

If Tsai wins, the US will do its utmost to encourage the DPP to be pragmatic in its approach to Beijing, while at the same time pressing China to be flexible as well.  Finding a mutually acceptable formula that would enable the semi-official SEF-ARATS channel to remain open will be an urgent priority.  Active diplomacy would likely be undertaken by the US to urge both sides of the Taiwan Strait to find a creative way forward that enables the numerous cross-Strait communication channels that have been established in recent years to continue to function.

Regardless of whether Beijing and Taipei are able to work out a modus vivendi, in the absence of policy steps by Taiwan that damage American interest in the maintenance of cross-Strait peace and stability, US-Taiwan relations are likely to remain positive and strong.  Washington may see advantages in a Ma Ying-jeou victory, but if Tsai is elected, the U.S. will look forward, and seek to work with her to develop a positive relationship and sustain robust ties.  If Chinese leaders assume that the US will reflexively revert to the old playbook that was employed during the Bush administration to cope with Chen Shui-bian to manage a new situation, they would be mistaken.

Bonnie S. Glaser is a Senior Fellow in the Freeman Chair in China Studies at CSIS

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. 

Daily shorts Dec 23

An alleged leaked document from DPP HQ lists businessmen returning from the mainland, undecided voters, and defectors from the Soong camp as areas of vulnerability. Did we really need a leaked document to tell us that? The fundamental strategy in the run up to the election is to play it safe– “The last thing you want is to win 1 per cent of support and lose 3 or 5 per cent for a stupid mistake, such as a careless comment.” But they do plan to stage 40 huge rallies before the elections. Meanwhile, Ma’s campaign promises to focus on addressing tough policy issues: “Explaining government policies and goals will continue to be the core of our campaign. People want to hear more details about candidates’ platforms and want to know which candidate would solve problems for them”. The KMT’s alleged smear campaign has backfired according to this article, and their excessive negative campaigning demonstrates a lack of positive achievements. Perhaps that’s why they have shifted focus to Ma’s wife.

Michael Turton discusses how Ma is trying to elevate the stock market prior to the election. Ma also pledges more support for farmers and agricultural exporters. Is this what they mean by ‘vote buying’? Ma spent the night at a fruit growers house  – “I’ve become friends with most of the families I have stayed with during the long-stay trips and home stay is a great way to better understand local issues,” Ma said. However there’s at least one sector not feeling the KMT love, as aboriginal groups demand an audience with Ma having been denied access to recent debates. One group spreading the love KMT message is the Straits Exchange Foundation, who’s Chairman urged Taiwanese businessmen working in China to “make the right choice” and support the KMT. It doesn’t say whether he was wielding a baseball bat and electrodes at the time. Ma touts his success in getting agricultural products into the Chinese market, but the Taipei Times says the KMT’s boasting about its economic achievements is flawed, given the impact of greater economic integration with China. They also dismiss Ma’s claims to being “thrifty” given his enormous personal wealth and willingness to part with tax payers’ money. The Tsai campaign is focusing on small and medium sized enterprises as key to increasing competitiveness, and pledges to increase ICT investment so that Taiwan is on a par with Korea.

This China Times editorial discusses how DPP spin doctors are seeking to protect Tsai by covering up the truths of her involvement in TaiMed. The alterations of the TaiMed documents led the DPP to accuse the KMT of falsifying evidence. The prosecutor argues there is no bias in his investigations into the recent scandals. This piece discusses the irony of Ma and the KMT in attacking Tsai given Ma’s own previous involvements in alleged scandals. Speaking of which, the DPP continues to pressure Ma over alleged connections to the Fubon banking group. But Fubon Group says Ma rejected their financial donations and Ma denies any conflict of interest. Feeling left out (it must be a weird feeling for Soong not to be under attack) the PFP gets involved  by accusing Ma of taking unlawful donations in his 2008 election bid. Both Tsai and Ma say they have sufficiently explained away their recent scandals. But here they are accusing each other of being unethical and manipulative. The Academia Sinica President says the Yu Chang controversy  saga needs to end already. Are the recent scandals evidence of how the blue/green battle has become a divide between classes? (Me either, but read it anyway).  The TaiMed scandal continues to backfire against the KMT says Michael Turton. Scandals are dominating the news and directing attention away from more important policy issues—has it ever been any different?

Legislative candidates have picked their running numbers while some thought it was cosplay day. Jerome F Keating predicts a big shake up in the legislative Yuan as a result of the election. Not so fast, says the KMT, who reckon they’ll get 60 legislative seats and thus still have a decent majority. Pundits are not impressed by the performance of the legislative Yuan and argue it can only be reformed if the KMT loses its majority. Former President Chen Shui-bian doesn’t want a pardon from the DPP if they are elected; he just wants all his money back (sorry, he wants a retrial). Like every financially pressed university chancellor in the world, Ma promises to increase the number of Chinese students attending Taiwanese universities. With impeccable (and in no way contrived) timing, KMT Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin, announced his highest approval rating to date in five years on the job. The DPP attacked Ma over his comments that he was surprised to see a decline in the rate of suicides; the ever self-deprecating President expected it to be much higher. In related news, Ma says that Kim Jong Il’s death is of no significance to Taiwan.

New Straits Times discusses how PRC citizens are proud of Taiwan’s elections. At least one professor is optimistic that the Taiwan election may serve as a beacon of democracy for democratization in China ::awkward silence, people shuffling towards the door:: Speaking of profs, the folks at James Town Foundation finds there is little difference between the two parties cross strait policies and that neither independence nor unification are likely in the near-term. And if you didn’t see this already, the Wilson Centre panel from a couple weeks back is worth catching (with Karl Ho, Dafydd Fell, Cal Clark and John Hsieh).

And finally, Soong’s running mate is going to visit Bhutan in order to understand how their happiness index is so high despite limited resources. What would this campaign be without the eccentric electromagnetic wave attracting man?

Mail me at, follow me on Twitter @jonlsullivan, or access my papers at

How far should we trust the Chengchi/XFuture election market?

Many people commenting on Taiwan 2012 have cited the Chengchi/XFuture exchange market’s measures of candidate support levels. Given widespread skepticism about substantial variation and idiosyncrasies in Taiwanese media polls, it is not surprising that people have been casting around for more reliable numbers.

A further reason for the popularity of the election market in this campaign is that it has consistently reported optimistic numbers for Tsai Ing-wen; the favoured candidate for many in the English language blogosphere. Whereas blue friendly media polls have given Ma a lead of between 4 and 10 points consistently throughout the campaign, the election market has had Tsai ahead (on occasion by a large margin). The XFuture website features markets for individual components of the candidates’ platforms, support levels among different segments of the electorate, and for individual legislative districts. As a companion to the campaigns for interested observers it is terrific.

But are the numbers meaningful? Who should we believe when there is a near-20 point difference between the media polls (Ma ahead handily) and the prediction market (Tsai well ahead)? With exquisite timing several Taiwanese political scientists have just published a paper in the Journal of Prediction Markets (yes, there is a journal for everything). The paper is available here ($). I take the liberty of pasting the abstract below:

“This paper devises a methodology to compare the accuracy of prediction markets and polls. The data of the Exchange of Future Events (xFuture) for Taiwan’s 2006 mayoral elections and 2008 presidential election show that the prediction markets outperform the opinion polls in various indices of accuracy. In terms of the last forecast before the election date, the accuracy of the prediction markets is 3 to 10 percent higher than that of the opinion polls. When comparing the accuracy of historical forecasts, the prediction markets outperform the polls in 93 to 100 percent of the cases. Moreover, the average accuracy of the prediction markets is 9 to 10 percent higher than that of the polls, with a standard deviation more than 2 percent less than that of the polls. To examine the robustness of these comparisons, this paper conducts two tests including daily forecast and normalized accuracy, and finds that the prediction markets successfully pass the tests with a significantly better accuracy than the polls.”

Click here for the latest market conditions for the presidential candidates.

Mail me at, follow me on Twitter @jonlsullivan, or access my papers at

Legislative campaigning in Kaohsiung: A view from the 7th district

Taipei and Kaohsiung are not only first and second biggest cities in Taiwan respectively divided by Tropic of Cancer that cuts Taiwan in half and making both places feel like they are located on two distant continents. These two cities also represent the geographic division of  the Taiwanese political landscape. North is blue, South is green, people say in Taiwan when they talk about the political basics. Although there is a great deal of oversimplification in that, it is to a considerable extent true that Taipei stands firmly as KMT stronghold while Kaohsiung is a safe haven for DPP. To a considerable extent, not absolutely though. In 2008, the KMT was extraordinarily successful and secured 6 mandates in Legislative Yuan (LY) elections out of 9 in the area that now constitutes Greater Kaohsiung. In 2008 presidential elections Kaohsiung County still supported DPP candidate Frank Hsieh but Kaohsiung City voted for Ma Ying-jeou.

The setting for 2012 is clear: is DPP about to reclaim Kaohsiung and how does the KMT plan to defend its gains deep inside “hostile” territory? This was my first question for representatives of both major competitors. The second addressed the influence of parallel presidential and legislative elections on campaign strategy. The third was about specific campaign issues related to Kaohsiung and the fourth question challenged both representatives to answer why should voters cast a ballot for their party.

The following text is a brief summary of both interviews. It needs to be noted positively that unexpected visit of a foreigner curious about election campaign was in both cases met with somebody willing to take questions. I can imagine completely different situation in the Czech Republic where I come from. Yet, it needs to be also said that if openness was to be measured, then the DPP scored considerably higher, with district office campaign director Gary Lin willing to take additional questions and going a little more beyond more or less official campaign proclamations.

The KMT legislative candidate in Kaohsiung 7th district is incumbent legislator Chiu Yi (邱毅), known for his close relations with the media and frequent use of legal charges against political opponents. I met and interviewed his office assistant Mr. Ching-Wei Huang and a campaign volunteer who did not reveal his identity. Chiu’s DPP challenger is Chao Tien-lin (趙天麟), former magistrate councilor with considerably lower profile (for good or bad) compared to Chiu Yi. As noted above, Mr. Gary Lin who is head of the Chao’s election office answered the questions.

How were the expectations of the candidates? I addressed this first to the KMT HQ. Mr. Huang answered that loss of any seat out of 9 available would be regarded as defeat. This appears over ambitious considering that KMT can hardly hope to repeat its gains from 2008 and that securing all seats is unlikely even for the DPP. The volunteer who assisted the interview gave me more realistic estimate of 5 mandates. How were the concurrent elections influencing campaigning for the KMT? According to Mr. Huang, the two elections are tied together in any case and rather than addressing differences in campaign strategy, he took care to highlight achievements of KMT administrations which should secure victory for KMT in both elections. This actually answered third question too. KMT achievements on a local level were reiterated and confidence expressed that the party will secure victory based on these achievements. The overall impression and conclusion is that main KMT campaigning tool in this particular district is Chiu Yi’s popularity and the playing card of achievements is employed more strongly on the central level. Mr Huang also stressed that the party put an emphasis on convincing abstainers to come to vote this time. It remains to be seen if this will be good enough to secure at least 5 seats in Greater Kaohsiung.

Interviews in the DPP office brought out some interesting points. Perhaps the most interesting one came up with the questions on the combination of presidential and legislative elections and their influence on campaign strategy. Mr. Lin pointed out that one of the visible effects are campaign posters/billboards where LY candidates are together with Tsai Ing-wen. Lin referred to her rising popularity which may help to boost popularity for less known DPP candidates for the LY. This may have implication for KMT, yet, in opposite manner. KMT candidates may prefer not to link their campaign with Ma Ying-jeou’s reelection bid due to his low approval ratings. KMT candidates may simply feel that linking their candidacy to presidential election is striping them off advantages of a locally built support base. Indeed, it has strong logic in South and during my visit of Kaohsiung I saw only a small number of posters where local candidates were pictured together with Ma. Observations from Taipei seem to be similar so far. One can see considerably more posters where Tsai is together with a local LY candidate.

When talking about how the DPP is going to get their voters back, apart from naming alleged KMT mismanagement (those in social policy area are the most important), Gary Lin mentioned that DPP will appeal to voters to return from Taipei where many people from Kaohsiung work to come to their hometowns in Kaohsiung area and elsewhere. On a local level, one of the central issues of Chao’s campaign (and DPP’s in general) is to make Kaohsiung a greener (environmentally speaking) city which may have an appeal in a city known for its industrial pollution. What are the DPP’s expectations? According to Lin, the party is quite confident in securing 7 seats, while the remaining 2 are considered undecided (including the 7th district). At this point, NCCU’s Exchange of Future Events for Kaohsiung shows that the DPP is closer to reaching its goal when predicting that 6 seats will go to DPP and remaining 3 are still undecided. It also gives nearly 67% to Tsai Ing-wen and only 37% to Ma Ying-jeou. Thus, it seems that Kaohsiung after 4 year-long intermezzo is set to become green again.

Michal Thim is currently enrolled in the International Master‘s Program in Asia-Pacific Studies at National Chengchi University in Taipei and research fellow at the Prague-based foreign policy think tank, Association for International Affairs. This report is based on interviews conducted by Michal at the election headquarters of the DPP and KMT in Kaohsiung’s 7th election district for Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan on December 5, 2011. The views expressed in this article by party officials are their personal opinions which do not necessarily correspond with the official position of the respective political party. Michal  wishes to thank Mr. Richard Lin for his invaluable assistance. A large range of associated images are available here.

Taiwan’s immigration policy after 2012

Immigration policy never seems to be a hot debated issue in Taiwan’s presidential elections. However, population movement between Taiwan and China is considered a serious national security issue. Until now none of the three presidential candidates have proposed a clear picture of migration policy toward PRC Chinese. Here I will talk about Taiwan’s migration policy, and then focus on the possible migration policy change towards PRC Chinese and overseas ethnic Chinese, who are mostly living in Southeast Asia.


Currently there is a very complicated immigration system in Taiwan due to its unique political history with China. Residents living outside Taiwan are categorized into 6 groups, which can be basically aggregated into two: foreigners and ethnic Chinese. Such a complex immigration system has developed in different periods in the past 60 years because of the change of political milieu and social change that the Taiwanese government faced. To lure overseas Chinese with ROC passports to come to Taiwan to invest, to study or to visit relatives, so that ROC Taiwan could compete in terms of political legitimacy with the PRC, overseas Chinese are granted a special certificate (Huaqiao shenfen zhengmingshu, Overseas Chinese Certificate), which is only issued to those overseas Chinese who can prove that they or their parents had ever held ROC passports. Overseas Chinese can use this certificate to apply for settlement inTaiwan. About three-quarters of the overseas Chinese immigrants are from Asia.

But since the ‘ROC’ was expelled from the United Nations in 1971, and after the US recognized the PRC in 1979, Taiwanbecame a political pariah in the international community. Many Taiwanese moved out this country to seek political security overseas in the 1970s and 1980s. There is no data available for emigration at that time, but Figure 1 below demonstrates that whenever there was a blow to Taiwan’s political stability, the number of emigrants increased, e.g., the Taiwan Strait crisis in 1996 when China launched long-range missiles to intimidate former President Lee Teng-hui. In addition, since the mid-1980s Taiwanese investment in Southeast Asia and China increased enormously, and many people are assigned to work overseas. It is even claimed that there are more than half million Taiwanese living in Shanghai. This creates a new category for immigration control. If these Taiwanese have left Taiwan, and have applied for naturalization in other countries, they will be regarded as ‘overseas Chinese’, but different from the traditional meaning of ‘overseas Chinese’ who mostly come from Mainland China. Basically these overseas Taiwanese have no problem to apply for new passports to return to Taiwan if they can show their old Taiwanese ID card, passport or household registration.

Figure 1 Migration Registration of Resident Population inTaiwan

Regarding the category for PRC Chinese, mutual exchanges between Taiwan and the PRC were banned before 1985, and there were no mutual visits between the people on the two sides. After 1986, when the Taiwan government relaxed its control of the veterans, who fled to Taiwan with Chiang Kai-shek army, to visit their home towns, exchanges between the two sides increased significantly, including economic investments and personal visits. Marriages between the two sides have taken place since then, and it created a big problem for Taiwan government to accept those ‘enemy people’ to have family unions in Taiwan. It had to abolish the archaic regulations, and in 1997 the law ‘Act Governing Relations between Peoples of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area’ (Liangan renmin guanxi tiaoli) was passed to accommodate the new migration situation. This law also applied to people in Hong Kong and Macao. However, the control over PRC Chinese is harsher than for foreigners due to the ideology of national security. So currently there are two laws to regulate marriage immigrants, one is the law for PRC Chinese, while another is for all other foreigners.


The most important ideology that sustains immigration policy in Taiwan is the patriarchal jus sanguinis principle, which dominates postwar Taiwanese immigration policy. As discussed previously, political rivalry between the PRC and ROC created a specific immigrant category for overseas Chinese. It is based on a jus sanguinis principle, and this principle has not changed too much until now. It was patriarchal because before this revision of the Nationality Law in 1999, only descendants of male ROC/Taiwan passport holders could apply for naturalization. Any marriage immigrant before naturalization without attachment to a Taiwanese national, either spouse or child, has to leave when the temporary residency permit expires. This practice supports the patriarchy family ideology in Taiwan, since most permanent settlers are women from China and Southeast Asia.

Another key concept of Taiwan’s migration and citizenship policy is ‘population quality’ (renkou suzhi) and the categorization of individuals and migrants as being of lower or higher quality. The mission of the Taiwanese government is to ensure the reproduction of a good quality population, while preventing any contamination of  low quality population coming into the society. A ‘Population Policy Committee’ was set up in the 1960s, which still remains an important body in the Ministry of Interior, to direct the policy to reproduce a ‘good quality’ population. Taiwan’s government explicitly states that it will attract ‘high quality population’ to work and to settle down as it states in the ‘Guidelines for 2009 Policy Implementation’ that ‘the government will improve the effectiveness of border control, prevent human trafficking, formulate a consistent policy to prosecute, protect and prevent human trafficking, and to actively attract overseas high quality persons’.

The third characteristic of Taiwan’s migration policy is the emphasis on ‘national security’. Since the defeat of KMT in 1949, Taiwan was built as the bastion to fight against Communist China. Population movements were regarded as threatening for national security, so they needed to control them. Such a principle is especially applied to PRC immigrants, who could be denied entry into Taiwan at Taiwan’s airport if they are considered potential threats to the national security. Chinese immigrants are not allowed to work before they get the permanent residency status, which takes about six years to acquire. Even when they are naturalized, they are suspected to be communist Chinese spies, and are not allowed to be civil servants within the first ten years of naturalization.


The principles of Taiwan’s immigration policy have not changed very much in the past few decades, and it still dominates the ways of thinking about migration in Taiwan. The major immigration policy changes made in the past are due to international political changes, which are strongly related to the China factor, and domestic social pressures. In the near future, we can foresee some changes that might be made.

First of all, the China factor will strongly influence Taiwan’s immigration policy. Current migration policy toward Chinese spouses and foreign spouses is discriminatory, and a strong pressure comes from China and domestic NGOs to have equal treatment between these two groups. Especially the new government in 2008 led by President Ma Ying-jeou is heavily tilting to China, and it has relaxed the ban of Chinese students to study in Taiwan after 2012, who will be very likely to settle down in Taiwan after the graduation and become permanent migrants. In addition, the short-term de-sinicization process between 2000 and 2008 by former President Chen Shui-bian is reversed after the new government, and a relaxation on the immigration of overseas Chinese is underway. More overseas Chinese would be able to apply for immigration in the coming years. It also means that the ‘national security’ principle will be down played, while the jus sanguinis principle, the imagined Chineseness, will again be enforced. One piece of evidence is the number of approved overseas Chinese to settle down in Taiwan increased from17,000 in 2007 to 31,000 in 2009. I still don’t know how the migration policy would be changed if Dr. Tsai Ing-wen wins the election, but the Chineseness might be again downplayed, and more resources might be directed to local cultural affairs like aborigines.

What will be kept intact is the ideology of  ‘population quality’. This principle applies to all foreign residents, no matter what ethnicity they are. Scholars who did research on population policy in 2007 subcontracted by the Ministry of Interior say nothing about blue-collar immigrants in Taiwan, and the reason is ‘the government declined to put migrant workers policy as a part of population policy’. However, this report put much effort in formulating policy to attract ‘high quality human resources’. In other words, the government will keep its strict control on marriage immigration and labor migration.

Dr Wang Hong-zen is Professor and Chair of the Graduate Institute of Sociology, National Sun Yat-sen University.