Taiwan Presidential Election 2012: Reflection and Its Impact on China

作者: Admin

by Ling Yu-long

The dust is finally settling over the 2012 Presidential Election in Taiwan, and many scholars and commentators have concluded that President Ma’s win was a vote for stability, especially across the Taiwan Strait.  Of course, this conclusion is overly simplified.  There were many positive aspects that caught attention of the world, such as presidential campaign debates leading to public awareness of the complexities of issues and in turn leading to policy improvements.  Furthermore, through debates and disclosure of party platforms, corruption becomes public enemy number one. A debate has a great impact in combating corruption and improves the quality of government.

Upon learning of his reelection, at his celebratory rally, President Ma Ying-jeou said that the victory was not his victory, but a victory for the Taiwanese and for a program that seeks clean government, peace and prosperity.

What separates human from many other species is our ability to learn from our prior experiences.  So, what lessons we have learned here.

First, by looking at the democratic experience of Taiwan, it is easy to see that democracy in Taiwan is still in its infancy.  However, by looking at the democratic electoral process, Taiwan should be praised for how its democratization has matured in great speed and scope.  During the actual campaign period, the chaotic division among political parties made it appear that the country was falling apart. Yet, once the votes were counted and winners were announced, the winners thanks their supporters and the losers graciously congratulate the winners as well as thanked their supporters. Life quickly returned to normal. This is how the game of democracy should be played. 

In Ms. Tsai’s concession speech, she congratulated President Ma on his victory and apologized to her supporters for her failure.  She then stated that Taiwan cannot afford to not have a strong opposition party.  She is absolutely right.  In a democracy, especially in party politics, a strong and healthy opposition party is very important.  It provides a check and balance.  Without it, democracy will not work and will not be exist.

Second, if (i) the internal power struggles among the DPP politicians and its different party factions continue and (ii) the DPP fails to learn from its mistakes and implement comprehensive reforms, it will not be able to win voter support.  In matured democracies, party platform and policy orientations can win votes.

 Negative campaigning and mudslinging can win support from your own party members, but will turn off independent voters.  This is the lesson that all parties must learn 

Third, focusing on the Taiwan experience, in the past, the Taiwan experience has mainly dealt with its economic achievement.   The hope is that China can learn this lesson Taiwan’s successful economic growth.  Now that China is doing much better economically, how about politics!

We all know that China is still a communist country.  Its political system has remained unchanged since its civil war in 1949.  Under President Ma’s leadership, cross-Strait relations between Taiwan and China have improved in an unimagined manner.  Many observers have wondered whether Taiwan’s political experience will have any impact on China.

Unfortunately, this is not a yes or no question. The stakes were very high for China in the recent election in Taiwan, so much so that the mainland Chinese government of China, not only allowed the Chinese news media to report the event, but also encouraged Taiwanese voters who were doing business in China to return to Taiwan to vote.  The exposures Taiwan’s presidential election activities (e.g., debates, party rallies) have left a deep impression on the people in China.  In essence, the seeds of democracy have been planted in China’s rich soil. The question quickly becomes, if in Taiwan, why not in China?

The bad news according to democratic theorists is that democracy will only work in a civil society.  In a civil society there must be solid economic growth with a large middle-class and good educational system.   Furthermore, there must be judicial independence.  Democracy and the rule of law go hand in hand.  China has some of the needed elements for democracy such as economic growth and a good educational system.  China now also has a large middle class population, but proportionally to the rest of its population, it is still not large enough.

The major issue facing democracy in China is its communist political system; China is a one party state.  There are no opposition parties.  In fact, in China, opposition parties are not allowed. Also, in China there is no judicial independence.  To make matters worse, China has a bad track record for human rights violations.  Political rights, such as freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and the right of political participation, are not guaranteed.

It is no wonder that many scholars suggest that if the Taiwan model of democracy was incorporated in China that it would most likely collapse overnight.  So, to answer the big question of whether Taiwan’s democratic experience will impact on China, my answer is most likely not. The fact is most Chinese would not dare to openly ask the question of “if the Taiwanese can do it, why not the Chinese”. With this in mind, what do you think the answer is?

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