Books on Taiwan
Update No: 039 - (29/05/07)
The die is cast-at least insofar as the 2008 presidential
election is concerned. The contest next March in what may well be the most
important presidential election for Taiwan to date (direct elections only begun
on 1995 and the 2008 election will be the fourth) will be between former Premier
Frank Hsieh, representing the Democratic progressive Party (and more broadly the
"Pan-Green alliance) and former Taipei mayor Ma Ying-jeou representing the
Kuomintang and the Pan Blues.
Former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Ma Ying-jeou was nominated as
his party's presidential candidate on 2nd May in a one-horse race and announced
immediately that he would invite Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng to be his
running mate. He also presented his campaign platform on the economy, pledging
to raise the country's economic growth rate to 6 percent and the average income
per person to US$20,000 by 2011. Ma also proposed the establishment of a
"construction fund" for local governments, which would be funded by
taxpayers and said that he would raise the subsidy for elderly farmers if
On cross-strait issues, Ma said Taiwan should push for the normalization of
economic and trade relations under the principles of "prioritising Taiwan
and benefiting Taiwanese." He said the government should loosen
cross-strait economic regulations, but that Taiwanese companies should ensure
their roots remain at home.
If elected president, Mr. Ma said, he would push for more Chinese tourists to be
allowed to visit Taiwan. He said it would be his goal for 3 million Chinese to
visit Taiwan each year within four years, generating NT$100 billion in revenue.
There were four candidates within the DPP aspiring for a chance to be nominated
as candidate for the presidential race. In a display of democratic idealism
meant to stand in stark contrast to the KMT primary, the DPP version was
supposed to have been a two part affair with the final choice being made on the
basis of firstly a vote among the party faithful followed by a nationwide
telephone poll in the second part.
In that first phase, Mr. Hsieh came first in 17 out of 24 cities and counties
across Taiwan, gaining a large and immediate advantage over his rivals Premier
Su Tseng-chang, DPP Chairman Yu Shyi-kun and Vice President Annette Lu. With
such a clear-cut victory by Hsieh, the other three announced they would drop out
of the race thereby negating any reason to hold a wider poll.
Mr. Hsieh is a safe choice. He is well liked and is a pragmatist. Hsieh's
experience as Kaohsiung mayor, where he presided over a period of solid
development for the city, will serve him in good stead as it helped him gain a
reputation as a good administrator and a politician who gets things done. Born
in 1946, he obtained law degrees from Taiwan National University and philosophy
degrees from Kyoto University in Japan. He was the Mayor of Kaohsiung from
1998-2005 when he stepped down and became Premier, resigning that position in
January of last year.
He is known for his pragmatic approach to cross-strait
relations and this may also boost his chances, as Taiwanese have time and again
shown they prefer maintaining the "status quo" when it comes to
relations with China. Indeed a recent poll shows support for cross-straits ties
among the general population ebbing away in recent times.
According to one newspaper commentary, Mr. Hsieh's practical, bide-your-time
attitude to ties with Beijing will give more cautious voters a credible
alternative to Ma's embrace-China-at-all-costs approach.
The only cloud hanging over a Hsieh candidacy is the corruption allegations
related to the Kaohsiung MRT system during his stint as mayor. These allegations
resurfaced during the primary and could cause Hsieh problems because the
opposition is likely to bring them up during the presidential campaign.
Nevertheless Mr. Ma is facing similar allegations over irregularities during his
stint as Taipei mayor and the net result may well be that these factors will end
up cancelling each other out.
There is probably little difference between the two candidates when it comes to
economic policies and much as Mr. Ma would like to portray himself as the one
who can lift Taiwan out of the doldrums, the fact is that the economy continues
to do remarkably well.
Where clear differences exist, these are principally on ethnicity-Mr. Hsieh is a
native-born Taiwanese in contrast to Mr. Ma who was born in Hong Kong and who
has never sought to hide his pro-China sympathies. Related to this issue is that
of policy and attitudes towards the mainland where Mr. Ma could be expected to
move more rapidly towards normalization of relations-something that would
probably be welcomed by Taiwan's business community but not necessarily the
population as a whole who seem to prefer retention of the status quo.
Analysts point out that Mr. Hsieh's choice for vice president could be vital to
garnering the widest possible support. Newspaper reports from Taipei suggest he
may select former acting Kaohsiung mayor Yeh Chu-lan as his running mate. This
could be a pragmatic move for a number of reasons. First, she is a female and
the DPP is rather big on the issue of gender equality; secondly Yeh is a Hakka
and her presence on the ticket could help the DPP secure at least some votes
from a bloc that in the past has leant towards the KMT. Finally, Ms. Yeh is the
wife of the late Deng Nan-jung, the former editor-in-chief of (the now defunct)
Freedom Era Weekly who immolated himself in April 1989 after being charged with
sedition and in protest at the KMT's censorship of the media. Last month the
commemoration of his death was widely reported in the media and the presence of
his wife in the DPP ticket would serve to galvanize democracy activists and
especially the pro-independence vote. The sufferings of many Taiwanese under
martial law is a spectre that continues to haunt the KMT.
The Hsieh victory came as a surprise to many. Premier Su was seen by many as the
favourite in the DPP presidential primary, but after being defeated by Hsieh in
the initial vote, he-along with the others- decided to pull out before the
second-stage telephone poll . He then announced he was resigning as Premier.
Speculation has been rife as to the motive in resigning the premiership although
analysts point out that with the decision over the presidential candidate
becoming a fait-accompli, it may have been a pragmatic gesture to put aside the
factional infighting of the recent past in order to make way for a new
All 87 Cabinet members resigned together with Su thereby providing an
opportunity for a total revamp although many incumbents are expected to be
reappointed. Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) Chairman Chang Chun-hsiung was
named as premier by President Chen Shui-bian for the second time. He served
briefly as Premier in the early days of the Chen presidency becoming premier
from October 2000 to February 2001.
With the Pan-Blue alliance already threatening further political mayhem to take
advantage of the situation, the veteran politician is well placed to push
through key government bills and avoid an impasse in the legislature.
According to a statement from the Presidential Office, Chen Chin-Jun would be
the new secretary-general of the Executive Yuan and Democratic Progressive Party
Legislator Lu Tien-Lin would become the new chairman of the Council of Labour
Minister of Finance Ho Chih-chin, Minister of Economic Affairs Steve Chen,
Council of Economic Planning and Development Chairwoman Ho Mei-yueh, Minister of
Transportation and Communications Tsai Duei and Public Construction Commission
Chairman Wu Tze-cheng would remain in their positions. The decision to keep the
economic and financial team intact reflects the government's decision to
maintain policy continuity and market stability and continue the economy on its
present growth path ahead of the election season.