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TAIWAN


 

 

Key Economic Data 
 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2002)
GDP
Millions of US $  406,000    
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 18,000
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

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Update No: 049 - (30/01/08)

THE ELECTIONS ANALYSED
As expected the Pan-Blue alliance dominated by the Kuomintang (KMT, or Nationalist) Party won the country’s January 12th legislative election. While a KMT win was expected, the extent of the victory—a landslide—took many by surprise. Aided by a low voter turnout and a new first-past the post voting system for the main legislative districts (instead of the previous proportional representation system), the KMT now has 81 seats in the Legislature as compared to 27 for its main rival, the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The KMT increased its majority handsomely. It now controls around 72 percent of all parliamentary seats compared to 52 percent previously (under the new system, the number of seats in the unicameral legislature has been reduced from 225 to 113).

The KMT won 61 district legislature seats compared to the DPP which won 15. The Non-Partisan Solidarity Union (NPSU) came in third, with three seats, the People First Party (PFP) claimed one of the six Aboriginal seats and an independent candidate secured victory in Kinmen County. 

The other parties—including the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) and the New Party—fared poorly, with none of them reaching the 5 percent threshold required to win a legislator-at-large seat. As a result these seats were distributed proportionately between the two major parties which gave the final tally of 81-27-5.

The Central Election Commission (CEC) said overall turnout for the district legislative poll was 58.50 percent, or 10,050,619 voters. This was well below previous turnouts. Both referendums held in conjunction with the poll failed to attain the 50 percent turnout required for them to pass. 

THE CORRUPTION PLEBISCITES FAIL
The DPP's plebiscite on recovering the KMT's stolen assets attracted 26.34 percent of voters, or 4,550,881 votes. It received a total of 3,891,179 affirmative votes. 

The KMT-initiated referendum on empowering the legislature to investigate corruption involving high-level government officials had a 26.08 percent turnout, with 2,304,136 affirmative votes and 1,656,890 negative votes out of a total of 4,505,927 ballots cast. 

President Chen called the election loss the "worst setback" in the history of the party and stepped down immediately as Chairman of the DPP taking responsibility for the loss.

The DPP was certainly caught flat-footed and now has considerable work to do if it is to have any chance at all at retaining governance by winning the March presidential election. This will be a race between the KMT’s Ma Ying-jeou and the DPPs Frank Hsieh. The ruling party cannot afford a single mistake. By contrast, the KMT simply has to ride out the next two months and avoid doing anything wrong.

No single factor gave the KMT its huge win. Rather it was a combination of factors. The new electoral system certainly favoured the KMT with its well-oiled party machine which has left many puzzled as to why the DPP agreed to it in the first place. It appeared to be a clear case of a shot in the foot. The change, from the previous multiple-seat constituency to a single-member constituency, made it much easier for pan-blue candidates to secure seats, a phenomenon borne out in the 2005 elections for heads of local governments, where a similar "winner takes all" voting model was used. Simple demographic analysis of the electorates showed even before the election, that in a single-candidate constituency, there were at least ten seats that the KMT simply could not lose.

In other areas, the KMT was favoured by the low turn-out rate among voters, especially younger voters who have traditionally been supporters of the government. According to local poll analysts, young people have become disenchanted with the DPP and are frustrated by the constant politicking. But while disenchanted and frustrated, at the same time they were not ready to throw their weight behind the KMT. Instead they chose to stay at home. 

Also absent from the election were the normal “swing” voters who in the past have accounted for around 20 percent of the vote. Evidently, this group too, chose to stay at home. It has been suggested that had voter turnout increased by just 20 percent, then the election result could well have gone the other way. It was DPP voters who boycotted the poll.

While the end result was devastating for the government in terms of the number of seats it garnered in the legislature, in fact in terms of votes cast the DPP won a slightly higher proportion of the popular vote than it did in the previous legislative election—38 percent as compared to 36 percent. The KMT share of the vote was 51 percent—the same as previously. The big losers were the smaller parties that make up the two alliances—the pan-greens (dominated by the DPP) and the pan-blues (KMT).

WHAT HAS BEEN LEARNED? 
Lessons learned? There were a number, but whether they will save the DPP from defeat in March remains to be seen. For one, Taiwan is developing a two-party system. People have learned that casting a vote for one of the splinter parties is a wasted vote. Secondly the negative tack taken by the DPP backfired. Attempts to shift the focus away from the government’s economic performance and onto the referendum on return on KMT party assets, was seen for the red herring that it was. Yet surprisingly both the DPP and the KMT are persisting with two further referendums around the presidential poll. These will be different models for Taiwan seeking UN membership. Some lessons are hard to learn.

The clearance in December last by Taiwan’s high court of corruption charges against Ma Ying-jeou, defused that particular issue as a DPP weapon in its campaign and yet similar allegations against senior DPP officials, including President Chen Shui-bian have not gone away. 

Finally there is President Chen’s maverick style that appears to have disenchanted many. Instead of courting the swinging voters it has turned them away in droves. That they chose to stay home rather than cast their vote with the KMT is about as much good as the ruling party can salvage from the debacle.

Whether the huge win by the conservative forces will create a pendulum effect in March is difficult to tell at this time. The smart money (and the hope of the business sector) is that the KMT will also take the presidency. Can the government do enough over the next two months to convince the “light greens” as the swinging voters are apt to be called, to come out and cast their ballot? The probability is that the twin issues of the state of the economy (which as we have said previously is not doing all that badly but which is often compared unfavourably to the halcyon days of the nineties), and voter disenchantment at the political stalemates of the past eight years—a result of the administration and the legislature being controlled by opposing camps—may well mean that the DPP is well and truly back in opposition. It has little to offer beyond more of the same.

While DPP presidential candidate, Frank Hsieh, a former Taipei City Mayor and later premier, is considered to be more moderate that the acerbic, Chen Shui-bian, he will still be constrained by his inability to implement a suitable policy framework given the overwhelming dominance of the KMT in the legislature which meets for the first time on February 1.

While both Hsieh and Ma profess a similar domestic agenda, a KMT win in March would have significant implications for the relationship with China. Despite the political rhetoric, economic ties between Taiwan and the mainland grow ever closer. Taiwan remains the largest overseas investor in China and an estimated 4 percent of Taiwan’s population now live there, many working on joint ventures and through direct investment. Under a KMT presidency and a KMT controlled legislature we can expect—finally—to see movement on cross-straits economic ties including allowing direct travel and postal links instead of the cumbersome system that now operates whereby both mail and people have to travel via third destinations.

But while a KMT victory may take some of the heat out of the wordplay between Taipei and Beijing, reunification between Taiwan and the mainland at the present time is no more a part of Mr. Ma’s agenda than it is under Mr. Chen. The difference may be semantic but it is important for reasons of ‘face’. Mr. Chen and many of his DPP followers do not want reunification with China under any circumstance (or rather integration with the PRC which as they state quite correctly, Taiwan has never been a part of). By contrast, Mr. Ma would hold open the possibility of unification at some future time once China has become a fully functioning democracy. The practical result is the same. In this part of the world, the way you say it is important.

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