Monday, December 13, 2004

Post-Election Taiwan: the Future

Now that the DPP has been denied a majority in the legislature, what can we expect for Taiwan? The KMT managed somehow to retain enough seats to keep themselves afloat for four more years. They have narrowly escaped the possibility of investigations and the resulting airing of massive amounts of dirty laundry (on both sides considering Lee Tung-Hui's corruption) that would have surely sunk the party for good.
In trying to put that past behind them, the party may now get smart and realize that the relatively young mayor of Taipei, Ma Ying-Jou, gives the KMT the best hope of the future. Ma is widely recognized across the island as the only uncorrupt politician in Taiwan, an image he has maintained despite constant attacks from political enemies. Popularity polls show Ma attracting voters from all major voting blocks, a wide-spread base of support that would assure him a win in any election that he entered.
Despite his obvious electability, Ma was sidelined in the past presidential election earlier this year and he may be again if Lien Chan (the head of the KMT) and James Soong (the head of the PFP -- a KMT splinter group) can't forgo their belief that they are owed the ROC presidency. The antics they presided over regarding the presidential election results turned off many voters, and the KMT's best hope now is new blood in the form of Ma.
The DPP, meanwhile, will be stymied in any attempts they make to change the cross-Strait status quo. Chen Sui-Bian was largely a lameduck president before the legislative election of Saturday, but now that his party has been denied a legislative majority, the DPP will be unable to pursue any independence activities -- barring any massive political shakeup or the declaration of martial law again.
So the crucial window of opportunity to declare independence before the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics has past. Chen's promise to Lee Tung-Hui to declare independence for Taiwan before the latter's death will likely go unfulfilled. While Chen may think that he has nothing to lose now and may, therefore, pursue extremist rhetoric, he lacks the political power to effect any real change. The DPP long ago realized that the post-2008 era will leave China greatly empowered and they will have few restraints on their actions at that time. Declaring Taiwan independence after 2008 was never an option and now the pre-2008 era has been taken from the DPP as well.
All in all, this election was good for Taiwan. Change is best when it happens slowly and the results of this election will reinforce a slow reform of Taiwan's democratic institutions by sidelining the extremists. Overall, a victory for the status quo.

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