Friday, April 4, 2008

Don’t cry for me, Taiwan

Now thanks to her, 42% of the Taiwanese population will no longer make the “yay!” gesture when having their picture taken, which is really for the better.

TAIPEI, Taiwan--This take on the most famous song from Evita (sung as part of a victory celebration) may have become the most famous part of Frank Hsieh’s (謝長廷) concession speech. He took full responsibility for the loss and blamed no one.

In 2000, KMT supporters, shocked by the victory of Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and Annette Lu (呂秀蓮), rioted outside their own headquarters asking for the resignation of then chairman Lee Teng-hui (李登輝). Ma Ying-jieu (馬英九) was right there with them. In 2004, having lost for the 2nd straight time, Lien Chan (連戰) demanded that the results be invalidated because he felt the assassination attempt on Chen and Lu the day before was a DPP-concocted conspiracy. Right…

The KMT’s actions in those 2 elections can only suggest that they believe their party is entitled to the highest office in the land for the next 5000 years. The DPP has been spoiled by miraculous comebacks the past 2 times. How are their supporters reacting to this tough blow? They’re consoling each other. They’re looking inward and going forward. They’re writing blogs.

I doubt that the KMT and their supporters truly understand or respect the democratic process. I was particularly annoyed at the media attention given to a bunch of has-been celebrities living overseas who returned to vote, as if they were still important (or famous) enough to have any sway at all. One of them was the actress Brigitte Lin (林青霞). One reporter even interviewed her inside her hotel suite, and she started to show off her LV bags and Chanel suits, pondering what to wear for election day. Why in hell is this news?

Of course, cameras followed her to the polling station. It took her 2 full minutes to come out of the booth. The next day, there’s a report that she cast an invalid ballot because she stamped her name on it. Apparently, this wasn’t the first time that she’s messed up. 4 years ago, she came out of the booth blowing on the ballot (to let the ink dry) like it was hot oatmeal about to go into a baby’s mouth and flashed it before the cameras.

Perhaps it’s forgivable that she failed to appreciate one of the most basic tenets of democracy--the anonymous ballot. But this is not: while DPP officials cast a ballot for both UN referendums, Lien Chan did not. Ma only voted for the one sponsored by his own party. Former President Lee pulled his wife away from the referendum table entirely. These people are supposed to be leaders of the country?

There was another fundamental problem with the voting procedure that was adopted by the central government. It was not truly a one-step process. Your choice of whether or not to take the referendum ballots at all labeled you. When I took those few extra steps to the referendum table, I already felt like an outcast. No words were spoken, but you could understand through people’s eyes.

When Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote his song, Argentina was in the midst of civil unrest. When Hsieh addressed the crowd with his words, he ensured that Taiwan would not follow the same path.


YJ said...

I wholeheartedly agree with your stance on the referendums. The day after the election a friend from Quebec mentioned that both referendums had failed, so the logic follows, Taiwanese people do not want to be part of the UN. I very much wanted to clarify the implication, but couldn't find a nice way to explain the often "sentiment-driven" politics of Taiwan.

Many of our generation opposed voting in the referendum because they viewed it more as a political maneuver to sway the election results than a purely democratic process of expressing our opinion. One of my friends even made an analogy to the scenario where the Democrats of the U.S.A. hold a referendum on the topic: "We should work to bridge racial and social divides" while the Republicans hold a referendum saying "We should increase defense spending to counter terrorists."

I am too lazy to analyze whether this referendum has exterior political motives, and whether or not something like this would actually sway a general election. What I do know is that the people of Taiwan could have used this opportunity to express our desire to be part of global diplomatic processes. There was no need for us to get bogged down in questioning what the politicians actually intended. Nor was it practical to be picky about wording and ideology (the issue of whether to enter the UN as "ROC" or "Taiwan"). Strong results in both referendums would have sent a clear signal to the international community. I regret that most of the Taiwanese did not see past the confines of our island, and make a practical choice on this issue.

lazibee said...

yes I thought that was a good move by hsieh as well. Though to be fair if the KMT had lost by that much they probably wouldn't have held the riots either... I forget how much chen won by the first time, but I think the second time was a pretty narrow victory?

Of course, personally I think Hsieh would have done the same regardless of the margin, but since that's conjecture, that argument could still be made.

flower said...

Good comments!

Well, the main thing we need to explain to people, esp foreigners, is the high threshold needed to pass the referendum.

Like Prof Keating mentioned in his article.