Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Taiwan opposition triumphs in elections

TAIPEI, Taiwan--This CNN headline from March 23 is technically correct. However, it is off the mark symbolically. In fact, I had to do a double-take to make sure that they got the right winner.

The DPP (somewhat miraculously) has held onto the presidency over the past 8 years, but the KMT has been anything but cooperative or conducive to progress. This is a party that imposed themselves on the island more than 50 years ago. What followed was the 228 Incident, the White Terror era and martial law, one-party rule. The Nationalists and their 2nd-generation offspring may insist that they are Taiwanese, but does a gradient exist? The native Taiwanese and indigenous people have been here for centuries, and their ties to China (or elsewhere) have already been broken.

While Taiwanese identity was a non-factor in the election results and the issue does get kind of old, it is still divisive because not enough generations have passed. James Soong (宋楚瑜) outlawed the use of Taiwanese while he was director of the Government Information Office, but on the campaign trail it comes rolling off his tongue (and Ma’s although not as steadily). President-elect Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is a product of the old KMT system. Now that his party is in power, will the same faces be more of the same old, same old?

After the election, I watched a short biography on Ma. During his time as a student in the US, he would write articles for a propaganda magazine. In one of them, he tells the story of an American asking him if he considered himself Chinese or Taiwanese. Ma said that he wanted to ask back, by analogy, whether the man was American or Californian. Maybe it was youthful naïveté, or perhaps that is still what he believes deep down.

I don’t trust the Chinese government and question the KMT’s allegiances. Months ago, I read Thomas Friedman’s The Lexus and the Olive Tree, his treatise on globalization. I am not big on economics and thought the book was okay. The take-home message was that in our world today, countries want the Lexus (representing money) as well as the olive tree (representing a nation’s identity, culture, language, etc). It’s possible that in the near future, national status won’t matter as we’ll all be inter-connected into one big globalized entity. Still, everyone is entitled to a sense of respect. I am afraid that if we give the Chinese government an olive branch, we will end up losing all of our olive tree.

The truth is that I’ve been disappointed in President Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) performance over the past 8 years. But there is a reason for my renewed interest in Taiwanese politics. Over the Lunar New Year (when most people are wining and dining), a small group of young people, led by former National Youth Commission chairwoman and student activist Cheng Li-chun (鄭麗君), walked from the southern-most tip of the island to Taipei, a 510-km journey that took 22 days. For them, it was a way of showing their strong ties to the island. For Yu Shyi-kun (游錫堃), the former premier and DPP chairman, it was a show of repentance. He was the biggest figure of the walk (and the oldest), but he maintained a quiet presence. The story goes that when he had to go to Taipei to take care of other matters, he made up the distance at night and thus completed the entire journey. Their display of love was reciprocated, as people joined them, high-fived them and fed them along the way. Could the KMT have come up with this?

Only time will tell how President-elect Ma responds to the high expectations. Who knows, I may be pleasantly surprised. I’m certain that we will not let him or the KMT get away with its old ways. Too much progress has been made, not just in Taiwan but in the rest of the world. For the DPP, having lost the presidency and the legislature, it returns to its old status for the next 4 years. The DPP may be at its best as the real opposition party, but the bigger question remains whether it takes this bitter defeat as a learning experience and can ever return to Kategelan Boulevard.


sharon said...

frankly, I only care about whether Ma can bring back our formerly vibrant economy before it was screwed over by Chen. (No offense.)

lazibee said...

Frankly, I'm confused about the sentiment of a formerly vibrant economy under the KMT -- If I remember correctly, the NT was doing worse internationally (33-36NT = $1) back then. Right now it's only 30NT. And other than stocks, what measure is being used to measure economy? Sure the news broadcasted how prices are rising day and night -- but don't people realize that that's happening everywhere?

I'd say the US is doing worse than Taiwan, economy-wise, and I didn't see such news reports there. It was hilarious, seeing reports treating rising prices of veggies/fruits as a big disaster.

Conversely, seeing reports now where people say "we have to raise gas/oil prices" makes it even more hilarious. I mean first of all, if they really had to raise it they would have already. Secondly, whatever happened to raising prices being a big disaster?

Sharon said...

Well, prices of everything is soaring, and people feel "poorer" than before. Chen's son-in-law doing insider trading hasn't made things any better, as well as the other criminals like Wang-Yo-Tseng running off with billions of dollars, or whatever his name is spelled.

The competitiveness ranking of Taiwan has also gone down by quite a few digits, putting us behind South Korea. Their GDP has almost doubled.

I love Taiwan and do NOT want China to rule us, but I'm just glad DPP days are over for now. It's like the whole country has been just screwed over by a totally incompetent government. I want Taiwan to be just as competitive as before, and DPP will need to make huge improvements before they can claim to give us a better Taiwan.