Troubled Taiwan

And Taiwan thought it had problems before the presidential elections.


As if Taiwan’s troubled relationship with China wasn’t
generating enough political controversy, the island now has
a botched assassination attempt on the president and a
contested election of the Florida 2000 variety to deal with.

President Chen Shui-bian, having survived the bullet wound
that punctured his stomach, won re-election by less than
a quarter of a percent — 50.1 percent of the vote, compared
with 49.9 percent for Lien Chan, the candidate for the
Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party or the KMT). KMT leaders are arguing, plausibly, that the vote was rigged and — less plausibly — that Chen staged the assassination attempt to win sympathy
votes. Clearly the presidential race is not over.

Ballot-boxes from


13,000 polling stations
have been ordered sealed by the high
court, and 20,000 opposition supporters are out on the
streets agitating for a recount.

If it’s true that Chen fixed his election, he didn’t manage to rig the controversial two-question referendum that Beijing feared would cement Taiwan’s independence. The referendum asked voters if they favored beefing up the island’s security against possible Chinese aggression, and if they wanted dialogue with China about cross-strait relations. Fewer than half the voters chose to answer, making the referendum invalid. (Of those who did answer, more
than
91 percent voted in favor of the two questions asked, as Chen had urged.

Having survived the assassin’s bullet, President Chen — a man who has
embodied the island’s transition to democracy and has been
an ardent defender of its sovereignty — is starting his
second term amidst mass protests questioning the legitimacy
of his victory, investor anxiety that resulted in a
$28 billion hit for
the Taiwanese market on Monday, and a China gleeful about
the failure of Chen’s referendum. China has criticized the
referendum as a move towards independence by Taiwan, which
it regards as a breakaway province.

China declared that:

“Facts have proven that this illegal act goes against the
will of the people. Any attempt to separate Taiwan from
China is doomed to failure.”

The KMT is understandably upset that an election they
were sure Lien Chan would win was instead won by
President Chen. The victory was due in part to the wave of sympathy that swept the country
following the shocking news of an assassination attempt on
the president and the vice-president the day before the
Presidential Elections.

But rather than graciously accept defeat, Lien Chan and his
coalition have been playing sour losers. After expressing
genuine concern for the president’s welfare and even
offering an award to find the assassins, the opposition
quickly suggested that President Chen
staged his own assassination with a sympathy
vote in mind. The switch came not as a result of any new
evidence in the case. President Chen’s injuries, which at
first were reported as serious, turned out to be mild, and
the KMT rightly feared the electoral repercussions.
National shock and numerous rallies in support of President
Chen following the assassination confirmed the KMT’s fears
and so the conspiracy theories began. As the John J. Tkacik
Jr. of the

Weekly Standard points out:

“Almost immediately the KMT [Lien Chan’s supporters] rumor machine
slipped into overdrive. Private mobile phones all over
Taiwan began getting text-messages that the assassination
was a fraud and asked the receiver to pass it on. Soon,
unsympathetic taxi drivers began telling foreigners (myself
included, several times) that they heard Chen had staged the
attack to gain votes. But this whispering campaign got
little traction. That evening, eight hours after the
president had been attacked, Jaw Shao-kang and legislator
Sisy Chen, of the KMT coalition’s far right wing, presided
over TV talk shows which openly accused the president of
faking his medical reports and clucked approvingly while
others postulated that President Chen had arranged for
himself to be shot in the gut. I watched two separate
programs Friday evening and was appalled by the vitriol and
outright lies that these people countenanced. Most Taiwanese
I spoke with on voting day were equally horrified.”

The talk of a staged assassination attempt was taken by most
for what it was — a cheap shot by the Nationalists.
Photographs of President Chen bleeding at a campaign rally
where he was shot as well as the released photographs taken during the

operation seemed to disprove the opposition’s
claims.

The KMT is also, of course, alleging vote-rigging. Instead of the expected concession
speech, Lien Chan demanded a re-count, pointing to a high number of spoiled ballots:

337,297, or 2.5 percent of the vote.

This is no small number, given that President Chen
won by less than 30,000 votes. However, the suggestion that the spoiled
ballots were cast for the opposition and were spoiled by the
government to assure President Chen’s re-election are
suspect. The reason for the high number of spoiled votes is
actually very simple: the “Millions of Invalid Votes Project”
seems to have succeeded in mobilizing the protest vote. As
the

Taipei Times reports:

“Supporters of the alliance were asked to spoil their
ballots by stamping the photos of the candidates on the
mouths to indicate disgust with the empty promises and
corruption of both the pan-green [President Chen’s
supporters] and pan-blue camps [KMT’s Lien Chan supporters].”

President Chen, a strong proponent of Taiwanese sovereignty who some
suspect seeks to go down in history books as the man who
paved the way towards Taiwan’s independence, suffered a
defeat of his two
referendum questions
:

1) “If China refuses to
withdraw the missiles it has targeted at Taiwan and to
openly renounce the use of force against us, would you agree
that the government should acquire more advanced
anti-missile weapons to strengthen Taiwan’s self-defense
capabilities?”

2) “Would you agree that our government should engage in
negotiations with China about the establishment of a ‘peace
and stability’ framework for cross-strait interactions in
order to build consensus and for the welfare of the peoples
on both sides?”

Most voters are supportive of President Chen’s vision of
a sovereign Taiwan, but many were suspicious of his
motives in asking what were to most voters, uncontentious
questions about Taiwan’s defense policy, the answer to which, to most
Taiwanese (including those who chose to boycott the
referendum), was a self-evident “yes.” More people voted

in favor of the referendum’s questions
than voted for President Chen,
which led some to suggest that, if anything, it helped rather than hurt
his re-election campaign. Nevertheless, losing the
referendum was a major upset for President Chen, who has made its passage his personal crusade.
The opposition’s arguments that
the referendum’s questions would unnecessarily upset China rang true
to many voters who decided not to take part in it. As the

Wall Street Journal (subscription required) points
out:

“Then there’s the fact that referendums Mr. Chen had called
and campaigned heavily for failed, with a majority of
Taiwanese apparently heeding the opposition’s call for a
boycott. The KMT argued that the president was asking for
votes that would be unnecessarily provocative to the
mainland and fuel mainland claims that Mr. Chen is risking
military intervention by pushing for a unilateral
declaration of Taiwanese independence. Voters apparently
agreed.”

Most voters see themselves as Taiwanese, not Chinese and
given the right circumstances, would like their island, in
addition to its democratic system of government and a
prosperous economy, gain international recognition as an
independent state. This does not mean that those want
independence think it wise to vote for it right now. As
the seemingly innocuous referendum on the security questions
shows, voters are wary of anything that may unnecessarily
antagonize China feathers with no political benefit for Taiwan
in return.