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DPP sweep boosts Taiwan democracy

Following its victory in a critical legislative by-election in Yunlin County in late September and a strong showing in local mayoral elections in December, the opposition Democratic Progressive Party scored another political triumph by sweeping three legislative by-election seats in Taoyuan County, Taichung County and Taitung County Saturday.
These results marked a major step toward the deepening of Taiwan democracy by showing the increasing independence of voters and their capability to exercise an unexpected degree of "check and balance" over the "one party dominant" Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) government of President Ma Ying-jeou.
Voters "gave a lesson" to Ma and his KMT administration for its incompetence and arrogance, just as they used their ballots to sanction the previous DPP government of ex-president Chen Shui-bian for departing from its ideals of political integrity.
Despite or because of the possession of a three-quarters legislative majority and total control of all branches of government, Ma and his party underestimated the maturity and democratic consciousness of the Taiwan people and are paying a heavy political price for their arrogance and habitual anti-democratic "black box" decision making style.
Moreover, after the debacle in the early 2008 presidential and legislative polls that swept the "former authoritarian" KMT back into power, the three consecutive DPP victories indicate that the party of Taiwan's democratic movement has gradually won back the public trust.
The fact that the DPP was able to break through the KMT's hold over Taitung County and win its first ever legislative seat in the eastern district was a significant milestone, but the significance of the three seat sweep is more than symbolic.
Now with a total of 30 seats, the DPP's clout in legislative "check and balance" has strengthened as the opposition party has now surpassed the threshold of a quarter of the 113 seats in the Legislative Yuan required to launch legislative motions, veto proposed constitutional amendments, request the president report on national affairs to lawmakers or even initiate recall proceedings against the president or vice president.
Buoyed by the successive electoral victories under the fresh and stable leadership of DPP Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen, the DPP has now clearly recovered from the early 2008 debacles and emerged from the dark clouds of the Chen Shui-bian family corruption cases and now is again a contender to regain central governance if it can maintain its unity and offer a credible and progressive direction for Taiwan's future.
The next set of four legislative by-elections Feb. 27 will provide another chance for the DPP to consolidate its strategy of "using the countryside to surround the city" and build momentum for the crucial polls for five special metropolitan mayoral posts in December.
Taiwan stands up
Many foreign observers who have given Ma high marks for the apparent "reconciliation" with the authoritarian People's Republic of China may believe that the legislative races were "local" contests that will neither affect the cross-strait detente nor show that Ma could lose his re-election bid in early 2012.
On the contrary, the reversal from a combined vote share of 55 percent for the KMT and 38 percent for DPP candidates in these three seats during the January 2008 Legislative Yuan polls to 55 percent for the DPP and 43 percent for the KMT Saturday points to a qualitative shift in Taiwan's national political climate.
One level of analysis is indeed "local," namely public disgust over KMT vote buying and disappointment with Ma for failing to live up to his own pledges to clean up the KMT.
After all, two of the three by-elections were held because of the annulment of January 2008 victories of former KMT legislators in Taoyuan and Taichung for vote bribery, while Ma's nominee in Taitung County was beset with charges of misuse of public resources during her term as Taitung County mayor and the sordid reputation of her husband, a former Taitung County Assembly speaker convicted twice on corruption charges.
No less important has been rising public dissatisfaction with the incompetence of the Ma administration in fields from the economy to the secret diplomacy which led to the unpopular pact to reopen the Taiwan market to American beef and the lack of transparency in his push for a controversial "Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement" with Beijing.
With approval ratings in the 20th percentile, Ma took the advice of new KMT Secretary-General King Pu-tsung's advice to refrain from active stumping, but his last-minute appearances Friday still hurt KMT candidates because he is now truly "poison at the polls."
Voters thus sent a ringing message to the KMT demanding a change in its habitual "black-box" decision making style and top-down "guidance" and the opening of public participation and genuine social debate on major policy issues, notably the ECFA and other cross-strait policies.
Finally and most importantly, the majority of voters used their ballots to put the PRC's ruling Chinese Communist Party and the world community on notice that the Taiwan people will not allow their voices to be ignored in any deliberations on Taiwan's future.


Updated : 2021-10-22 07:21 GMT+08:00