Comments on 2004 Presidential election
in Taiwan aired by NHK World Radio Japan(February 23, 2004)
Taiwan Presidential Race Starts

The candidates for the Taiwan's Presidential Election, scheduled for March 20th, have become official, and election campaigns are becoming intense. The election will be a head-to-head battle between President Chen Shui-Bian of the Democratic Progressive Party, running for re-election, and Kuomintang (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan running for the combined ticket for the opposition coalition. They will both be running as a pair with their Vice-Presidential candidate. Will President Chen, who put and end to half a century of leadership by the KMT in the 2000 election, be re-elected, or will KMT Chairman Lien Chan who suffered from corruption within the Party, regain leadership? Both candidates are in heated debate, while public support is antagonized. The main issues in the campaign are relations with the People's Republic of China, and the sense of self-identity of the Taiwanese people. The Presidential Election was announced on Feb.20, and the official Presidential campaign staeted on Feb.21. This interview is an analysis of the upcoming Taiwan Election just about a month away. (interviewd by Ms. Murata on 23 February 2004)

1. Taiwan's presidential election campaigns have started. Please explain the profile and political career of each candidate.

The incumbent President Chen Shui-bian was born and grown up in Taiwan, this year he is 53 years old. He is the leader of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which has a pro-independence orientation. He started his political career as a lawyer for the opposition movement before the democratization. In 1994, He was elected the mayor of Taipei by defeating the KMT candidate and the Chinese New Party candidate. He made impressive achievements to improve the city administration of Taipei and became a star politician of the DPP in a short period of time. But Mr. Chen failed in his bid for re-election as mayor in 1998, therefore he decided to contend for the Presidency of Taiwan in 2000, and he succeeded. Mr. Chen is a politician with unusual up-and-down experience.

During the past four years, President Chen suffered from the minority government and the recession of the Taiwanese economy, which was affected by the worldwide slump in the sector of Information Technology. And he himself made a couple of mismanagement of policy issues. Therefore President Chen faces a tough election this time in spite of the advantageous position of an incumbent candidate.

The opposition candidate, Mr. Lien Chan, was born in China, although he is from a famous Taiwanese family. He is 67 years old, the Chairman of the KMT, which has an origin in China and ruled Taiwan for 50 years. Mr. Lien served as the Prime Minister and the Vice President under the former President Lee Teng-hui in the 1990s. Mr. Lien ran for President as a successor of Mr. Lee Teng-hui in 2000, but received fewer votes than Mr. James Soong, who split from the KMT, and Mr. Chen Shui-bian, of the DPP. Mr. Lien lost the previous election because of the split within the KMT. This time, however, Mr. Lien succeeded in patching up a relationship with Mr. Soong in advance, thereby forming a golden ticket, with Mr. Lien as the Presidential candidate and Mr. Soong as the Vice Presidential candidate. There is a possibility that the KMT may stage its comeback to power, as the number of the party voters of KMT surpasses that of the DPP by a small margin.

2. What are the main issues in this election?

First issue is the Referendum.
Mr. Chen, who trailed Mr. Lien in popularity, proposed a referendum as his campaign strategy. This strategy worked well and served favorably to Mr. Chen's electoral conditions. But a disturbance was created inside the Chen Administration by the unexpected request made by the United States and Japan to deal with the referendum issue with prudence, but the Chen Administration seems to have successfully managed the crisis to avoid negative effect of overseas intervention on the election. It is unlikely that the United States or Japan takes another intervention against the referendum again.

On the other hand, within Taiwan, the referendum's effect on the election will depend on the significance that the people of Taiwan ascribe to it. Will they see it very important that the referendum be held for the first time in Taiwan's history, or will they recognize that there is not much significance in the two topics of the referendum. Which aspect of the referendum is getting weight, remains to be seen.

Second issue is the Taiwanese identity.
It is doubtless that the Taiwanese identity is much stronger and more prevalent than before. The agenda of Taiwanese politics has shifted in the direction of Taiwanese identity since Chen took office 4 years ago. Despite his advocacy of Taiwanese identity, Mr. Chen's hopes for re-election remain uncertain because other dynamics are also at play in Presidential elections. The key determinants of the voters' behavior are: whether voters will associate the Taiwanese identity with the continuance of the Chen Administration, and whether the Taiwanese identity that has emerged after democratization will be escalated to the level of Taiwanese nationalism. Those people who are oriented toward Taiwanese nationalism will vote for Mr. Chen even if they are not satisfied with his performances in the past four years.

Third issue is Chinese intervention
Taiwanese voters are uncertain as to how Taiwan should interact with China in the future. Those people who are opposing closer ties with China tend to support Mr. Chen, while those favoring a closer relationship tend to back Mr. Lien. There are many in the middle who are not convinced of either side. If China takes a hard line towards Taiwan before the election, Mr. Chen's re-election will be guaranteed. Taking into account that China unsuccessfully intervened in Taiwanese elections of 1996 and 2000, Chinese government would be learning lessons to take a wait and see attitude in this election. China's attitude calls for close observation till the end.

3. Intense presidential campaigns are being carried out. What are the characteristics of each candidate's campaign strategy?

President Chen Shui-bian, who was behind his opponent in the opinion polls, is trying to find a way out in the referendum, which is to be held on March 20, at the same day with the Presidential election. In addition, taking advantage of being in the ruling position, President Chen has canvassed numerous local constituencies, making a lot of election promises of local development and construction. On the other hand, Mr. Lien is attacking the poor government records of the past four years, and appealing for the second transition of power.

As the Lien camp is an alliance between Nationalist Party and People First Party, they are divided on issues such as the referendum, and have been unable to develop an effective election campaign. The picture of the election takes on Chen's unrivaled race. It looks like many voters will cast their ballots based not on Chen vs. Lien, but on Yes or No for Chen.

Another strategy is about how to deal with corruption issue.
Corruption was a big issue that swayed the election four years ago. In the current campaign, the Chen Shui-bian camp has again taken the offensive, alleging corruption in the KMT's Party assets as well as Mr. Lien's personal assets. The Lien's camp is mounting a counter offensive against the share holdings of the wife of Mr. Chen. Recently a scandal came to a surface in which a famous Taiwanese businessman alleged that he donated money to the staff of the Presidential Office. This constituted some blow to Chen Shui-bian because the voters employ a double-standard, that is, they tend to be lenient towards corruption of the conservatives, but strict about that of the reformists. There will be many more scandals on both sides before the voting day.

Enthusiasm in the election campaigns
I went to Taiwan to observe the election campaign early this month. I would say that the level of enthusiasm at forty days before the polling day was lower than this time four years ago. I personally heard that the topic of the election was rarely discussed among friends. As the polling day draws closer, the level of enthusiasm will go up, but it remains to be seen whether it will reach the level of the previous election, which was filled with unprecedented excitement.

If there is no heated atmosphere in the election, Mr. Chen will find it difficult to regain his lead. Former President, Lee Teng-hui, who is supporting Mr. Chen this time, is planning a large-scale event on February 28 to demonstrate the cause of Taiwan with a million of people joining hand in hand across Taiwan island (human chain). If this event is successful, Chen Shui-bian's election campaign may get momentum.

4. How do you think the Taiwan's relationship with China will change after the election?

If Mr. Chen Shui-bian is re-elected, he will take a course of maintaining the status quo. However, because he made a pledge to establish a new Constitution in 2006, the relationship between Taiwan and China will become tense.

In the case Mr. Lien wins the election, the tension between Taiwan and China may be eased, but if Mr. Lien accepts "One China principle," which is a condition of talk imposed by the Chinese government, there will be a huge protest within Taiwan, which will make difficult for the KMT to get majority in the coming Legislator's election in December. Therefore, I suppose, Mr. Lien would likely take a cautious line towards China. Even if Mr. Lien wins this election, the long-term trend will likely remain the same: The Taiwanese identity has been consolidated for the past ten years, and Taiwanese nationalism is on the rise.

5. How will presidential election results affect Japanese diplomacy?

The Japanese government will face an extremely complex situation in the International politics of East Asia, with the Taiwan issue added to the North Korean issue. The U.S. government is trying to hold down the Taiwanese nationalism. The Japanese government needs to ask for China's self-restraint, but it will not be easy given the stagnant relationship between Japan and China in recent years. International politics of East Asia have kept stability by ignoring the existence of Taiwan, but the people of Taiwan became more assertive than before. This is an enormous challenge but we have to think about the framework of conflict prevention across the Taiwan Straits.