Comments on 2004 Presidential election
in Taiwan aired by NHK World Radio Japan(March 23, 2004)
The Presidential Election of Taiwan and the Future of China-Taiwan Relations
The results of the presidential election of Taiwan, held on March 20, have come in.
The incumbent president Chen Shui-bian won over opposition candidate Lien Chan. The elections are expected to greatly affect the future relations between China and Taiwan and attracted much attention for this reason. The results of the vote count are as follows:
Voting rate was 80.3%.
Chen Shui-bian (Democratic Progressive Party) received 6,471,970 votes (50.11%)
Lien Chan (Kuomintang KMT: Nationalist Party) received 6,442,452 votes (49.89%)
Chen Shui-bian was elected over Lien Chan with a 29,518 votes lead.
Today, we speak to Yoshiyuki Ogasawara, an assistant professor at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies who is currently in Taiwan reporting on the election. He will give us prospects on the future of China-Taiwan relations based on the election results, as well as give us his take on how it may affect the future of East Asian affairs, including the effects on Japan. (interviewed by Ms. Nakatani, on 22 March 2004)
1. Mr. Ogasawara, thank you very much for agreeing to our phone interview. First, I would like to ask for your analysis on the results of this election.
Many people anticipated that the election results would be very close, but still people were surprised by the very small margin when the results were announced. This election was a very heated race, which sharply divided the Taiwanese society. President Chen Shui-bian had been trailing his opponent Mr. Lian Chan in the opinion polls. Therefore, President Chen adopted a strategy of appealing to the Taiwanese identity and emphasized a sense of rivalry against China. By doing so President Chen increased his support, but this strategy made some part of the population get angry. On the other hand the opposition camp developed a harshly negative campaign against President Chen. This in turn made the supporters of President Chen increase antagonism against the opposition camp.
Four years ago voters in Taiwan experienced very fierce election campaign. This time it was even more. As this election was a one-on-one campaign, so the voters were forced to take side. Those people whom I interviewed here in Taipei told that the election campaign this time were much more intense than four years ago. Many reported that they had quarrels about their choice in the workplace or in the household.
2. The shooting incident of the incumbent candidate Mr. Chen Shui-bian occurred the day before the election. Do you think this affected the election results?
Yes, it is obvious. I saw that the situation was rather advantageous to Mr. Lien up to a day before the polling day. But the incident of shooting to some extent changed the situation. I think that the shock of the President being shot drew the floating voters, who were otherwise unlikely to have voted, to the polling station, and many of them cast their ballots for President Chen. There is a strong feeling among Mr. Lien's supporters that, if it had not been for the shooting, they would have won this election. This made it difficult for them to accept the election results.
3. What was the deciding factor for the win?
As I mentioned, the incident of shooting had an influence on the voters. On the other hand, it is important to point out the fact that the Taiwanese identity had become consolidated in the past four years. Four years ago President Chen obtained about 40 percent of the votes. This time he obtained 50 percent. Had it not been for the shooting, he might have not been elected, but it is certain that he would have obtained close to 50 percent of the votes. So behind President Chen's victory, I would point out that he had built a solid support based on this Taiwanese identity.
4. Mr. Lian Chan declared the election results void
There are a thousand people still gathering in front of the Presidential Office in Taipei. They are demanding the re-count of the votes. But it is obvious that the election results will not be changed.
5. How will the politics in Taiwan change as a result of the election?
President Chen is likely to call for a national reconciliation. However with emotional confrontation continuing, it is not easy to form a normal working relationship between the ruling party and the opposition parties. Taiwanese politics will face a stalemate for some time. The next focal point is whether President Chen can command a majority in the coming legislator's election, which is scheduled in December this year.
As for the direction of the Taiwanese politics, I predict that the Taiwanese identity gathers momentum with President Chen's re-election and the power structure will be reconstructed accordingly. At the same time, the economic interdependence between Taiwan and China continues to deepen. There will be a stronger voice from the economic circles for rapprochement with China. Thus, the political dynamics and the economic dynamics are evidently in conflict. President Chen is riding on this contradiction, and it is highly unlikely to unravel this contradiction in the near future.
6. How do you think the results of the election will affect the future of China-Taiwan relations?
In the immediate future, there will not be a big change in the Taiwan- China relations. However, because President Chen has announced to establish a new constitution in 2006, the relationship will take on more and more tension in the future. There is no possibility that Taiwan accepts the "One Country, Two Systems" insisted by China.
Because the Taiwanese identity gains momentum in domestic politics, Taiwan will become self-assertive in International politics, too. The international politics of East Asia have been structured by neglecting the existence of Taiwan. Becoming self-assertive, Taiwan is coming off this framework. The United States will not change its policy of protecting Taiwan from the strategic point of view. However, the U.S. much needs China's cooperation in the War on Terrorism after the September 11 as well as in the North Korean issue. On the other hand China has declared that Taiwan's inclination to independence is totally unacceptable. The United States faces a difficult task of placing Taiwan in the international political structure of East Asia.
The U.S. and Japan both have entered a very difficult phase. They need to recognize that acknowledging Taiwan's proper status in the international society (for example, admitting a membership in the WHO: World Health Organization and other international organizations) will keep it from taking extreme actions. The Chinese government should realize this, and the Japanese government has to ask China for self-restraint.