Comments on the Political Turmoil in Taiwan
aired by NHK World Radio Japan(April 6, 2004)


On March 20th Taiwan's president Chen Shui-bian received the motion put forward by the defeated KMT party seeking to invalidate the election results and submitted to a letter of consent to the High Court of Justice for immediate re-count. The High Court rejected the request to nullify the election but opened the session to the side of whether to re-count the vote. They are expected to come up to a decision in a couple of days. Meanwhile Taiwan's Interior Minister resigned onSaturday night to take a responsibility for the shooting in the wake of attempton president Chen's life.

Radio Japan Reporter Jonathan Sherr interviewed Mr. Yoshiyuki Ogasawara, associate professor of Tokyo University of Freign Studies, a specialist on Taiwanese politics, about what is really occurring in Taiwan, which continues to be an turmoil 2 weeks after the Taiwanese Presidential election, that was held on March 20th.

PDPlease tell us what has happened in the aftermath of the Taiwanese Presidential elections?

Mr. Chen Shui-bian won this election by a very small margin. On top of that, the unexpected shooting incident took place, which affected the voters' behavior. Thus, it is to a certain degree understandable that the opposition camp is reluctant to admit its defeat. There were demonstrations in front of the Presidential Building for a week from the night when the election results were released. Some quarters of the opposition party even requested to re-hold the election, and there was a concern that the protest movements would escalate to expand the confusion. But in reality, most of the protesters were keeping calm and only a few injuries were reported. It would be reasonable to conclude that the Taiwanese society showed a strong determination not to allow protest movements to deviate from lawful measures.

On the other hand, it is worth mentioning that the supporters of Mr. Chen kept a low profile. The ruling party DPP issued an order that the party members should not celebrate the election victory and they should not organize any activity that might incite the feelings of the opposition supporters. The self-restraint of the DPP helped to prevent the tension from piling up further.


QDThe court is going to decide whether re-count the votes. Do you think this will have any change in the election results?

In Taiwan, the voting and counting process is rigorously managed. The election administrative officers consist of public officials from each local government as well as teachers. They are commissioned by the election administration committee, and are on duty after having had prior training. In addition, watchmen from both camps stand by at all polling stations, and they monitor the voting and counting process from the beginning to the end, including judgments on valid and invalid votes. Therefore, there is no room for organized manipulation. When the court re-counts the votes, it may find some mistakes in the judgment on valid and invalid votes, and some careless mistakes in the counting process. Nonetheless, it will not overturn the election results.


RDHas there been any progress in the investigation of the shooting incident?

Police and prosecution are going all out to catch the culprit, but no clue has been found yet. There has not been a single witness report despite that TV cameras were playing, many police were on guard, and a lot of supporters of Mr. Chen were along the route. Even the exact point from which the gun was shot has not been identified yet. The opposition camp has grown impatient with the little progress in the investigation.

The opposition has called into question not only the shooting incident itself but also the fact that because the national security system was alerted after the incident, many of servicemen and police were unable to vote. What they are saying is that they were put at a disadvantage because there are many opposition party supporters among military and police personnel. But a difference remains between the government's explanation and the opposition's claim as to how many thousand of military and police personnel could not vote.


SDWill you please explain more about the ethnic groups that constitute the Taiwanese society?

Most of the Taiwanese society is comprised of ethnic Chinese who have migrated from the Mainland China. However, perceptions on history and Taiwan's position greatly differ between those who immigrated to Taiwan in the Ching Dynasty's era and have already lived for generations before the Japanese rule began, and those who came to Taiwan with Chiang Kai-shek after World War II. There is also a difference between the two groups in terms of identity - Taiwanese identity and Chinese identity. Consequently, although they are both Chinese, it is more appropriate to regard them as two different ethnic groups.

Those who immigrated during the Ching Dynasty's era are further divided into two ethnic groups; one is Minnan residents, who came from Fujian Province, and the other is Hakka. Moreover, there are aborigines who have lived in Taiwan since before the Chinese immigration. So there are four ethnic groups in the Taiwanese society. Under the authoritarian regime, people were not allowed to officially discuss the subject of different ethnic groups. As a result of democratization, freedom of speech has become secured and individuals can now freely express their own ethnic groups' sentiment, which in turn started to inspire a sense of rivalry between different groups.


TDIt has been said that this particular campaign for election was quite intense. How do you think this will affect Taiwanese society?

The relations and senses of rivalry between the four ethnic groups are very complex. The Minnan residents, who make up the largest population, are divided into supporters of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and those of the KMT. Although the difference of perceptions between ethnic groups does not often surface in people's daily lives, when it comes to a presidential election, Taiwan's future is at a stake, the emotions and senses of difference come to the surface. One of the principles of democracy is to determine a country's future by the vote of the people. In that sense, democracy in Taiwan is working. But the situation that an election's results will change the country's direction is potentially explosive. Besides, the circumstances that a person's identity, which by nature is a private matter, becomes an issue in the elections and people argue one another for their identity are likely to cause strife between people. The Taiwanese society is thus sharply divided by the intense election campaigns on both sides.


UDWill you please explain in greater detail the Legislator's Election in December this year?


The political system of Taiwan is not the American-type presidency, but the French-style semi-presidency. Administration of government becomes very difficult if they do not hold a majority in the Legislature. For the past four years, the Chen Administration had undergone many hardships because of this. After the presidential election the opposition party has taken a hard-line policy and they do not accept the election result, so it looks that they are losing the support of those in the middle ground voters. In addition, it is likely that the opposition party's internal dissonance will come up, which will be conducive to the ruling party's advantage in the Legislator's Election. The opposition camp consists of two parties; the Nationalist Party KMT led by Mr. Lien Chan and the People First Party led by Mr. James Soong. The People First Party may retain their seats, but the KMT may decrease the number of seats. On the other hand, the ruling camp consists of the DPP led by Mr. Chen Shui-bian and the Taiwan Solidarity Union led by former president Lee Teng-hui. Both parties are predicted to increase their seats to obtain a majority in the Legislature.


VDWhat do you think about President Chen Shui-bian's policy line after all this?

President Chen insisted a middle-of-the-road line four years ago. But his attempt to form a non-partisan government of national unity failed, and he won this election instead by adopting a strategy of emphasizing Taiwanese identity. With regard to establishing a new constitution in 2006, President Chen has made it clear that he will not change the country's name and the national flag. But since the Taiwanese identity has been consolidated through this election campaign, and the pro-independence group increased its presence in Chen Shui-bian's support base, President Chen will be likely to head toward enhancing Taiwanese identity rather than toward the middle of the road. When the discussion on new constitution begins in the future, emotional confrontation between the ruling party and the opposition parties may fire up again. I am concerned what kind of position the Chinese government will take in that case. It is certain that both the United States and Japan continue to observe the political development in Taiwan.

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