Comments on the legislative election in Taiwan 2004
aired by NHK World Radio Japan (December 11, 2004)

The Legislative Election in Taiwan - the Relationship between China and Taiwan

In Taiwan's legislative election on Saturday, President Chen Shui-bian's governing coalition failed to gain a majority. The Central Election Administration Committee has announced that President Chen's Democratic Progressive Party and its coalition partner, the Taiwan Solidarity Union won 101 seats out of parliament 225 seats, the opposition camp including nationalist party got 114 seats, giving them 1 seat majority. The nationalist party camp that held majority before the election will continue to see the initiative in parliament. The independents got 10 seats.
In the election battle the governing coalition appealed for support for pro-independence policies including establishing Taiwan's own constitution. We hear more about this from associate professor Yoshiyuki Ogasawara, who is currently in Taiwan reporting on the election. Yoko spoke with him over the telephone. So let's have a listen.

1. Could you start by telling us about the Taiwan's legislative election, voter's turn out and concerns of voters?

The election result appeared at the night of the polling day. It was a surprise to many observers in Taipei. We expected that the ruling party might gain a majority, or at least both the ruling and opposition parties could not get a majority. This is what many observers expected. But actually the opposition parties could gain a majority. Generally speaking, voters' interest was not high because this election was the second one within a year after the Presidential election in March. Voter's turnout marked a historic low. It declined from 66 percent of the previous election that was held three years ago to 59 percent this time.

2. Now you mentioned that observers were surprised about the election result. What can be said about the voter's choice this time?

It can be interpreted that the electorate in Taiwan showed cautiousness in the agenda of Taiwanese identity. President Chen's re-election in March represents the wide spreading of Taiwanese identity in the past years in Taiwan. On the other hand, people prefer peaceful settlement to confrontation. Actually President Chen made a pledge in his inaugural address at the beginning of his second term that he would stick to a moderate line. But during the election campaign this time, in particular toward the end of the election campaign, he raised the issue of new constitution and true name of Taiwan, and increased election language. It looked as though some voters in the middle ground who might have supported the ruling party felt tired of this kind of election agenda and did not go to polling station.

3. Now it is said that Chinese government has high interest in this election. How do you predict that the election result will affect the relation with China?

In the short term there will be no change in the relation between China and Taiwan. Because President Chen doesn't have a majority in the Legislature, he will not be able to take an initiative in line with independence agenda. Now we have to see whether Beijing will modify their stance or not after this election.

4. And you said that President Chen was not able to get majority. How will this affect the political schedule? How will it be carried out?

This election result is a serious setback for President Chen and he has to face a more difficult political situation in domestic political affairs. He has to find a way to keep his political authority; otherwise he will become a lame duck while he still has three more years in office. It is expected that President Chen will reshuffle the Cabinet in January next year. Attention is paid on whether President Chen will make a concession to the opposition parties or not, which I feel at this moment is unlikely.

5. You are now in Taiwan. What is the feeling among the public this time?

People's reaction was in two ways naturally. Supporters of opposition parties are delighted and supporters of ruling party are disappointed. There are many local issues involved in this election, so it is difficult to draw a concrete tendency among the electorate. The implications of the election are still not clear.

6. What about the reaction outside of Taiwan, such as by the United States and Japan to the election?

In the past few years US and Japan became nervous about the recent development of Taiwanese politics because they feared that the spread of Taiwanese identity in Taiwan would cause serious tension on the Taiwan Strait. The State Department of US and Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan are obviously relieved to hear the election results. But the Taiwan question still remains. Beijing will continue to suppress Taiwan's living space in the international arena and Taiwan will continue to be frustrated and try to find a breakthrough. The fact still remains that there is no channel of dialogue between Taiwan and China. Both sides have incompatible objectives.