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Taiwan: 2012 Election Sets Example for Mainland Chinese Democratization

Taiwan's presidential and legislative election was held on January 14, 2012. Incumbent Ma Ying-jeou of the Kuomintang (KMT) was reelected as President with 51.6% of the vote. Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) challenger Tsai Ing-wen resigned her post as chairperson of the DPP following her election defeat.

Chinese communities around the world were closely watching the results, as Taiwan is the first among the Chinese societies to transition from authoritarian to democratic governance. Many people from mainland China and Hong Kong travelled to Taiwan to observe the political process; they wonder if Taiwan can set an example for the future democratization in mainland China.

Ma Ying-jeou and his winning team giving the victory speech after the 2012 Taiwan elections.  Image by Craig Ferguson, copyright © Demotix (14/01/12).

Ma Ying-jeou and his winning team giving the victory speech after the 2012 Taiwan elections. Image by Craig Ferguson, copyright © Demotix (14/01/12).

Beijing based journalist Mark MacKinnon was surprised by Taiwanese enthusiasm for politics:

As a Beijing correspondent, it's so weird to see and hear people talking and shouting – in Chinese – about politics.

Based on the website of the Central Election Commission, 74.38% of eligible voters casted their votes in 2012. Ma Ying-jeou won reelection with 51.60% of the total votes cast, and Tsai Ing-wen gathered 45.63%.

Taiwan sovereignty

Different from the previous election, the usual Blue (KMT) and Green (DDP) antagonism seems absent, yet Taiwanese sovereignty remains the most critical issue.  Karlatheo expressed [zh] expressed her concern after the election:


On Jan[uary] 14, I went to vote peacefully. Then I gathered with friends. We do not care which party won the election, but we do care about whether Taiwan’s sovereign will be kept…We knew the issue of China dominated this election, and everyone needs to face the economic problems… President Ma, please remember you are our servant.

Nathan Batto was also worried about the future of the Taiwan-China relationship after the election:

With a sizeable 70-43 majority in the legislature, Ma Ying-jeou is not going to immediately become a lame duck president. Instead, he probably has enough power to do most of what he wants. He will almost certainly have the power to implement the next stage of ECFA, and it is not out of the question that he could push through the peace agreement that he mentioned during the campaign.

Researcher fellow at the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation, Dean Cheng, pointed out:

A strong Taiwan, confident in its relationship with the U.S., is key to peace and security in the region. In the weeks before Taiwan’s election, the U.S. Administration suddenly dispatched several senior officials to Taiwan. As it has been almost 12 years since a visit from a sitting U.S. cabinet member, the re-election of President Ma would seem to present an opportunity to demonstrate that this lack of attention has come to an end.

Example for mainland China

Those who could not fly to Taiwan to observe the election watched the news closely. Lele is from China [zh], but she has observed Taiwanese elections for more than a decade:


I was not born and have never lived in Taiwan. I am not political fanatic for any party, but I always watch the live broadcast of the election in Taiwan every four years. This is my fourth time watching it… The election system in Taiwan has become mature. When will China step onto the same road as Taiwan? When will Chinese have the right to vote for our leaders.

@darkillzhou [zh] (on Weibo) from China made jokes about the mainland Chinese election when talking to his Taiwanese friend:


My Taiwanese friend just told me they will go to vote for their president tomorrow morning, and they will know who wins the presidential election by the evening. Suddenly I did not know how to respond. Although our communication was smooth, I felt very ashamed. At the end, I said, ‘You Taiwanese are not efficient. If we mainland Chinese go to vote tomorrow morning, we would know who win the election tonight…’

In Hong Kong, columnist 練乙錚 (Lian Yi-Zheng) talked about [zh] how this election may change the future of China:


What has happened in Taiwan is similar to that in China, if we only look at Taiwan’s history before 1980. In the 1980s, there was a turning point in their politics. Building upon the 5,000-year-old culture, the country became democratic. All of us know the following story: the so-called ‘Taiwan experience’ is similar to an experience of founding a state. Politically, they became democratic after totalitarianism, and now they enjoy freedom after autocracy. Economically, they became wealthy from [being] an undeveloped country, and they have developed hi-tech industry in addition to fishery and agriculture.
Taiwan can hardly speak out on the international stage. On the political stage of Chinese society all over the world, Taiwanese only play a small role. However, the ‘Taiwan proposal’ with a rich content is gaining its energy. This proposal attracts Chinese people all over the world who are anxious to find their spiritual homeland. This time, those people from Hong Kong and mainland China who went to Taiwan to observe this election will absorb this experience and spread it.

In China, 水木丁 pointed out [zh] it is an opportunity for people in China to reflect why they do not think democracy is a choice for China:


When I watched Tsai Ing-Wen’s talk, I kept thinking about this question: I do not know what those people will say about this election. Americans and British people can talk about democracy, but we are not qualified for talking about democracy, are we? Now Taiwanese can talk about democracy on the other side of the strait, but we still cannot talk about democracy. Is it true that the people outside of China have higher quality and we do not? Is this why we are not qualified for talking about democracy?
I have some reflections when I saw the election in Taiwan held smoothly. I know these people with yellow skin and black eyes, who look like us, are learning. They had chosen the wrong person. They had taken the detour. There had been a farce. No matter what has happened, they continue walking on the way they choose. They do not ask if they are qualified. I saw them standing in the rain, the supporters of the winning party and the supporters of the losing party. They have their beliefs. They know what kind of world they want. Therefore they have hope. Suddenly I thought about the question of qualification. No citizen in any country in the world is given out democracy and freedom after they prove that they are qualified for democracy and freedom. Thinking about the doubts about our qualification that many of us have, I feel humiliated. Democracy should be realized step by step, but the process should never start with proving us qualified for it.

Encouraged by the observers in Hong Kong, mainland China, and other parts of the world old cat believes [zh] the Taiwanese should be strong and help the democracy movement in China:


In this election, many Taiwanese worried about the influence of China on our election through their economic power. Before the election, many heads of big Taiwanese companies supported the so called 1992 consensus in the public. Their actions are considered as the influence of China. These worries are very reasonable. However, are we only able to worry about China? Aren’t we able to attract their eye?
This is an opportunity for Taiwan… If Taiwan contributes to the democratization in China, we may earn the heart of the 13 hundred million people in China… Taiwan is small, but we stand on an important position. We should stop evading China when we plan our future.
No matter if it is lucky or not, we are at the magic point in the history. Being a model of democracy in the Chinese society may not be our goal, but this is the power in our hand.
We should not waste this power.

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