Friday, January 11, 2008

Taiwan's Political Prospects

During a seminar held at Washington D.C., Dr. Chih-cheng Lo, who currently serves as Chairman at Soochow University’s Department of Political Science, stated that Taiwan’s President Chen’s campaign activities are geared towards the upcoming Legislative Yuan election, while presidential candidate Hsieh will begin his electoral campaign afterward. According to Dr. Lo, Chen and Hsieh are implicitly coordinating their strategies—Chen’s aim is to consolidate conservative pan-Green constituency, while Hsieh will work to garner swing voters’ support.

Dr. Lo also pointed out the following: Beijing’s repeated overreaction to President Chen’s statements; ex-President Lee Teng-hui’s diminishing political influence and Legislative Yuan Speaker Wang’s continuing role as the “middleman” of KMT and DPP.

Washington’s Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS), a well-known policy think tank, held a seminar on Taiwan’s upcoming presidential election. The following specialists presented opening remarks: Dr. Richard Bush, Senior Fellow and Director of Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution; Mr. Charles W. Freeman III, Chairholder of CSIS’s Freeman Chair in Asia Studies; Dr. Nancy Bernkopf Tucker, Professor of History at Georgetown University.

Dr. Lo and two other specialists, Dr. Chung-li Wu, Associate Research Fellow at Academia Sinica and Ms. Bonnie Glaser, Senior Associate at CSIS, served as speakers for this event. They also opened the floor to Q&A at the end of their speech.

In response to participants’ questions about President Chen’s involvement in campaign as well as Hsieh’s possibility of being marginalized, Dr. Lo pointed out that Hsieh advocates a centrist stance and he is interested in winning those who support such stance. It seems that Hsieh is able to maintain his position despite severe criticisms from the conservative pan-Green members.

According to Dr. Lo, Chen’s active campaign involvement shows that the Legislative Yuan election is crucial to Democratic Progressive Party’s prospect. Hsieh will take over the scene, once the Legislative Yuan election is over.

Dr. Lo does not believe that President Chen will do anything drastic during the immediate post-electoral period, given that the new president and his behaviors will be the center of attention. Thus, Beijing and other third-parties should not overreact to Chen’s statements.

Many panel participants also wondered whether next year’s electoral outcomes will mark the end of divided government and accompanying stalemate that has been plaguing Chen’s administration.

In response to this question as well as many observers’ belief that KMT will win the upcoming Legislative Yuan election, Dr. Lo pointed out two possible scenarios: first, a “pendulum effect” where voters will elect DPP presidential candidate, so the pan-Green executive branch can monitor and balance pan-Blue dominant legislative branch. Alternatively, voters and local political forces will bandwagon with KMT, and such “bandwagon effect” will in turn help KMT candidate Ma Yin-jou to obtain electoral victory. While there are many people who believe that KMT’s predominance in both Legislative Yuan and executive branch will end the current legislative-executive antagonism, Dr. Lo argued divided government, with KMT dominating the Legislative Yuan and Hsieh heading the executive branch, will not necessarily generate stalemate. Rather, such situation can give Hsieh more leverage to get more pan-Blue legislators to join the pan-Green camp. Doing so will allow Hsieh to form a majority coalition in the Legislative Yuan and coalition government, thereby promoting reconciliation among both parties. Such tactic worked during Hsieh’s term as mayor of Kaohsiung, as his effort resulted in support from several KMT municipal legislators.

Ms. Glaser reinstated US government’s neutrality towards abovementioned issues; the US will refrain from leaning towards any party/candidate and respect Taiwanese voters’ electoral choices. However, it is the US hope that Taiwan’s new administration will make more effective foreign policy decision—ones that will take both Taiwan and US interests into consideration. The US, according to Ms. Glaser, believes that Taiwan has been consistently ignoring the interests of the US. Thus, the US hopes that the new administration will commit to the following goals: 1) renew cross-Strait talks with Beijing, 2) overcome cross-Strait trade restrictions and 3) establish stable and mutual-trusting relations with the US. Ms. Glaser also hopes that Taiwan will aim to consolidate its democratic system. Doing so will not only help Taiwan to stabilize its own society but will also reduce Chinese people’s negative view towards Taiwan’s democracy.

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