March 17, 2000
By Stephen Yates
This is, after all, only the second democratic election the
island republic has ever held. The Kuomintang (KMT) party that has
ruled Taiwan for more than half a century may be voted out of
office, and no one is sure how China will respond to the people's
Heading down the final stretch, each of the leading candidates -
Lien Chan (KMT), Chen Shui-bian (Democratic Progressive Party, or
DPP), and James Soong (Independent) - is franticly wooing support.
Two weeks ago, prior to a government blackout on opinion polls,
Lien, Chen and Soong were in a statistical dead heat, with roughly
one-third of the electorate undecided. Every night this week the
candidates have been holding huge public rallies in major cities
across the island, seeking a final boost of momentum as they head
into the only poll that counts.
These rallies are unlike anything seen in America. The only
thing that comes close are the major party conventions, but they're
held only once a campaign - and indoors at that. These rallies in
Taiwan, literally called "creating momentum meetings," are amazing
productions. A DPP rally last Saturday night in Taichung had
150,000 people braving the rain and mud to demonstrate support for
their man. Sunday night the KMT and DPP went head-to-head in
Kaohsiung, with the KMT pulling in more than 100,000 supporters
into the city sports park and the DPP boasting a record 400,000 on
the grounds of the cultural museum. The festivities continue up to
election eve, when crowds of nearly a million are expected in
These events do not simply feature rousing stump speeches. There
are fireworks, pop music, food, and a lot of partisans sporting
campaign jackets, hats, flags, banners, umbrellas - anything
imaginable to advertise their candidate. It's not like U.S.
conventions, where a few entertaining folks dress up. Everyone's
decked out. The host will rev up the crowd for a couple of hours,
then the hero arrives, delivers a speech, and leads the crowd in a
few cheers. When it's over, everyone packs up and moves on to the
next city to do it all over again. It's high-octane pageantry,
seven days a week.
The prize that awaits Saturday's winner is the right to
represent the people of Taiwan in a world that for the most part
denies it official diplomatic recognition; the responsibility to
negotiate peaceful co-existence with a hostile neighbor who claims
to be Taiwan's sovereign; and the challenge to curb the misuse of
money in Taiwan's maturing political system. Each would be daunting
challenge in itself.
Taiwan-China relations is the issue on which the election will
most likely turn, and each candidate has explained to voters how he
would create a new and peaceful relationship with China. But as
Beijing turns up the heat, all signs point toward a victory for
Chen Shui-bian, the most independence-minded candidate. Indeed,
Beijing's choice of coercion over conciliation is apparently
backfiring, with every hostile missive boosting Chen's fortunes and
putting pro-Beijing candidate James Soong on the defensive in an
effort to show he is not overly beholden to Zhu and company.
This is as it should be. The people of Taiwan deserve to
exercise their hard-fought right to popular sovereignty without
interference from Beijing. The free world should congratulate
Taiwan on its democratic progress and prepare to work with the
people's newly elected leader.
Taiwan: A Celebration of Democracy
Read More >>
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