No to Violence and
Democracy in Turmoil
Supporters of President Chen Shui-Bien celebrated their man's survival of an apparent assassination
attempt. 20 March saw the fourth direct presidential election in Taiwan
since 1987, when the regime of the Kuomingtang (KMT), or Nationalist
Party, ended martial law decreed by its late dictator Chiang Kai-Shek in
1949, giving way to multiple-party elections. (AP Photo by David
Chen, of the
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), was re-elected to a second term by a hair:
29,518 votes, or 0.2% of the 13,251,719 ballots cast, while 337,297
ballots were deemed invalid by election officials. (6,471,970 votes, or
50.1%, went to the DPP; the opposition took 6,442,452 votes or 49.9%.
Turnout was 80%.)
near-nonexistent mandate was
further undermined by the defeat of Taiwan's first-ever referendum vote that
he initiated, on the question of whether Taiwan should bolster its
military defenses against China. Even after it was rephrased (originally
it asked whether China should remove the 480 or so missiles aimed at
Taiwan from just 150 miles away across the Taiwan Strait), the measure was decried by many as demagoguery, and
as a provocation against
the regional bully that frequently threatened to reclaim the island
by force. The referendum was invalidated when 55% of the voters chose not to
participate; amongst the 45% who did, 90% voted in its favor.
The KMT opponent, former Vice President Lien Chan, immediately demanded the votes
to be nullified. Protest rallies stood before the presidential palace
daily since the election, demanding vote recount and an independent
investigation into the shooting. On 27 March, the rally in rainy Taipei swelled
to nearly 500,000 people, replete with slick light shows and large
video screens provided by the KMT supporters (AFP photo by Peter Parks).
I started writing this commentary on the eve of the latest presidential
election in Taiwan. The vote took place as scheduled, within
twenty-four hours of President
Chen Shui-Bien and VP Annette Lu surviving a shooting attack during the
last day of campaigning.
this time, the world was still feeling the shock of the 11
March train attacks in Madrid, which killed 190 people, injured more
than 1,500 and occurred exactly three days before a general election. The
attacks, now blamed squarely on Islamic extremists connected to al-Qaeda,
were perceived as revenge against Spain's participation in the Iraq war.
By a 42% to 38% margin in a 77% turnout, the
Socialists defeated the ruling Popular Party of Jose Maria Aznar, who took
Spain to war in Iraq despite overwhelming public disapproval. Upon
becoming the Prime Minister-elect, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero had vowed
to withdraw all 1,300 Spanish troops from Iraq by the end of June, lest their
presence be required by a new UN mandate.
These harrowing events are being interpreted wildly by all sides of
their respective disputes.
In Spain, those opposed to the war in Iraq hailed
their electoral victory as a step taken to lessen the aggravation of
global Islamic terrorism, while their dissenters accused them of appeasing
their common enemy.
In Taiwan, where the bizarre shooting was matched in
absurdity by the extreme narrowness in the incumbent's margin of victory
(see sidebar), conspiracy theories now run amok. Amid massive protest rallies and pandemonium
in the national legislature, the "assassination attempt" has
been effectively placed within quotation marks. Rumors ranged from
agents sent by Beijing to a stunt staged by the DPP themselves,
all fanned by the sensationalist (yet free) media.
Let me be emphatically clear about one point: The terrorists, assassins
and the conspirators did not determine the election outcomes in Spain and
Taiwan. The voters did.
This commentary is also my protest for democracy, but one directed against violence
and guile as
means to impose one's political will.
To that end, here is advice from a thoroughly disillusioned ex-pat to the
head-butting contenders in Taiwan: Grow up and behave yourselves. Let the
vote recount take place quickly, objectively and quietly. Do not let your
bloated egos, naked ambitions, corrupt influences or your petty feuds
jeopardize the well-being of the Taiwanese people.
Know that, the more you incite and polarize your 22.5 million
compatriots with your divisive ploys and cynical rhetoric, the more
excuses you are giving to Beijing to finish the century-long civil war you did not
and cannot ever win, with or (more likely) without American support. As
you bandy about the word "democracy" so neatly type-set in
English onto your giant placards for the foreign press, remember that such
very word has been an expletive to the caretakers of Tiananmen Square ever
Learn from Spain. They've long gotten over Franco. They're dealing with
constant threats from Basque separatists and Muslim extremists, economic
stagnation, and inter-ethnic strife. Under duress, they've accepted a
drastic change in their government with calm and dignity.
(Source: AP, Reuters, and the BBC)
CW, 19 March 2004, revised 20, 27 and 28 March 2004