The Blog

The Floridazation of Taiwan

After a bitter campaign, an assassination attempt, and a photo-finish election, the Kuomintang leads Taiwan into crisis.

11:30 AM, Mar 22, 2004 • By JOHN J. TKACIK JR.
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THIS WAS THE SUBPLOT when KMT Chairman Lien Chan had to face a crowd of thousands on Saturday evening to admit that he had lost the election. I listened to his speech which began on a dignified note: "This is an historical turning point for Taiwan," he began, and then he indicated how difficult such a close defeat was. He called for "coolness and reasonableness" (lengjing lixing). There were people crying in the audience. I was impressed by Dr. Lien's decorum and awaited his concession. But then he asserted "the shooting incident had a direct impact on the election that, coupled with many other suspicious issues, have clearly left the public with the strong impression that the election was unfair."

Lien was not willing to concede. Far from it. He then averred darkly that he did "not know how we would face the next generation if we left this injustice unrepaired." "I will file a complaint to nullify this election," Lien said. Then appeared Dr. James Soong, generally considered the éminence grise of Taiwan's "Blue" movement. Soong, too, insisted that the people of Taiwan were "cheated." Chen Shui-bian's so-called assassination was a nefarious act designed to eliminate the KMT's support with manufactured tragedy. "The election is invalid," he declared. The crowd began a chant "in-valid, in-valid, in-valid." "We will demand that every last ballot box be checked, and every last ballot be recounted," declared Soong, and the multitudes chanted "re-count, re-count, re-count."

I hurried to President Chen's campaign headquarters to hear his response. But Chen gave a gracious speech expressing "my highest respects to Mr. Lien and Mr. Soong." The president's campaign manager explained that he purposefully refrained from mentioning the Lien-Soong challenge to the election for fear of stirring the massive horn-blowing, flag-waving crowd to anger.

After the president's departure and only after his thousands of supporters had gone home, the campaign briefed foreign observers on the KMT's election challenge. The briefers--Taiwan's top lawyers populate the uppermost ranks of the Greens--explained that filing a for a recount is the KMT's right, but they could see no grounds for the challenge--not to mention that there is no recount provision in Taiwan's election law. All counting is done by election commissioners at each station in accordance with specific rules, and once the count is completed and certified, that's it. In this election, they said, the Central Election Commission has already ruled that the DPP won. The CEC noted that either side can challenge a specific polling place's vote count in the High Court, but that there must be evidence of illegal interference with the voting. Again, as far as the DPP could see, there was none.

The KMT then began to focus their public case not on the margin of their loss, but on the charge that "Chen Shui-bian cheated us with a faked assassination attempt." The accusation of a staged assassination, had already been disproved by a steady stream of interviews with the Hospital doctors, police, and body guards. Not to mention common sense. (Chen: "So, I stand in the car, and then a guy is going to shoot me with a bullet, through the windshield into my abdomen, but I should be careful to turn aside so the bullet will only cut a half-inch slice through me? . . . . What's Plan B?")

THE VITRIOL with which the story is being kept alive by the most passionate KMT old-guard appalls even younger Blue supporters. The spectacle of Dr. Lien and Dr. Soong posing absurd legal challenges to a properly conducted election and calling for the election's "invalidation" was no more worrisome than Al Gore's challenge to the 2000 Florida count. More disturbing was the way the two spun up the crowd by hinting that the president's shooting was a campaign stunt, and declaring that "the election was null" because it was "unfair."

The KMT's argument is that the "faked" shooting led Taiwan's premier to declare a military emergency--canceling leave for some 200,000 troops who didn't get to vote. Blue supporters claim that they poll well among military professionals. But they neglect to say that most of the military are young, educated Taiwanese conscripts who generally vote for President Chen's party.