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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In any event, "unfairness" would not have an impact on the actual vote counting, so the KMT is now focusing on irregularities. The first stab at that legal tack came just a few minutes after 2:00 a.m. on Sunday when a High Court spokesman (apparently anticipating a long night) appeared on television to report that he received faxed complaints from 21 localities and was in the process of referring the complaints to the appropriate lower local prosecutors. He didn't elaborate, but did say the lower courts were prepared to take up the cases Sunday morning. The relief demanded--according to the headline across the top of the video display was to "nullify the election."

It soon became apparent that the Blue's public case lacked substance. Ninety minutes later Taiwan TV began running a video clip of a woman bringing her two little daughters into the voting booth and letting them put her two referendum ballots into the appropriate boxes--she had already put her presidential ballot in a third box. A news reporter interviewed a former KMT Chiayi county magistrate who, seeing the clip, gasped in horror that "little children can now take a ballot and little children can now vote." The late-night crowd behind him roared in howls of indignation.

All Sunday night, Dr. Lien and Dr. Soong sat sullenly at their defeat rally in central Taipei surrounded by thousands of enflamed supporters. At 4:17 a.m., before the sky brightened, they finally arose to lead their large and boisterous crowd down the boulevards to the presidential mansion, guarded by a long a phalanx of police. Taiwan's High Court finally ordered all jurisdictions to "seal ballot boxes" as potential evidence in an effort to mollify the protesting throngs. But the throngs blocked all traffic into the governmental district on Sunday afternoon, their ranks swelled by sympathizers from outside Taipei. They were still there on Monday.

IT HAS BEEN a most disillusioning spectacle. I have seen two men whom I have admired for the past 20 years turn into hate-mongers. I watched as they incited followers to late night demonstrations, which they must have known could turn violent. They urged their supporters to demand that legitimate offices of government abdicate their responsibilities and surrender ballot boxes to repair imagined injuries. And by not urging restraint, their actions countenanced violence against law enforcement officers.

It is supremely ironic. In 1979, Taiwan's upper level KMT ministers--including minister of Communications Lien Chan and Government Information director James Soong--nodded in approval when young Taiwanese democracy activists were sentenced to eight years in prison for less than KMT leaders have done in the past two days. But times have changed. The democracy activists and defense attorneys of 25 years ago are now Taiwan's president Chen Shui-bian, vice president Annette Lu, Kaohsiung mayor Frank Hsieh , Examination Yuan president Yao Chia-wen, and labor minister Chen Chu. This time, KMT leaders countenance mob rule. But Taiwan has changed dramatically in the last quarter-century. It is unlikely that Drs. Lien and Soong will be court-martialed for their part in inciting this latest unrest, much less sentenced to prison.

It is a sign that democratic ideals have indeed taken hold in Taiwan if not in the KMT.

John J. Tkacik Jr. is Research Fellow in Asian Studies at the Heritage Foundation.