A Shallow Yet Far-Reaching Election
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
November 23, 2010
In terms of campaign rhetoric, the Saturday vote is an extremely superficial election. In terms of real world impact however, it is an election which will have far-reaching consequences.
The 2008 presidential election ended the chaos of the Chen regime, which had generated a constant state of anxiety by unnecessarily provoking both internal and external problems. The Ma administration inherited a nation in political and economic ruin. After two years of stumbling about, the five cities election can be considered a report card on the new government. In 2008, the DPP did not just lose power. It also suffered a humiliating repudiation of its political agenda, and a catastrophic loss of moral legitimacy. But during the current election, it has apparently bottomed out and is making a recovery. It has gathered momentum and is staging a comeback. Most people consider the five cities election a precursor to the Big Event in 2012.
This is an election that will have a profound impact on the future. Ironically it may be the most superficial election since martial law was lifted over 20 years ago. Important elections in the past invariably involved issues of national identity, cross-Strait policy, strategies to cope with economic globalization, and "ethnic" (community group) relations. These issues were upsetting and made people feel helpless. But they undeniably relevant to our political and economic survival. By contrast, the current election may involve core issues affecting life on Taiwan. But these issues have been almost completely obscured during the current election. Before the election, Tsai Ing-wen put forth a "Platform for the Coming Decade." But it has since vanished without a trace. Su Tseng-chang meanwhile, sports a pink shirt. He squats in the mud on an overhead pedestrian bridge. He stands on the sidewalk next to a broken brick paver. He hugs babies and makes faces at them. He eagerly sprovides reporters with photo ops. Both Su and Tsai are candidates for the 2012 presidential election. But neither dares to participate in a political debate. Considering the fact that this is supposed to be a precursor to the 2012 presidential election, isn't their conduct a bit too superficial and hypocritical?
In fact, the DPP would like an in-depth debate over political and economic grand strategy. It surrounded and harassed Zhang Mingqing. It forced Chen Yunlin to remain inside his hotel room. It spun ECFA as "pandering to [Mainland] China, as "selling out Taiwan," and as an "insult to the nation." These are all core issues affecting the ROC. They are also issues the "Platform for the Coming Decade" ought to explain. But once campaign season began, the DPP willing only to say that "ECFA is a central government issue." These issues were buried and hidden. The DPP even reneged on its "Platform for the Coming Decade." Does the DPP really intend to bring this election down to the superficial level of broken brick pavers on overhead pedestrian bridges?
The jewel in the crown of Ma administration policy is cross-Strait relations. But the public is apparently unimpressed. In two short years, the Ma administration implemented direct flights, enabled Mainland tourists to visit Taiwan, signed ECFA and joint crime-fighting initatives. These are significant policies that amount to a radical improvement in long-term cross-Strait relations, and have provided an effective buffer against the impact of the financial crisis. The Jiang Ping issue, the Yang Shu-chun issue, and the Cheng Hung-yi "30,000NT subsidies for Mainland students" are superficial and untrue jibes. Yet they have obliterated the Ma administration's cross-Strait policy achievements in one fell swoop.
Attempting to to use "30,000NT subsidies for Mainland students" to negate cross-Strait policy is superficial. Attempting to use "20NT water spinach" to negate the Taipei Flora Expo is superficial. Yet these superficial arguments have flooded the media and filled people's heads. Eventually it was proven that ECFA would benefit our political and economic system. It was proven that vegetable growers who guaranteed live water spinach plants for six months had been mistreated. But superficial stereotypes had already taken shape. Superficial attitudes of hatred and victimization had already taken hold. Many voters have already decided that "30,000 NT subsidies for Mainland students" invalidate the Ma administration cross-Strait policy. They have already decided that the water spinach issue invalidates the Hau administration's achievements throughout Taipei. These are indeed superficial political ploys. The question is, will voters respond in an equally superficial manner?
As we all know, this election is a precursor to the 2012 presidential election. But within this election, national identity, cross-Strait policy, strategies to cope with economic globalization, and our political and economic prospects in the wake of ECFA, have been buried. They have vanished without a trace. Tsai Ing-wen retracted the DPP's "Platform for the Coming Decade." This alerted the public to its hidden agenda. Cheng Hung-yi's "F**k Your Mother!" fiasco reminded the public that the DPP's problems persist. Otherwise this atypical election would have reached a superficial and hasty end.
The Democratic Progressive Party is wearing a pink mask. Perhaps it hopes that by doing so it can "squeak by" during this election. But immediately afterwards it must confront the 2012 presidential election. The major issues can no longer be covered up. When the time comes, the DPP can no longer hope that these issues will be dealt with on such a shallow level.