2012 Presidential Election

January 17, 2012 at 10:17 pm (Politics, Taiwan) (, )

As I would assume most people reading this blog already know, Taiwan’s presidential election was held on Saturday. It has been impossible not to notice election fervor in the air, perhaps because of the cars and motorcycles driving around at all hours of the day blasting campaign messages, the posters everywhere, and people handing me campaign fliers (kudos to them for still considering me, despite the fact that I obviously would not be voting). But it’s undeniable that this was an important election for Taiwan, though the lack of attention in American media might lead you to think otherwise. Perhaps the aspect of the election that most immediately smacks you in the face is that President Ma’s opposition, Tsai Ing-wen, was a woman. As interesting and spectacular as that is, her gender was not the focus of the election. Rather, the importance of the election had everything to do with Taiwan’s relationship to China (and to a lesser extent the economic future of Taiwan–whether it should go in the direction of a welfare state, or continue with more traditional economics). There has been much speculation that the U.S. government wanted President Ma to win this election, although the official stance is that the U.S. supports whoever the Taiwanese people want to lead them. And it was no secret that China supported Ma’s candidacy (http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/china-trade-influence-taiwan-election-15319141#.TwxN92OonR1).

I won’t go into the details of the election here, as there is plenty of better information to be found online. I would, however, like to suggest a blog. Frozen Garlic is, in my opinion, the most comprehensive and best online source for information on Taiwanese elections. If you really want to learn about not just the 2012 presidential election, but Taiwan’s electoral system in general, visit the blog at http://frozengarlic.wordpress.com/.

Being around for the presidential election has certainly taught me a bit about Taiwan politics, which I knew (and still know) almost nothing about. Here are a few random tidbits I picked up:

    1. Unlike the U.S. there are no absentee ballots. You must return to your home city in order to vote. This means that college students like my roommate had to travel back to their hometowns in order to vote this past weekend. It also means that thousands of Taiwanese living abroad, many of whom have been living in other countries for decades, returned to Taiwan this weekend in order to vote.
    2. There weren’t just Taiwanese ex-pats coming to Taiwan this weekend. Tourists from mainland China and Hong Kong flocked to Taiwan to watch the elections. Tourists with cameras observed the proceedings at election sites around the country, particularly in Taipei. Why the interest? Because neither mainland Chinese nor citizens of Hong Kong can elect the leaders of their nations.
    3. Generally speaking, southern Taiwan is more Green (DDP) and northern Taiwan, including Taipei, is more Blue (KMT). I don’t know the real reason why this is, but I suspect this at least in small part has to do with the comparatively more economic development in the north. Also, voting choice is often made along family lines, rather than individual consideration.

Before the elections, I asked around to see who people were going to vote for. Surprisingly, I got very candid responses from the middle aged crowd, but mostly apathetic and vague responses from those around my own age. Not surprising, the ICLP teachers I questioned all supported Ma. I say not surprising because most of them in class stress being Chinese more so than Taiwanese. This is interesting, as the younger crowd tends to call themselves Taiwanese.

I must say that while I had no personal preference in who won the election, as a person interested in politics I was hoping Tsai Ying-wen would come out on top, as that would have been a much more interesting term than Ma Ying-Jeou’s. Still, these next several years will play a key role in defining the role of Taiwan in relation to China and the U.S. for years to come, so I’ll be keeping an eye out for any interesting developments once Ma Ying-Jeou’s new term begins.

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1 Comment

  1. Andrew said,

    Ughhh, I’m not going to hide my distaste for President Ma. I was hoping that Tsai Ing-wen (her name means “English!”) would win, as was everyone in my family. We’re green because we’re very pro-Nationalist. But my parents, aunts and uncles and grandparents wouldn’t have flown back to vote, unfortunately :\

    It’s very cool that you got to be a firsthand witness to this election! I also think it’s great that economic policies and national identities were the core aspects of this religion, and there seems to have been very little mudslinging. Nothing like American politics, or what it has become- almost a game with certain strategies and lots of dirty, underhanded maneuvers…

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