Today, the opposition Kuomintang swept to victory in elections for the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan’s parliament. Final results show that the party, popularly known by the initials KMT, will take 81 out of 113 seats. The Democratic Progressive Party of President Chen Shui-bian ended up with only 27. Chen’s goal was to capture 50 of them.
This is the first election since the number of seats in the legislature was cut in half and new voting rules went into effect. The changes clearly favored the KMT, yet the margin of its victory substantially exceeded expectations. President Chen immediately resigned as chairman of the DPP to take responsibility for the resounding defeat.
The implications of the election are immense and go well beyond who sits in the new legislature. On March 22 Taiwan holds its next presidential election, and Chen is constitutionally barred from running for a third term. The KMT, which favors building ties with China, has a popular candidate in Ma Ying-jeou, a former mayor of Taipei. Today, he is about twenty percentage points ahead of his DPP rival, Frank Hsieh, who has not been able to unify his party behind him, and today’s landslide will only further the momentum propelling Ma.
The KMT’s win is being viewed as a repudiation of Chen Shui-bian’s bid to formalize the island’s de facto independence from China and as an indication that the Taiwanese want better relations with Beijing. These assessments are undoubtedly correct, yet today’s results have more to do with the electorate’s confidence that the Kuomintang can restore prosperity and run the government more efficiently. There seems to be no increase in the tiny support—measured in single digits in the last several years—for formal unification with China. Chen may not have been able to win diplomatic recognition for Taiwan as an independent state, yet he has been able to reinforce on the island a native Taiwanese identity that precludes union with the Mainland.
Oh, almost forgot. The island’s election was not the only one today to pick representatives for Taiwan. Xinhua, Beijing’s official news agency, reported that 120 electors chose “via a secret ballot” 13 people in China to represent the island in the National People’s Congress, the rubber stamp legislature that meets once a year in the Chinese capital (Beijing claims Taiwan as one of its provinces). Of course, the 13 chosen ones were all highly qualified. “They are either Party or government officials, or scholars making remarkable contributions to science and technology, education and medicine, or representatives of the economic sector,” said Xinhua. As long as the Communist Party of China resorts to such antics, there is no danger that the 23 million people living on Taiwan will want to become part of the Mainland, even if they rejected Chen Shui-bian’s Democratic Progressive Party today.