Taiwan Holds Second Democratic Presidential Elections

On March 18, 2000, a historic event took place in China. For the first time in Chinese history a democratic transfer of power occurred when Chen Shui-bian, representing the Democratic Progressive Power (DPP), won Taiwan’s second Presidential elections and ended fifty-five years of the Nationalist Party (KMT) rule.

Chen Shui-bian, with his running mate Annette Lu, won 39 percent of the total vote, while James Soong, a former Nationalist, came in a close second with 37 percent of the votes. KMT Vice President and candidate Lien Chan finished third with a disappointing 23 percent of the votes. It was estimated that among Taiwan’s 15.46 million eligible voters, 83 percent turned out to vote, up from the 76 percent of people who voted in the first 1996 elections.

The KMT’s loss was said to be due to the party’s continuing corruption and ties to organized crime. Moreover, Lien and his running mate Vincent Siew, Taiwan’s premier, lacked the charisma that attracted younger voters. In response to his third place finish, KMT supporters demonstrated in front of the downtown Party headquarters and demanded the resignation of KMT’s party chairman Lee Teng-hui, who is at the end of his presidency in Taiwan.

Chen Shui-bian was born February 18, 1951, in southern Tainan county to a poor sugar cane laborer. After earning a law degree from the Taiwan National University, he became active in opposition politics as a defense lawyer for political dissidents during Taiwan’s repressive martial-law era. Chen was jailed for eight months in 1986-1987 for accusing a KMT politician of plagiarism. His wife, Wu Shu-jen, was paralyzed in 1985 after a truck repeatedly ran her over, in what many believe was a politically motivated attempted murder. However, Shu-jen is still politically active and a close adviser to her husband. From 1994 to 1998 Chen served as Taipei’s mayor.

Annette Lu, Taiwan’s elected Vice President, is best known for initiating Taiwan’s feminist movement in the early 1970s. She has published twelve books on feminism in Taiwan and founded a publishing house, which also focused on feminist literature. After the Formosa Incident in 1979, Lu was arrested for sedition and given a twelve-year jail term. She was released on parole in 1985. Following the lifting of martial law in 1987, she again became actively involved in politics. As an opposition lawmaker and county magistrate, Lu later won a seat in the National Legislature. She is now the highest ranking female government official in Taiwan’s history.

The thirteen-year-old DPP has traditionally favored independence from the mainland. Both Chen and Lu have openly criticized China for its bellicose threats against Taiwan. Only a few days before the election, Chen reacted to Beijing’s continued warnings by stating: "Taiwan is an independent, sovereign country. It is not a part of the People’s Republic of China." However, after winning the Presidential elections, Chen Shui-bian eased cross-strait tensions by toning down his independent rhetoric and reaffirming continued and growing economic ties with China. The DPP also expressed a willingness to consider changing its charter clause that advocates establishing a "Republic of Taiwan."

Furthermore, Chen has expressed his desire to open the "three-links" (direct communication by air, sea, and postal services), which would end Taiwan’s deliberate isolation from China. On March 21, concrete steps were taken in this regard when the KMT-controlled legislature passed a law that allowed the three links between Fujian province and the islands of Quemoy and Matsu. However, Chen has reiterated that he will not accept talks with China based on the one-China principle which implies that Taiwan is part of China.

In February, China issued a government white paper adding another justification to use force against Taiwan if reunification talks were to be dragged on indefinitely. Chen’s presidential victory was the worst possible scenario for Beijing. Furthermore, China’s reaction to Chen’s olive branch, following his victory, has been guarded. Beijing said it will cautiously wait until after Chen’s inauguration to gage whether he is sincere or not.

President Clinton responded to Chen’s win by first congratulating him , then by sending an envoy to Taipei for unofficial talks with Chen and incumbent president Lee Teng-hui. Reports have said Clinton asked the envoy "to express Washington’s hopes for a re-opening of cross-strait talks and exercise restraint to lower tension in the region." The U.S. has reiterated its commitment to the one-China policy, which has guided relations with China since 1972. Chen will be inaugurated on May 20, 2000.

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