• Taiwan turns the page

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    WE would like to congratulate Taiwan’s president-elect, Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), and the people of Taiwan for her victory and for their having conducted an efficient and successful national election on Saturday.

    As had been widely expected, Madame Tsai, who is now Taiwan’s first woman president, led her party to a convincing victory over rivals Eric Chu of the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) and James Soong of the People First Party. The three were vying to replace outgoing President Ma Ying-jeou of the KMT, who has been in office since 2008 and must step down after serving the maximum two terms.

    The people of the Philippines – and especially our leaders, both those who are participating in our own elections happening in May and those responsible for conducting the electoral exercise – should take note of the Taiwan experience, which was impressive. Even though there were deeply contentious issues at stake, the rival parties and their candidates conducted their campaigns respectfully with a strong focus on policy matters, and very little if any on personalities. The fact that Madame Tsai is the island’s first woman president is a significant point in the media from the rest of the world, but is mentioned hardly at all in the Taiwanese press.

    When it came time for the actual voting, the process (which is semi-automated) was carried out cleanly and efficienly, under the guidance of an electoral authority that conducted itself in a strictly apolitical manner, above all reproach in terms of either performance or motives. Localized problems, of which there were a few, were resolved quickly, and the results for the entire election were available within a matter of hours after the closure of the polls.

    Of course, circumstances are different in Taiwan – it is a much smaller country than the Philippines, and has a communications infrastructure that is several orders of magnitude more advanced than ours – but there is no reason the manner of the personal and professional conduct of the campaign and the election could not or should not be duplicated here. Many of the challenges we face in carrying out an election with a much larger population spread out over a vast archipelago would likely be more easily overcome, if the conduct of our candidates and the management of electoral affairs by the Comelec were not frankly embarrassing in comparison to that of our neighbor to the north.

    Changes ahead
    Because Taiwan was able to carry out its election in a proper, respectable fashion, its new leaders and its people will be able to get down to business very quickly, and what happens in the next few months will be interesting to observe. The voters’ choice of the DPP over the more China-friendly KMT is seen as evidence of widespread frustration over creeping Chinese influence creating a growing economic gap between big business interests and the population at large.

    Unlike the KMT, the DPP has never accepted the “one China, two systems” declaration of 1992, and while drastic changes are not expected – Tsai herself has said she would largely like to maintain the status quo – some cooling of relations with the mainland, which were rapidly warming under the China-friendly Ma administration, are anticipated. The truth is that most people in Taiwan are wary of increasing PRC influence on their province. This is not because they want to be independent and become “another China.” They just enjoy their democratic way of life, which their fellow Chinese on the mainland don’t. They welcome the business Taiwan enjoys with mainland China for sure. But they value their human rights more.

    We hope that any changes under Taiwan’s new DPP-led government will benefit the region and the Philippines’ own close relationship with Taiwan, but that remains to be seen. Thanks to Taiwan’s being able to successfully manage the most basic exercise of democracy and move on from it, we can at least rest assured that we will likely not have to wait long to find out.

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