Taiwan Examines the Harsh Reality of the One Party State

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Thursday November 29, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

Earlier this November the two major countries with relations with Taiwan experienced leadership elections. In the United States (USA), Barack Obama won a second term of four years and in the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) Xi Jinping was elected as President for the upcoming decade. As these election processes played out, Taiwanese could observe both and compare them with their own process of choosing leaders. The difference of the selection process in the USA and PRC remains a classic case of opposing paradigms and systems.

In China, where elections come once in a decade and not every four years, the selection of Xi Jinping became somewhat evident early in 2012, but there was no clear indication of the in fighting involved in his selection, who his main opponents were nor who were the people involved in making the final decision. Unlike the USA where citizens could at times directly question the candidates, citizens in China remained as spectators.

In the USA, the presidential race was highlighted by a series of national debates--three between the presidential candidates and one between the vice-presidential candidates. Obama performed poorly in the first, giving his opponent Romney a chance to gain ground. Polls were held regularly and campaign ads, many negative, filled the airways. Candidates campaigned across the country particularly in key states, while some states with few electoral votes only received television ads.

The outcome in the USA was in question up until the waning hours of November 6th, Election Day. As the eastern seaboard results came in developing trends were seen; closely watched were key "battleground" states with a larger number of independent or sway voters who could determine the election results. Despite an early Romney lead, those familiar with the voting patterns on the west coast could see that as certain interior battleground states fell to Obama, the battle was won.

In China, while there was little doubt about who would be chosen, there was some suspense as to who would replace retiring members of the powerful Politburo's Standing Committee, whether it would have seven or nine members and how would that number be divided between party "elitists" and "populists." Similarly there was question of whether the military would remain under Hu Jintao or whether Xi would directly take control of it.

Scandals and challenges were present in both countries. Romney's tax returns and big business involvements were questioned. Obama's economic leadership was challenged along with his handling of the Benghazi attack. In China, a question that threatened to disrupt the smooth flow of the process was the case of Neil Heywoods's murder involving Gu Kailai, the wife of Chongqing Communist Party Chief, Bo Xilai; this only came on the public radar because Bos police chief Wang Lijun had fled to a US Embassy for asylum. The powers that be however dispensed of the two cases of Gu and Wang with amazing alacrity; both pleaded guilty and trials that would take 6 months to a year and longer in the USA or Taiwan were dispatched in less than a week in China.

In addition to the difference in the selection process between a one-party state and a multi-party state, transparency of systems stands out as a key distinguishing factor. In the USA, the process by which the president is selected, the primaries, the debates, even the moneyed donations except perhaps for the dubious origins of the Super PAC donations are declared and open for analysis and dissection. The media can dig into candidates past lives and harass them with results Vote buying accusations are raised; similarly methods used to discourage opposition voters were challenged. Early voting was allowed in some states; but in some the slowness of counting ballots could delay the announcement of the winner. The classic example of this had been in the state of Florida in the year 2000 where the final result delayed the announcement of the national winner for over a month.

For Taiwanese, the similarity between their system and that of the USA is evident. Taiwan had held presidential debates and had campaigning between three major candidates; similarly the voting outcome in the 2012 election was unsure all the way until the Election Day. Polls had shown Ma Ying-jeou was leading but given the percentage of error, the result was in doubt until a major part of the returns were in.

Thus of course, as the leadership in the PRC and even a few within Taiwan are pressing for unification between Taiwan and China, one obvious question that Taiwanese must ask themselves, is which system do they prefer? Taiwanese have experienced both a one-party state and a multi-party state. Do they wish a system where they have a say in their leadership, and can monitor the results. It is true that the democratic process could be questioned on efficiency; but it is also a sign of the countrys strength that even when it takes a while to sort things out and determine the election results, the country does not fall apart, or into chaos. The institutional systems, rule by law, state and individual rights etc. are in place and the participation and strength of its citizens guard against threats and preserve its integrity. So what it is it that makes some want to press for Taiwan to join China and be ruled by its Cabal.