Chen's win: A questionable mandate for an uncertain future

Rosanne M. Cerello
June 15, 2004

Whether local, legislative or presidential, Taiwan watchers have come to expect drama and intrigue from the island's polls. The 2004 presidential race certainly did not disappoint anyone. The process may have started out rather pedestrian, with incumbent Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) President Chen Shui-bian's administration standing on shaky ground, but by March 20, a bizarre assassination attempt on the president and vice-president, a razor thin victory, and a internationally televised refusal-to-concede defeat speech by Lien Chan of the Kuomintang-People First Party (KMT-PFP) opposition alliance, had steered events in a surreal direction.

In the wake of the poll, Taiwan’s political landscape appears as divided as ever. Chen Shui-bian may be the president – at least for now – but his administration finds itself embattled on all sides.

Domestically, the opposition camp has challenged the legitimacy of his administration in the courts, in the press, and even on the street. Internationally, Chen’s plans for constitutional reform are raising serious concern in both Washington and Beijing. Yet Chen himself appears undaunted. He insists that the people of Taiwan have given him a clear mandate for reform – a claim that fails the test of closer scrutiny. 

Since the 2000 presidential elections, Taiwan has undergone increasing political polarization. The two main groups – the early Fujian “Taiwanese” settlers who are often referred to politically as the “pan-green”, and the “mainlanders” who followed the Kuomintang from the Chinese mainland into exile on Taiwan and are often referred to politically as the “pan-blue” – find themselves farther and farther apart on important issues. For either camp to gain a clear mandate would be difficult, since honoring the interests of one group often requires forfeiting the interests of the other.

During election campaigns on Taiwan, the political leaders of these two groups often try to soft sell their different visions for the future, but strong distinctions are there. Since taking office in 2000, President Chen has become more assertive about Taiwan sovereignty regardless of possible costs to the economy or relations with Beijing, while Lien and Soong insist on maintaining the status quo to foster economic prosperity and peaceful relations across the Taiwan Straits.

As recent as four or five years ago, most Taiwan politicians feared making statements or policy moves that challenged the “one-China” policy. Yet Chen seems to have discarded this taboo. Using clever semantics that almost poke fun at the concept itself, Chen dared to go as far as to claim that there is one country on each side of the Taiwan Strait in August 2002.[1] Chen, who is also chairman of the DPP, has explained that he made this statement as a reminder to everyone of the DPP’s top guideline for addressing cross-strait relations -- the party’s “Resolution on Taiwan’s Future”, which he said now takes precedence over the DPP’s charter. The DPP’s charter contains a clause that singles out the establishment of a “Republic of Taiwan” as the party’s ultimate goal[2], while the resolution softens this position by stating that Taiwan is already an independent sovereign state and that any change to this status quo must be subject to approval by the people through a referendum.[3]

Chen claims adopting this resolution to override the party’s charter was important to deal with Beijing, since the government there has refused to forge any contacts with the DPP mainly due to the party's refusal to delete the pro-independence clause.[4] Further, this clause has been a burden for the DPP during election campaigns in Taiwan, as voters often see it as a threat to stability across the Taiwan Straits. Adopting such a resolution is an interesting game of semantics, however it is still a bold rejection of the “one-China” policy[5], and Chen has made it clear that, if direct links with the mainland must be sacrificed, so be it.[6]

On the other side of the political divide, the KMT has always objected to any move towards Taiwan independence. Though the party has tried to find more flexible frameworks to negotiate with Beijing, such as the “one-China, different interpretations” agreement of 1992 and more recent discussions of a commonwealth format based on concepts from the European Union, the KMT ultimately supports peaceful reunification with China. Thus throughout the 2004 presidential campaign, Lien Chan identified a future with China and promised direct links within a year if the opposition alliance was to take the presidency.

If voters primarily identified with these two separate visions when casting ballots at the poll, the election returns clearly illustrate a deep divide right down the middle, and it is difficult to see these numbers as a strong mandate for anything but strife.[7]

To summarize the Central Election Committee’s official published results, incumbents Chen Shui-bian and Lu Hsiu-lien of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) received 50.11 percent of the valid votes cast while Lien Chan and James Soong of the Kuomintang-People First Party (KMT-PFP) opposition alliance received 49.89 percent. This leaves Chen with a very narrow 0.22 percent margin of victory.[8]  The fall-out from these results has both underscored the divide that exists -- and deepened it.

Lien Chan’s reaction to the announcement of the election results by Central Election Commission (CEC) Chairman George Huang Shih-cheng on the night of March 20, 2004, drew worldwide attention to the degree of division and distrust existing between the two camps. Lien Chan appeared on an internationally televised CNN live broadcast where he refused to concede defeat in the election and vowed to fight the "unfair" victory. He immediately called for a recount and questioned the authenticity of the previous day’s assassination attempt on the president and vice president, which he claimed had affected the vote.

Lien Chan’s public airing of Taiwan’s dirty laundry was oddly direct. While the opposition’s demands for a recount and investigation into the alleged assassination attempt are reasonable, many criticized Lien Chan’s approach to presenting these demands as intentional manipulation of the media to elicit maximum emotional response from opposition supporters.

Whether his approach was intentional or not, it was a success. Following Lien’s speech, opposition supporters and spectators numbering in the thousands massed in front of the opposition headquarters in Taipei City to listen to inflammatory speeches from leading opposition politicians into the early morning hours. Finally, at approximately 4:00am, Lien Chan called for a march to the presidential palace. Thousands snaked through Taipei City in a carnival-like atmosphere to confront riot police on the grounds between the KMT headquarters and the presidential palace, where protests continued into the weeks that followed.

The battle went from the streets, to the front pages of the press and finally to the courts, where the opposition parties have filed two suits legally challenging the election results. Firstly, they filed a recount lawsuit aimed at suspending Chen and Lu's election on the grounds of fraud. Second, they filed an annulment lawsuit targeting the Central Election Commission in an effort to nullify the March 20 election.[9]

To justify their demands the opposition parties cited the unusual proportion of invalid votes saying that such a number indicated governmental manipulation, if not intervention.  The number of invalid votes for the 2004 presidential elections numbered 337, 297 or 2.5 percent of the total, compared to 122,278 or one percent of the total in 2000. The number of invalid votes account for more than 10 times the number of vote difference between the two candidates. The opposition parties have also claimed to have evidence of "more than 1,000" irregularities at polling stations on the day of the vote, and have demanded that all voters on the registry be verified.[10]

According to the CEC, all polling procedures were transparent, being supervised by both parties; therefore, allegations of fraud are not credible. The CEC further noted that the invalid votes were fairly distributed throughout the country[11], which they claim spurns skepticism. The CEC offered two explanations as to why there were such an unusual degree of invalid ballots in this election. First, the amended Presidential and Vice Presidential Election and Recall Act in 2003 mandates for a narrower definition of valid ballots; therefore, all election commissions unfamiliar to this new qualification logically amplified the proportion of invalid votes. Second, the apparent success of an extensive campaign of activists who referred to themselves as the “One Million Invalid Ballot Alliance,” who called for dissatisfied voters to intentionally inscribe their marks outside or in between the columns.[12] This organization stresses socialistic concerns about proletariat rights, and feels discontent with a political system dominated by rich parties and candidates.[13]

Under the first line of reasoning, invalid ballots should not only be evenly distributed across geographical areas but also across party lines. If all processes were fair, then careful scrutiny should reveal a roughly even number of potential incumbent and potential opposition ballots declared invalid along with those completely indistinguishable ballots. Changes to relevant regulations regarding invalid ballots could explain the increase, and while the opposition’s complaints of an extensive conspiracy seem extreme, it is not difficult to imagine that the CEC’s position under the Cabinet would make it more vulnerable to pressure from the ruling political party, which may have resulted in local election workers scrutinizing potential opposition ballots more carefully than incumbent ballots.[14] However, this is an issue that should be easily clarified in a recount and examination of the invalid ballots.

The second explanation for the increase in invalid ballots is a little more difficult to accept.  In the 2000 presidential election, media gadfly, Lee Ao, ran under the New Party ticket and former DPP chairman and maverick political figure, Hsu Hsin-liang, ran as an independent. The two alternative candidates garnered a whopping 0.76 percent of the vote.[15] Obviously, Taiwan voters were not interested in wasting their ballots on protest votes. Yet, the DPP claims that a small, radical and unknown group could have had a significant effect on increasing the number of invalid ballots in the 2004 presidential elections.  It seems unlikely.  The existence of this group seems convenient for the DPP at this stage and warrants further investigation.  It would be interesting to discover exactly who is connected to this group and who are its organizers and founders.

In the end, the Taiwan High Court accepted the opposition parties demand for a recount compelling the two sides to hammer out a recount arrangement – a process that once again underscored the deep fissure of mistrust between the two groups.

Initially Chen’s government moved for an administrative recount under the supervision of the CEC, however the opposition objected to this approach. One problem hinged on a technicality, which states that recounts held by the CEC would only involve recounting votes to check for errors in tabulation and would not allow for separate examination of the disputed votes.[16] Further, the opposition parties complained that bias would effect the recount procedure if the judiciary was excluded, as Huang De-fu, a KMT legislator, remarked: “An administrative recount would give the government the opportunity to play the judge and player at the same time, while the Central Election Commission consist mainly of members appointed by the Cabinet.”

With the opposition calling for the judiciary to exclusively handle the recount, DPP supporters had their own apprehensions. If the recount were to be carried out exclusively by high authorities in the judiciary, who are deeply indebted and sympathetic to the KMT, it would be questionable whether the outcome would be fair to both sides. If the results favored the KMT, a vicious cycle of protests and violence could be initiated.[17] Both sides finally reached a compromise on April 12th to tally the votes through the election commission, under the supervision of judges and lawyers from each side.[18]

Opposition parties have also brutally attacked the credibility of the CEC, an organization that was previously perceived as outstandingly efficient, claiming that the executive branch of the government had interfered with the commission during the presidential election and had affected the body’s neutrality. PFP Policy Center Director Chang Hsien-yao has complained that of the current 19 serving CEC commission members, only 4 are representatives of Taiwan’s political parties, while the other 15 were hand picked by the executive branch, including five Cabinet consultants, one member of the Research, Development and Evaluation Commission and academics.  Chang further noted that one CEC member, Huang Kun-hu, was also the national head of the Lee Teng-hui Friendship Society and did not leave office until just before the Presidential Election.[19]

The opposition parties have also complained that Premier Yu Shyi-kun not only had authority over the CEC but was also director of Chen’s reelection campaign, which created a tremendous conflict of interest.  In their opinion, the premier interfered with electoral processes by introducing a referendum to coincide with the presidential election. The opposition alliance has always seen the referendum as a DPP campaign tool, and further believed that by holding it simultaneously with the presidential election, a great deal of confusion would be created at the polling stations on the day of the election -- confusion which could be used as a cover for fraudulent practices by local election commissions sympathetic to a Chen victory.

During the presidential election campaign, Lien declared the referendum as unconstitutional and meaningless and urged supporters to boycott the vote.  The referendum law passed in 2003 states that the president has the right to call a “defensive referendum,” only if the sovereignty of the nation is externally threatened. Lien stated that these conditions were not met and pointed to the implementation of the referendum as a sign of governmental interference to benefit the DPP in the election.[20] Chen insisted that the Chinese missiles targeted at Taiwan are an obvious external threat and justified the used of the referendum.  He claimed that the approval of these questions represented a milestone in the democratization process of Taiwan, if not a demonstration of the maturity of Taiwan’s democracy. 

Controversy has surrounded every aspect of the referendum, including the logistical structure of implementing it on the day of the election. The original plan put forth by the CEC was seen as confusing by many and had the potential to create chaos for workers at polling stations. Not surprisingly, election workers objected strongly to this initial proposal. Under the CEC’s initial plan, voters were to receive all three ballots upon entering the polling station – one presidential ballot and two referendum ballots. Next, they were to go to the first station to mark all three ballots, and then move on to a table where all three ballot boxes were to be located beside one another. Voters were then to drop each of their three completed ballot forms in the correct box. This of course would have potentially led to many referendum ballots ending up in the presidential ballot box, and many presidential ballots ending up in the two separate referendum boxes. Election committee workers would have then been responsible for sorting out the mess.

For this reason, the groups responsible for manning the polls – teachers and government workers – went public with their complaints. They said that if the CEC did not present a clearer process for the voting procedures they would boycott the polls on election day.  The Cabinet tried to pacify workers complaints by offering more vacation time in exchange for their services, however these workers refused to accept the arrangement. Finally, under pressure from public opinion and the opposition, the CEC re-structured the process. Voters first received their presidential ballots upon entering the polling station and completed the process – the reason they were in the polling station in the first place – before moving on to the second stage, which involved the referendum ballots.[21]

This example does raise questions about the CEC’s neutrality. Placing the referendum first was to the perceived benefit of the Chen campaign. Many in both the opposition camp and Washington felt that Chen was using the referendum as a tool in his re-election campaign.[22] Chen’s declarations in the international press that the referendum was a necessary step in Taiwan’s democratic development is a blatant attempt to play on Western sensibilities and naiveties, while gaining support for his actions. One cannot compare a proposition on local governmental issues in a California election to a referendum that questions a significant geo-political military threat. Of course, the people of Taiwan feel threatened by PLA[23] missile build-up, everyone in the region feels threatened by this situation, but implementing a referendum to address public feelings about these missiles seems irrelevant and inflammatory. If Taiwan were truly a separate state from the PRC, then why would the government implement a referendum in a local election to question the policy of another country?

One of the greatest benefits of holding this referendum was certainly to gain election momentum. Voter reaction to threats from Beijing in both the 1996 and 2000 presidential elections has demonstrated to the world that an external threat from China is an effective method for galvanizing voter support on Taiwan, and this referendum certainly proved a valuable tool to this end. It both raised consternation from Beijing[24] and a direct warning from US President George W. Bush on December 9th 2003.

The strangest of all the opposition parties’ grievances is the accusation that the apparent assassination attempt that occurred a day before the election was staged by the DPP.[25] On March 19, 2004, a day before the scheduled presidential election, reports broke of an assassination attempt on the DPP candidates, Chen and Lu, during their campaign in the southern city of Tainan. The public was shocked. Many worried of violent civilian unrest or military moves by the PLA. The election itself seemed temporarily forgotten as people struggled to understand what had happened.

Conspiracy theories immediately began to emerge in the press, and picked up momentum following the next day’s election results. The opposition parties pointed to various facts to substantiate their argument that the incident had been plotted by the DPP – the blood stain on Chen’s jacket was visibly gone when he arrived at the hospital, and the hospital he chose was not the nearest one but the one that keenly supports his party.  In addition, Chen merely obtained a minor wound across his abdomen. The opposition claimed that this event gave the Chen administration a special advantage to use its powers as the incumbent ruling party to swing undecided votes in their favor while rallying traditional support bases.

Whether plotted or not, the assassination attempt did have immediate benefits for the DPP, and certain members of the administration have been accused of using the assassination to manipulate public sentiment to the DPP’s benefit. Following the assassination attempt, all campaign activities were suspended. However, this did not stop illegal pirate radio stations in the south of Taiwan from continuing with election programming. The general theme of such broadcasts was that the opposition parties had conspired with Chinese Communist Party spies to assassinate Chen and Lu.[26] Such provocative rhetoric could have motivated otherwise disenchanted DPP supporters to rally around their candidate. DPP insiders had worried that many in the south, disappointed with the Chen administration’s poor performance in handling the economy, may abstain from voting. Further undecided voters may have felt compelled to support their leader in a perceived time of crisis. The Control Yuan is also currently investigating allegations that Chiou I-jen in his role as Presidential Office secretary-general had deliberately withheld information on the president’s medical condition to allow emotions to continue to run high.

Another indirect benefit may have resulted from a heightened state of alert on the island following the strange event in Tainan. According to the government, a national security mechanism was put in motion after the shooting incident. The opposition parties have claimed that this move may have prohibited as many as 200,000 military personal from voting – voters who are traditionally pan-blue supporters. However, according to government sources, its implementation on March 19th did not result in any additional troops being deprived of their right to vote. They have stated that some troops were unable to vote, because Taiwan always puts part of its armed forces on combat alert during elections, making it impossible for most of the troops affected to return to their registered places of domicile to vote. This year, according to the Ministry of National Defense, about 37,000 troops were affected in this way, about one-ninth of the total armed forces, compared with one-sixth who were similarly affected in the presidential election in 1996.[27]

The facts in this situation will most likely remain obscured. US military experts on Taiwan have longed complained of the isolation, secrecy and the civilian-unfriendly nature of the Taiwan military establishment. The military has a strong tradition of reporting directly to the president and although legislation has been implemented to legally change this structure, old habits die hard, especially in the military.[28] If the Chen administration wanted to downplay the effect of activating this security mechanism, they would have most likely succeed.

In the wake of the controversy, the opposition parties continue to cite polls, which they claim prove they would have won if not for the assassination attempt. They have said that polls showed their camp had a significant lead only two days before the election, and depending whom is speaking, the numbers vary anywhere from 300,000 to over one-half million. But can a pre-election statistical analysis predict the outcome of an election?

To say a poll guarantees a political party a victory is flawed, especially when dealing with a population as skewed as the one on Taiwan.[29] As the old saying goes: “There are lies, damned lies and statistics.” The sampling process in a population with such divergent opinions on political matters would certainly face technical problems. This may be the reason that, leading up to the election, different polls yielded very different results. For example, a TVBS poll conducted on March 8th showed a significant lead for Lien-Soong, while a SET TV poll conducted the day before on March 7th shows Chen-Lu slightly in the lead. The only thing most polls seemed to agree on was that there was a fairly large block of undecided voters ranging from 20 to 25 percent of registered voters.[30] It would be fair to say that sympathy for Chen’s plight could have influenced those voters to cast their ballots in his favor, but to say that the assassination attempt overturned the opposition parties’ guaranteed win is very difficult to accept.

However, this latter fact has not stopped a steady stream of opposition pundits from making such claims in the media. According to KMT legislator Bill Wu, KMT internal polls saw the opposition winning the election by 700,000 votes, or 6 to 7 percent. He claims the party was worried about possible dirty tricks from the Chen camp, and had “studied possible stunts that the DPP might do -- a collapse of independence leader Lee Tung-hui, a sickness of Madame Chen Shui-bian” but had never imagined something like a shooting. Echoing popular opposition sentiments, he said the election should have been suspended.[31]

“Things like this just don’t happen in Taiwan” – has not only been a popular refrain with the opposition parties, but also from the population at large, regardless of political stripe. Sadly this is not true. Recent high-emotions may be the source of the public’s hysterical blindness, but things like this do happen in Taiwan. This type of election violence certainly has never occurred in a previous presidential election – all two of them – but it is common in both local and legislative polls. A recent sensational case involving a former candidate for Taipei city councilor clearly illustrates this reality. Chen Chao-chin was sentenced to death for the November 16, 2002 murder in Shihlin of a rival candidate for the city council. Chen conspired with others to hire an assassin to permanently rid himself of the competition.[32] The list of shootings, disappearances and kidnappings of political figures in Taiwan is extensive. It is not surprising that such violence would eventually touch the presidential polls. The suspicious and mistrust of the two camps, however seems to be obscuring scrutiny of this more serious issue.

In the end, with such a close race, it would be reasonable to assume that a combination of such peculiar factors could have swung the election results in Chen’s favor, but it does not account for the approximately 10 percent increase in Chen’s support since the 2000 presidential elections.[33] This is important as Chen notes the substantial increase as proof that he has won over new support from the pan blue camp and thus won a mandate from the voters of Taiwan.

So where did the votes come from?

The Lee Tung-hui factor is important to consider when looking at these results. During the 2000 presidential campaign Lee stumped for Lien Chan as the standard bearer of the KMT. Lee’s independence leanings and support for Chen were still technically in the closet, although commentators in the local media were already accusing Lee of abandoning the party in everything but name. Still, it is safe to assume that those KMT supporters loyal to Lee would have followed his lead and voted for Lien Chan in the 2000 presidential election. However, since that time, Lee has unceremoniously departed from the KMT. It is also worth noting that he was pressured by Lien Chan to step down from the chairmanship after the party lost the 2000 presidential elections. This was followed by many unpleasant events, including the removal of Lee’s picture from the party headquarters.

Many old time KMT supporters loyal to Lee certainly would have been permanently alienated by this unkind treatment of their leader, and in fact, this has been reflected by the success of the Taiwan Solidarity Union in the 2001 legislative polls when the newly formed party with Lee Tung-hui as their “spiritual leader” took approximately 8 percent of the popular vote across the island.[34] It is hard to know how much of Lien Chan’s 23.1 percent went to Chen during the 2004 elections – but reflecting on the 2001 legislative polls, it might have been enough to account for the majority of Chen’s gains this time around.

Another important factor involves the position of the DPP as Taiwan’s ruling party for the last four years. As party officials become more entrenched in the system, they are able to take over patronage systems once controlled by the KMT. The returns from Miaoli provide an interesting example. The disappearance of the former KMT commissioner there, Her Jyh-huei and his wife Wang Shu-yun, who were recently charged with corruption in absentia after fleeing to South Korea, left a vacuum that the DPP quickly filled.[35] According to DPP insiders, the party was able to reach out to vote captains in the area, especially among the Hakka community, which helped them make significant inroads there.[36] Miaoli in combination with Taoyuan, and Hsinchu counties experienced an increase of 250,000 votes in total for the DPP -- an accumulated 10 percent increase.[37] Cases like this illustrated the importance of local relationships in Taiwan elections. At this level, voters are rarely assessing the two parties’ grand visions for the future – whether independence or reunification.

To a smaller degree, problems within the KMT may have damaged its chances for winning the election. In recent months, younger generation supporters calling themselves the “567” faction have called for substantial reforms in the party and a reconciliation with the PFP.[38] The problem with accomplishing such goals seems to be with the party’s old guard. The party needs to look at these inter-generational differences to move forward. In fact, some surveys taken before the election, suggest those between 20 and 25 years old are more likely to vote for the DPP.[39]

So how will this all translate in the year-end legislative polls?

It is unlikely that either party will see big losses or gains. This presidential election seems to have thrashed out the numbers – the greens that had still been hiding in the ranks of the KMT have certainly stood up and been counted. Further, as the Miaoli example depicts, patronage and local relationships are very important factors, especially in legislative and local elections. It is not uncommon for a voter to cast their ballot for one party in the presidential election and another in a legislative or local election. Although many DPP pundits have been pointing to the results of the presidential election as a sign that the KMT is on its way out, it is certainly too soon to discount the party. In fact, the KMT while losing seats in the 2001 legislative polls – primarily to the PFP – performed outstandingly in the 2002 local polls. In Taiwan, presidential, legislative and local politics all have their special and distinct nature.

When discussing legislative polls, local loyalties and patronage more often outweigh party affiliation. Most lawmakers reserve their Saturdays and Sundays for attending constituents’ wedding banquets. Contact with the people you represent, especially community leaders, is all-important. These types of relationships make it difficult to use the party banner to garner support, and are often the source of conflict in the legislative assembly, even among same-party members. This was a huge problem for Chen Shui-bian in his first term when grappling with the Nuclear Plant Number 4 issue. Lawmakers from Taipei County beholding to the residents living around the plant’s construction site rebelled against the president when he tried to pressure them to be more co-operative with the opposition. After all, the president did not elect them; the people in their districts did.

The current push for legislative reform initiated by the DPP is an attempt to address these issues. The opposition parties have been trapped into going along with the Chen administrations’ move – at least in spirit -- as legislative reform addresses the public’s disillusionment with legislative gridlock and embarrassing brawls in the legislative chamber. The general proposal is to cut the number of lawmakers and provide voters with a two-vote system, where they not only vote for a candidate but also a party. The second vote would then be used to appoint legislators to special reserved seats. The less than enthusiastic opposition and independent lawmakers have continually challenged the smallest details of every proposal put forth by the DPP without rejecting the overall spirit of such proposals, effectively stalling reform legislation.[40] A move the DPP lawmakers themselves were probably banking on.

These reforms have been touted as steps to end legislative gridlock and make lawmakers more “democratically” responsive to the people. This seems counter intuitive. The reforms will make the lawmakers more beholding to their leaders and less beholding to their constituents, while placing more power in fewer hands. This does not seem like a move to a greater democratic process. Love it or loath it, the legislative assembly is a reflection of the grassroots of Taiwan’s democracy – a developing and often fractious concept.

Chen’s plans to gain more control over the legislative assembly and its lawmakers may seem somewhat hopeless, but his plans for constitutional reform are still viable. The approach he presented in his inauguration speech is quite brilliant. To quote from the speech:

“Procedurally, we shall follow the rules set out in the existing Constitution and its amendments. Accordingly, after the passage by the national legislature, members of the first and also the last Ad Hoc National Assembly will be elected and charged with the task of adopting the constitutional reform proposal as passed by the legislature, abolishing the National Assembly, and incorporating into the Constitution the people’s right to referendum on constitutional revision. By so doing we hope to lay a solid foundation for the long-term development of our constitutional democracy, and the people’s right to referendum on legislative proposals for constitutional revision.”

 Chen has become a master of manipulating the opposition through the media as has been shown with the passing of the referendum law, and once again this plan will strike an emotional chord with the local population.[41] People in Taiwan from both camps resent images of former National Assembly Deputies being carried in on stretchers to vote. The memory of such individuals – too old to probably even realize that they were no longer on the mainland – collecting huge government salaries and benefits raises high emotions among people. The idea that such an institution would finally and permanently be scrapped will definitely appeal to the masses. Further, ostensibly putting the decision-making processes in the hands of the individuals will also go along way to sell the idea of constitutional reform.

This plan may sound appealing, but it has created deep concern and suspicion among the leaders in Beijing – a concern that should not be taken lightly. US officials as well are becoming increasingly suspicious of Chen’s intentions. Former CIA analyst and National Intelligence Officer for East Asia and the Pacific at the US Government's National Intelligence Council, Robert G. Sutter, has labeled the current climate in ROC-US relations a “crisis of trust” and claims that the situation is “more serious than in a long time,” pointing to President George W. Bush’s December 9th 2003 dressing down of Chen in the international press. According to Sutter, Bush had no choice but to use the media to confront Chen. Sutter complained that the Chen administration has been ignoring Washington’s concerns and that US envoys sent to Chen are simply “finessed” and sent on their way, leaving everyone in Washington uncertain about Chen’s true intentions in dealing with important cross-strait issues.[42]

This could prove dangerous for the population of Taiwan if Beijing finally decides it has had enough of Chen and his “creeping independence.” The growing lack of trust in the three-way relationship between Taipei, Beijing and Washington could lead to serious misunderstandings and seriously intensify already high tensions across the Taiwan Straits.


Taiwan’s local political landscape, international relations and unstable geography are fraught with dangers and challenges. Maintaining stability in Taiwan, while assuring peace in the Taiwan Straits requires deft handling on the part of the island’s leaders. Over the last four years, Chen has, to a certain degree, succeeded in this task. However, one has to question many of Chen’s more antagonistic moves. Within Taiwan itself, Chen has allowed the continuation of Lee Tung-hui’s push for polarized politics – something that is guaranteed to destroy any chance for consensus between the two groups. Outside of Taiwan, Chen has antagonized Beijing by becoming increasingly assertive in his push for some form of Taiwan sovereignty; and while his policies may appeal to the neo-conservative faction of the Bush administration, it is difficult to say how a change of government in the upcoming US presidential election will affect his support in Washington. Many feel with the Taiwan presidential election over, Chen will begin to back down on more controversial issues, yet others feel that he is finally revealing his true face – or as much of it as anyone has ever seen.

[1] On August 3rd 2002, in a telecast to the annual conference of the World Federation of Taiwanese Associations meeting in Tokyo, President Chen Shui-bian called for a referendum on Taiwan's future. President Chen said that it needs to be clear that "…with Taiwan and China on each side of the Taiwan Strait, each side is a country." He added: "Our Taiwan is not something that belongs to someone else, Our Taiwan is not someone else's local government. Our Taiwan is not someone else's province."

[2] Early in Chen Shui-bian’s first term, some members of the DPP had moved to remove this clause. However infighting and politicking made such a change impossible.

[3] The China Post, “President Chen Explains His ‘One Country on Each Side’ Remarks,” August 31, 2002

[4] The China Post, “President Chen Explains His ‘One Country on Each Side’ Remarks,” August 31, 2002

[5] Chen’s position is definitely a rejection of both Beijing’s and Taipei’s traditional interpretation of the “one-China” policy. However, Washington has always remained vague on this policy’s exact meaning and Chen’s statement is in keeping with American neo-conservatives’ position on the “one-China” policy.

[6] Taipei Times, “Chen to AmCham:  pan-blues to blame,” Lin Chieh-yu, Friday, June 4, 2004, Page 3

[7] Of course other factors, such as personal loyalties, patronage, vote-buying, and local issues, also play a significant role in voter decision-making and they will be discussed at length later in this paper.

[8] According to the Central Election Committee’s official published results, the total number of ballots cast on March 20, 2004 in the Republic of China’s presidential race for the incumbent Chen Shui-bian and Lu Hsiu-lien of the Democratic Progressive Party was 6,471,970, while that for Lien Chan and James C. Y. Soong of the Kuomintang-People First Party opposition alliance was 6,442,452 ballots. The total numbers of valid ballots was 12,914,422, and of invalid ballots was 337,297, making a total number of 13,251,719 ballots cast. A total of 13,252,490 ballots were distributed, meaning that 771 were not cast. Chen and Lu are declared the winners of the election by 29,518 votes. The number of the eligible voters was 16,507,179, and the turnout rate was 80.28 percent. 

[9] Taipei Times, “People First Party says it will try to stop inauguration,” Ko Shu-ling, Friday, April 16, 2004, Page 1

[10] Asia Times Online, “Taiwan polls: Off the streets, into the courts,” Laurence Eyton, April 2, 2004,

[11] It should be noted that some of the lowest percent figures for invalid ballots show up in DPP strongholds such as Tainan and Kaohsiung, while some of the highest show up in KMT strongholds, and significantly one of the areas to have the highest number of invalid ballots was Miaoli – an area where the DPP claims to have made strong gains.

[12] Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, “Taiwan 2004 Presidential Election and Aftermath,” March 24, 2004,

[13] Statements made by this group seem to sound more American than Taiwanese.

[14] It is interesting to note that the CEC was established under KMT rule and has, until now, been seen as an efficient government organ. It is possible that the KMT has special insight into how this organ has been manipulated in the past.

[15] 2000 presidential election results

[17] Professor Chin-shou Wang of the Univeristy of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

[18] Taipei Times, “DPP-KMT near agreement on recount,” Reuters, Tuesday, April 13, 2004, Page 2

[19] The China Post, “PFP to propose draft bill to reform CEC,” Monday, June 7, 2004, page 19

[20] Asia Times Online, “Taiwan Election: Four 'bullets' change Taiwan politics,” Macabe Kelihe, March 23, 2003,

[21]Taiwan News, “Teachers Threaten to Boycott Election Duty Amid Riot Fears,” Crystal Hsu, February 20, 2004

[22] Referendum asks two questions regarding the improvement of Taiwan’s self-defense capacity

Approximate translations of the questions in the referendum are as follows:

If China refuses to remove the missiles targeted on Taiwan, would you agree that the government should take initiatives to increase the defense budget and enhance anti-missile capacity for security purposes?

Should the government proactively engage in the negotiation with Beijing to establish a “peace and stability” framework to increase the welfare of the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait?

[23] People’s Liberation Army of the People’s Republic of China

[24] Asia Times Online, "The real significance of Taiwan's referendum law," Laurence Eyton, December 2, 2003,

[25] An important piece of background information should be noted here. The KMT maintains that Chen has a history of using bizarre events to grandstand during elections. Chen has claimed that the accident that left his wife paralyzed was caused when a truck operated by KMT supporters or agents struck her down. However, there is no evidence to support this claim. Actually, according to reports, a DPP supporter was operating the truck that accidentally hit his wife. Further, in 1985 when Chen Shui-bian was running for Tainan County Commissioner, he appeared at a public debate held in a local elementary school on a stretcher, claiming agents of the KMT had poisoned him – another allegation that has never been confirmed.

[26] While the opposition camp cites the assassination as the result of a probable DPP plot, many in the pan-green camp have pointed the finger at the opposition and agents of Beijing. A less partisan theory that has received little attention in the press is that the plot was carried out by underground odds-makers. Considering that the DPP, the opposition alliance and Beijing would have a lot to lose if such conspiracies were exposed or went awry and considering the obsession with election related gambling in Taiwan, this theory deserves more attention.

[27] Asia Times Online, “Taiwan polls: Off the streets, into the courts,”
Laurence Eyton, April 2, 2004,

[28] Heritage Foundation, Heritage Lecture #808, “US-Taiwan Defense Relations in the Bush Administration,” Peter Brookes, November 14, 2003

[29] Quoting sloppily carried out polls could be the reason for so many conflicting numbers coming out of Taiwan. When analyzing data from the election, it is important to check the reputation of the pollsters providing the data.

[30] Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, “Taiwan 2004 Presidential Election and Aftermath,” March 24, 2004,

[31] Asia Times Online, “Taiwan Election: Four 'bullets' change Taiwan politics,” Macabe Kelihe, March 23, 2003,

[32] The China Post, “Candidate sentenced to death for assassination,” Thursday, June 10, 2004 page 19

[33] In the 2000 presidential elections, Chen took 39.3 percent of the vote, Soong 36.8 percent of the vote and Lien 23.1.

[34] Europe Chamber of Commerce and Trade, Euroview #79, “And the winner is ...,” Brian Kennedy, December, 2001

[35] The China Post, “KMT lawmaker, wife indicted for corruption,” Saturday, May 8, 2004, page 1

[36] Linda Gail Arrigo, Post-Doctoral Researcher, Institute of Sociology, Academia Sinica, Green Party Taiwan, International Affairs Officer

[37] Institute for National Policy Research (Taiwan), Co-sponsors:  Asia Research Centre, London School of Economics and Political Science (United Kingdom), Taiwan Foundation for Democracy (Taiwan), “The Implications of Taiwan’s Presidential Election and Referendum, Session I” March 21, 2004, Howard Plaza Hotel, Taipei, Taiwan,

[38] The China Post, “KMT 567 faction calls for speedy merger with PFP,” Monday, May 31, 2004, page 19

[39] see above note 36

[40] The China Post, “KMT aims to push reform bill through,” Friday, May 28, 2004, page 16

[41] Asia Times Online, "The real significance of Taiwan's referendum law," Laurence Eyton, December 2, 2003,

[42] Heritage Foundation Live Event, Taiwan’s Presidential Election: The Implications for America, February 10, 2004,