Tag Archives: KMT

Taiwan and China discuss establishing bilateral offices

After the June 13 meeting with China’s new leader Xi Jinping, Taiwan’s ruling Kuomintang (KMT) Honorary Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung said that he was confident Taiwan and China will establish official representative offices so as to facilitate the handling of bilateral affairs, according to the Central News Agency. The Wu-Xi meeting is the first high-level meeting between the KMT and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) since Xi became the general secretary of the party last November.

In the meeting with Xi, Wu sent regards to Xi on behalf of Taiwan’s president and KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou and has reiterated Taiwan’s stance on developing its relations with China. Apart from discussing mutual representative offices, Wu underscored the Taiwan government’s adherence to the “1992 consensus” and its stance against independence as the basis of political mutual trust.

The “1992 consensus” refers to the understanding reached by both sides’ representatives at the 1992 talks in Hong Kong discussing the definition of “one China.” The core content of the consensus is “one China, respective interpretations.” In simple terms, “one China” is recognized by Beijing to mean the People’s Republic of China (PRC), whereas Taiwan interprets it to mean the Republic of China (ROC). The two sides recognize each other as a political entity and are willing to shelve the sovereignty dispute in order to promote mutual exchanges.

Wu said that Taiwan hopes to take part in more international affairs and become further integrated in the regional economy. He made a case for greater and meaningful participation for Taiwan internationally. He also called for deeper economic cooperation and conveyed Taiwan’s hopes for admission into the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a trade body led by China, Japan, South Korea and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) member states, the Central News Agency reported.

Since President Ma took office in 2008, Taiwan and China have institutionalized cross-strait consultations, signed 18 agreements, and held eight meetings so as to lay a solid foundation for cross-strait exchanges. At present, the relations between the two sides are in the best shape in 60 years.

The United Evening News reported that during President Ma’s re-election campaign in October, 2011, he promised to promote the setting up of mutual offices. At the consultation meeting this January, the two sides decided to limit offices to public service level so as to circumvent the sovereignty dispute. Both sides have agreed that the major functions should be economic and trade, culture and education, and emergency relief. Taiwan expects to set up offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, and to be able to engage in business of consular affairs such as issuing travel documents.

President Ma said that the opening of official offices is a major part of building healthy relations between Taiwan and the mainland, managing both sides’ yearly interaction of 8 million people and trade worth of US$160 billion. According to the Central News Agency, he noted that it is unimaginable that the two political entities have no official offices at this level to help facilitate this.

Discussions on the establishment of mutrual offices will be conducted through Taiwan’s semi-official Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF). Established in 1991, it is responsible for cross-strait affairs, and its Chinese counterpart, the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS).

At the same time of the Wu-Xi meeting, Taiwan’s Legislature was reviewing the regulations of cross-strait mutual establishment of offices.

The KMT stressed that cross-strait relations are a “special relationship of equal footing,” but not a state-to-state relationship, and the two sides set up offices, not consulates, while the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party argued that the cross-strait relationship is one between countries, and that cross-strait mutual establishment of offices must follow “the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations,” and shall be in accordance with the norms of international law and international practices, including national flags being hoisted at these offices and the national emblem revealed. The lawmakers of both parties insisted that offices of the two sides should have the function of judicial visitation rights. The two parties have not been able to reach a consensus on the contents of the regulations, reported the Central News Agency.

Amid massive anti-nuclear protests, Taiwanese rethink their desired lifestyle

On March 9, 200,000 people took to the streets in Taipei and three other major cities, demanding construction be halted on the fourth nuclear power plant, located in Gongliao at the northern tip of Taiwan. The protest in Taipei was the largest ever anti-nuclear demonstration in Taiwan. Protestors also demanded the early decommissioning of the other three nuclear power plants currently in operation and the removal of nuclear waste from Orchid Island, located off Taiwan’s southeast shore, and home mainly to aborigines.

The rallies, held in Taichung, Kaohsiung, Taitung, and Taipei, were staged as the government prepares to hold a referendum – possibly towards the end of the year – on whether to scrap the fourth nuclear plant project.

In a statement, President Ma Ying-jeou reiterated the government’s policy to move gradually toward a nuclear-free homeland, without causing power shortages or exceedingly high energy prices that would hurt Taiwan’s economy, according to the Central News Agency.

Plant viewed as a dinosaur  

Taiwan’s electric power industry has been managed and monopolized by the state-owned enterprise Taiwan Power Company (Taipower). The electricity generated by Taipower’s 27 coal-fired power plants accounts for 69.4 percent of the country’s total electricity production, while 11 hydroelectric plants generate 13.8 percent and three nuclear power plants generate 15.7 percent. As for the production of renewable energy, Taipower’s 15 wind farms and three photovoltaic power plants account for less than one percent.

The life span of each nuclear plant was set at 40 years. The two generators at Plant One are scheduled to be decommissioned in 2018 and 2019 respectively, with those at Plant Two are set to retire in 2021 and 2023, and Plant Three will follow in 2024 and 2025.

On March 12, Premier Jiang Yi-huah said in the Legislative Yuan that all nuclear power plants in Taiwan will be decommissioned by 2055, based on the 40-year operating lifecycle for each nuclear power plant. According to the Central News Agency, the calculation includes the fourth nuclear power plant.

Commonwealth monthly reminded its reader that when the construction of the Taipei Mass Rapid Transportation system started, costing US$14.8 billion, and Taiwan High Speed Rail, costing US$15.3 billion, these projects were strongly criticized during their construction. Since their opening, they have greatly improved the quality of life for Taipei City residents, and are now a source of pride for all Taiwanese.

However, since construction started on Plant Four in 1997, it has met with numerous protests, and twice leading to the halting of construction. With a total cost of nearly US$11 billion, the power plant is expected to be completed by the end of this year. Over 6.5 million people, or nearly a third of Taiwan’s population, live within 50 miles of the plant. Thought of by anti-nuclear activists as a dinosaur, they are hoping Plant Four will meet the same fate and become extinct.

Tug-of-war between political parties

The Taipei-based China Times reported that nuclear power was first introduced in Taiwan 40 years ago. At the time, nuclear energy was said to be the most advanced technology in the world. However with the nuclear disasters at Three Mile Island (United States) and Chernobyl (Ukraine), making the headlines, it awoke possible safety concerns of nuclear energy among Taiwanese. The seriousness was driven home with Japan’s nuclear disaster at Fukushima in 2011.

By the end of October 2000, then President Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) announced the cessation of construction on Plant Four. In January the following year, the Council of Grand Justices further explained that the suspension of construction on Plant Four was an important national policy change, so that the Executive Yuan needed to report to the Legislative Yuan in order to come up with a compromise among the parties involved.

Subsequently, an overwhelming number of votes were passed in the Kuomintang (KMT)-dominated Legislative Yuan to oppose the cancellation of Plant Four. Both the Executive Yuan and the Legislative Yuan signed an agreement to resume construction at the plant in mid-February 2001, ending a four-month delay.

To be decided by referendum

The Commercial Times noted that in the aftermath of the Japanese nuclear disaster, President Ma announced the principles of “ensuring nuclear safety, steady reduction of nuclear energy to create a green low-carbon environment so as to gradually move towards a nuclear-free homeland.” He also reassured Taiwanese by promising that the new plant would begin commercial operation only under secure conditions, the early decommissioning of Plant One, and that the lifespan of Plant Two and Three would not be prolonged.

The tide of rising voices are not only limited to the DPP now, but also to civilian organizations at the site of nuclear power plants. They have been joined by other civic groups like Mom Loves Taiwan, which consists mostly of housewives, as well as artists, celebrities and intellectuals. Premier Jiang Yi-hua, who only recently assumed office, is facing unprecedented pressure. In order to appease the growing number of opponents, on March 1, he proposed holding a national referendum to decide the fate of Plant Four.

Taiwan’s “referendum law” requires a high threshold of votes to pass it nationally. A nationwide referendum needs to have a voter turnout of more than half of the total number of people eligible to vote, and has to receive more than half of the valid votes to pass. Taiwan has had six national referendums, and none has passed.

Some consequences reconsidered

The China Times reported that the Environmental Protection Administration’s Minister Stephen Shu-hung Shen said that the immediate abolition of nuclear energy is a romantic idea, and is in conflict with the Taipei’s goal of carbon reduction.

Taiwan has made international commitments to such agreements as the Kyoto Protocol, promising to cut its carbon emissions to the 2000 level by 2025. Such a cut would reduce emissions by 90 million tons of carbon. Even with the three old nuclear plants extended passed their decommissioning dates and with Plant four online, Taiwan’s annual carbon emissions will still be 170 million tons by 2030, which far exceeds Taiwan’s international commitments of 90 million tons.

Minister Shen estimates that if Plant Four should canceled and be replaced by coal-fired plants, Taiwan’s carbon emissions would soar to 187.76 million tons, that is, 97.76 million tons over the committed carbon emissions target. He is worried that there would be 17.56 million tons more even if Plant Four started commercial operation.

Commonwealth reported that if Plant Four were scrapped and replaced by natural gas, Taiwan’s electricity generation costs would increase 40 percent. Based on the calculation of an average electricity bill of US$67 every two months, that would translate into an increase of US$27 every two months or an increase of nearly US$167 a year.

Wu Min-shuan, director of electricity development at Taipower, said the worst scenario could happen by 2024 when Plant One, Plant Two and Plant Three each have one generator decommissioned. In this situation, there will be electricity rationing island-wide if any one generator goes offline.

The goal of zero electricity growth doubted

As for the question of whether Plant One or Two will see an extension to their period of use, Tsai Chuen-horng, Minister of the Atomic Energy Council of the Executive Yuan, did not give a specific answer, but added that there have been many cases of extensions of nuclear power plants in other countries.

Irene Chen, one of the founders of Mom Loves Taiwan, an association for mothers against nuclear power, told Commonwealth that she disagrees with the idea to extend the life of Plant One and Two. She said the continuing service of nuclear power plants only increases the risks and feelings of insecurity. Besides, extensions would still continue the production of nuclear waste.

Green Citizens’ Action Alliance (GCAA) board member Chao Chia-wei said the government still predicts Taiwan’s electricity needs by using calculations based on current industrial structures. If it does not change its calculation method, there will always be a deficit, no matter how many plants are built. Therefore, the question of Taiwan’s electricity shortage depends on whether the government can develops new thinking to compensate for electricity demand.

The GCAA plans zero electricity growth by 1) reducing the ratio of electricity thirsty industries, 2) increasing the generation of renewable energy and 3) increasing the improvement of energy efficiency. With all three ways working, the energy saved would be equal to the production capability of Nuclear Power Plant Four.

Yang Jyh-shing, senior superintendent of the Industrial Technology Research Institute of Taiwan, has said that except for the United Kingdom, all other countries have failed to achieve zero electricity growth. He pointed out, “The UK has drastically reduced the proportion of industry in its economy, which is not feasible in Taiwan.”

A choice of value and lifestyle

The United Daily News commented that during the decade-long fight between the KMT and the DPP over Plant Four, the two sides never put forward a complete alternative, including the planning of alternative energy sources, the proportion of renewable energy, transition of energy-intensive industries, nor even the decommissioning schedule of nuclear power plants. If suspension of Plant Four becomes a reality, the immediate impact will be rising electricity prices. But a much bigger problem is power rationing, which will have a greater impact on daily activities. Both the ruling and opposition parties seem ill-prepared for this; while the anti-nuclear activist groups probably don’t have any answers either.

When questioned by Commonwealth on what to do if Plant Four is never operational, anti-nuclear activist Wu Wen-tong said, as a resident of Gongliao, he only cares about enjoying the beautiful ocean beach where a lot of tourists will come in the summer. When the construction of Plant Four is scrapped, people there can start their tourist and fish farming industries, reviving the local community.

Ho Ron-shin, chief editorial writer of Commonwealth, noted that the referendum on Nuclear Power Plant No. 4 serves not only as a physical examination of nuclear energy safety in Taiwan, but also a vote of confidence by the Taiwanese people on its government. It is also a value choice based on their desired lifestyle.

A wealth of TV pundits: Press freedom or media disorder?

The Apple Daily reported recently that a Taiwanese teenager was arrested for sending a threatening letter to a person criticized by a TV pundit after watching a political talk show. This called into scrutiny the lack of responsibility of pundits on these shows.

One such TV pundit, Chen Li-hong, said that the young man may have already been angered by the social situation, and the TV show should not be held responsible for the man’s actions. Though, he added, “We have strong political confrontation between the Pan Blue (pro Kuomintang) camp and the Pan Green (pro Democratic Progressive Party) camp against each other. If political talk shows are plain and straightforward, the audience is small, resulting in extremely low TV ratings. So pundits are sometimes too excited and emotional, and cannot control themselves. Maybe more pause and forethought is needed.” Pundit Huang Jing-ping pointed out that it is not good for a pundit to fuel the flames on a talk show, to incite the audience emotionally, and shout at callers, all could be considered poor behavior, according to the paper.

Even visitors to Taiwan have noticed the excessive influence that pundits in Taiwan have. “As a new democracy, Taiwan is catching up fast, allowing full-throated political debate on TV that would make Fox News appear to be a paragon of fairness. Visiting mainlanders are said to spend hours in their hotel rooms marveling at free speech running amok instead of going sightseeing,” writes Lincoln Millstein, the senior vice president of Hearst Newspapers, in an October article in the San Francisco Chronicle.

In Taiwan, there are nine national satellite TV news channels, versus six in the US and four in the UK. The island has 87 satellite news gathering (SNG) vehicles, the highest density in the world taking into account Taiwan’s 23 million people. The island’s internet usage is also similar to that of the US. Taiwanese people are well-informed and highly educated.

Pundits originated from “whistleblowers”

Until 1987, Taiwan was under martial law. Those secretive days when a blacklist was kept, and opinions censored, are over. Today, Taiwan is one of those rare countries that has transitioned into a fully-fledged democracy by bloodless means. Public opinion leaders, including activists and political commentators, enjoy freedom of expression without fearing that their comments will be censored.

During 2005 and 2008, TV pundits acted as “whistleblowers” in the campaign against former President Chen Shui-bian’s corruption, resulting in Chen serving time behind bars. Thus these pundits became famous and influential, and the media followed the tips given by pundits during political talk shows to dig for more scandals and to carry more in-depth coverage. Faced with this type of attack, Taiwan’s political figures often become mired in a whirlwind of clarification and rebuttals.

As the political talk shows gradually change from being neutral to being more biased, with agendas that favor the Pan Blue or the Pan Green camps, the pundits cook the facts, offering opinions without checking the facts. All this has created a lot of unnecessary social troubles, giving rise to a negative connotation associated with the term “pundit” and also bringing the added concern that Taiwan is “ruled by pundits.”

Regulations to control the power of pundits has been greeted by controversy. In 2008, Soochow University in Taipei proposed that any professor who appeared on a TV talk show more than four times a month must get prior permission from the school. In 2009, the National Communications Commission (NCC), an independent agency similar to the FCC in the United States, tried to regulate political punditry by mandating that the shows “be consistent in fact checking and be of fair principle.” Any violator is liable to a fine, or for more serious violations, a show might be taken off the air. These two proposals were criticized and dropped because they violated freedom of speech and of the press.

With Taiwan’s presidential election approaching, James Soong, chairman of the People First Party (PFP), a smaller party in the Pan Blue camp, decided to run. It was a given that Soong’s participation would take votes away from the Pan Blue camp and have certain negative impact on the prospects of incumbent President Ma Ying-jeou. It was widely reported in early November that Hualien County magistrate Fu Kun-qi, an independent but with a pro PFP stance, passed the message through two pundits to high-level KMT officials that the KMT would release 11 legislator seats to the PFP in exchange for Soong’s withdrawal from the race. Both these elections are scheduled for January 14, 2012. Although the secret exchange did not take place due to its exposure, it did highlight the influence that pundits wield in the island’s politics.

Pundits belong to those least trusted

Over the last ten years, political talk shows have become one of the important elements of Taiwan’s news channels. Due to their low production costs, TV news channels have allocated more time to political talk shows, which are a money making bonanza for TV stations. The same pundits comment on different topics on different talk shows every day. The quality of talk shows has thus declined and has become a battleground, which leaves a negative feeling in general.

In discussing the pundit phenomenon, the Journalist weekly said “the special ecology of Taiwan’s television creates the TV talk shows. On the surface, they talk about national policy, commenting on current affairs, and sometimes tipping the news leads. Under the table, many of them hold their own political affiliations and support their bosses. They love to make friends with politicians, or to be hired as political aides to offer consultation and strategy, or even to spread the word and be involved in political fights.”

The Taipei-based China Times reported that because of low production costs and controversial topics, TV political talk shows easily take prime-time, attracting larger audiences and bringing the pundits more fame. They comment on current politics, analyze social problems, offer tidbits of a celebrity’s private life, and the developing special characters of Taiwan’s society. A majority of pundits are former reporters, with many of them sharing a common goal of doing their homework so they are well prepared. Despite this, they are not jacks of all trades, sometimes quoting incorrect data or statistics, and in the process undermining their creditability.

According to the survey conducted by the Global Views monthly’s polling center in June, the most trustworthy roles in Taiwan society are medical doctors and policemen, in that order. Those least trusted are pundits and councilmen. A year ago, the Chinese edition of Reader’s Digest revealed the credit reports of different Taiwanese professions, and the lowest credit rating was for fortune tellers, councilmen and pundits.

More in-dept understanding of the issue?

There are commentaries as long as there are news programs and there must be people who make them. It is necessary for pundits to make such commentaries, no matter if they are media people or professors. But by talking on shows every day, pundits are treating commentaries as a commodity for sale, not only for the sublime goal of freedom of speech. Furthermore, it has become commonplace in recent years for pundits to act as spokespersons for certain specific political forces. It is these pundits who are responsible for pushing such a deep divide between the Pan Blue and Pan Green coalitions.

Lo Wen-hui, Taiwan-born professor at the School of Journalism and Communication, Chinese University of Hong Kong, once told the Commonwealth magazine “No matter in newspapers or television news, it stays only for a short period of time… while watching political talk shows, you have a more in-depth understanding of the current issues.” They help viewers figure out which side they will take in a conflict.

Appearing at different political talk shows, pundits are highly paid, but also endowed with invisible “power”, especially in politics. “Taiwan Media Watch Foundation” chairman Kuang Chung-shiang questioned, “the same group of people repeatedly appear at different political talk shows, even systematically, with few changes, much less new faces. It is a monopoly and narrowing of speech.”

Although the role of the pundits in society is questioned in Taiwan, mainland Chinese viewers continue to have a growing appetite for Taiwan’s political talk shows. The China Times reported that Chinese tourists love to watch the political talk shows when they visit Taiwan. Some groups ask the travel agency to help arrange a meeting with Taiwanese pundits, or even request visits to television stations to participate in a live talk show.

Among all the Asian countries, Taiwan’s form of democracy continues to be a great source of pride, and the pundits on these political talk shows are one of the most successful “showcases” of Taiwan’s democracy. However, what direction will Taiwan’s media be brought to by these professionals, who more and more are a polarizing force in their field, Commonwealth commented.

Election defeats a severe warning for KMT

The results of Taiwan’s by-elections for four legislators were announced on February 27. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won three seats in the counties of Taoyuan, Hsinchu, and Chiayi, while the ruling Nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) took just one seat in Hualien. In Hualien, the DPP candidate Hsiao Bi-khim lost to the KMT candidate Wang Ting-sheng by 6,100 votes, but the result was notable because the DPP had again closed the gap in this KMT stronghold.

Since taking office in May 2008, President Ma Ying-jeou’s KMT has lost five of the six elections including the election for city mayors and county magistrates at the end of 2009, and five by-elections for legislators. President Ma described this latest by-election defeat as a “severe warning” to the ruling KMT.

After this by-election, the number of DPP seats in the Legislative Yuan increased from 30 to 33, with the KMT retaining 75 and independents holding onto five spots. In the January 2008 elections, the KMT won 82 seats and the DPP took only 27. But since March 2009, the five legislative by-elections have seen a steady increase in the DPP tally.

Morale of opposition boosted

According to the Taipei-based China Times, the ruling party’s defeat can be attributed to several factors: the internal split of the KMT in Taoyuan and Hsinchu, the DPP’s efforts to rebuild trust among undecided and young voters, the low voter turnout (only 36-42 percent) and the absence of KMT voters in particular. Declining poll results for the KMT can also be attributed to the economic downturn, rising unemployment, the government’s unimpressive rescue efforts of Typhoon Morakot victims and the controversy surrounding US beef imports.

According the Central News Agency, the KMT’s secretary-general King Pu-tsung admitted that this election was a failure for the party. King said that the long-term problems of the KMT should still be dealt with despite the defeat. He will intensify efforts to reform the party by stopping the widespread practice of vote buying and exchanges of benefits with local politicians.

Commentator Liao Chin-tin said in the paper that low voter turnout showed the disappointment felt by voters that the legislators of both parties had left their positions unfilled in order to engage in the magistrate’s election.

After the presidential election defeat in 2008, DPP chairperson Tsai Ying-wen has rallied the party by winning five elections. This has boosted the morale of all DPP members. Tsai is expected to win another term as the DPP chairperson in May.

KMT facing uphill struggle

The Five Municipal Elections of Taipei City, Kaohsiung City, and the greater Taipei, Taichung, Tainan and Kaohsiung municipalities will be the next important elections before the 2012 presidential election in Taiwan.

The China Times noted that the DPP has a chance in the 2012 presidential election if it can hold onto its traditional strongholds of greater Kaohsiung Municipality and greater Tainan Municipality, and make a breakthrough in Taipei City or the greater Taipei Municipality. As such, the DPP has begun to position itself. Su Tseng-chang, the premier under the previous DPP administration, announced on March 3 his intention to run for Taipei city mayor at the year-end Five Municipality Elections.

The Central News Agency reported that Liao Kun-jung, professor with the Political Science department at National Chung Cheng University, predicts that the KMT will suffer another setback in the Five Municipality Elections, but they might perform better in the presidential election. He said the low turnout in recent elections is directly due to the KMT’s supporters’ general sense of apathy, but Liao expects they will still turn out to vote for President Ma. Liao stressed that Ma is likely to face a difficult election, but at this time, no obvious challenger has appeared to oppose him within the ruling party.

Political commentator Ku Er-teh noted after the 2008 presidential election that all the six elections are local ones and the DPP might not duplicate its recent successes in the 2012 presidential election.

Local election results prompt Ma administration soul searching

President Ma Ying-jeou, chairman of the ruling Kuomintang (KMT), vowed to continue pushing for reforms and said his party will humbly conduct a thorough review of current administrative policies in the wake of the local elections which reduced the party’s control of county and city governments by two. The total number of counties contested at the elections was 17, among them four were won by the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and one by an independent.

Ma declined to characterize the outcome of the latest elections as a defeat for the party, but did say that the election results were “not satisfactory.” With the economy in deep recession and experiencing a high unemployment rate, Ma described voters as “very kind and generous” towards the KMT at the elections.

On December 5th, 65 percent of the roughly seven million eligible voters in Taiwan and its offshore islands went to the polls to elect 17 new county magistrates, 592 county councilors, and 211 township chiefs.

The “three-in-one” elections excluded the administrations in Taipei City and Kaohsiung City, both of which enjoy special municipality status. No elections were held in Taipei County, Kaohsiung County, Taichung City, Taichung County, Tainan City, and Tainan County since they are due to be upgraded or merged into special municipalities. In December 2010, elections in Taipei City, the New Taipei Municipality (originally Taipei County), Greater Taichung, Greater Tainan and Greater Kaohsiung municipalities will be held. These are considered to be the most important elections prior to the 2012 presidential election.

KMT suffers setback, opposition gains ground

The KMT won elections in 12 counties, maintaining a ruling majority in northern and eastern Taiwan, and on the offshore islands. The KMT lost in Ilan County, which is a region heavily influenced by the DPP. The victor in Hualien County was a former KMT member, who violated KMT discipline rules to enter the election. The United Daily News called this election one with “no surprises.”

In 2005 at, the last local elections of county magistrates and city mayors (including those places where no elections were held this time), the KMT won 50.96 percent of the total votes. This time they only won 47.8 percent. The DPP, except for losing to the KMT by 2.7 million votes at the 2008 presidential election, the party gained 45.3 percent of the total ballots, an increase from the 41.95 percent. The margin between the DPP and the KMT has now closed to only 2.5 percent. This time, the DPP gained ground in every county and city except in Hualien County, where the DPP made no candidate nominee.

Most media outlets in Taiwan attributed the DPP’s small victory to the success of its election maneuvering by Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen, and considered her the best DPP candidate for Taipei City mayor in 2010. Tsai has a PhD in Law from the London School of Economics and Political Science. Some media consider her as a strong candidate against Ma when he runs for re-election in 2012. Commenting on the election results, Tsai said the significance of the elections is that “people cast a no confidence vote against the Ma government.”

Given the state of the economy, the Liberty Times attributed the KMT’s defeat to Ma’s failure at the mid-term elections. However, the Taipei-based China Times said the DPP was sure to win more votes based on the KMT’s unimpressive administrative performance and not because of Tsai’s leadership, or the DPP’s efforts to reform.

Let battle commence

Professor Chen Chao-chien at Min Chuang University said the DPP’s small victory is the result of a “pendulum swing effect.” Due to the repeated scandals suffered by the previous DPP government, wavering voters used their votes to penalize the DPP at the 2008 presidential election. This time around, they are doing the same to give a warning to the ruling KMT.

Even after losing two counties at the elections this time, the KMT still controls a majority in the county magistrates. This will not hurt the ruling KMT’s administrative capability and will have only a limited impact on the stock market and relations across the Taiwan Strait.

However, the elections are the first round of skirmishes before the 2012 presidential election battle begins. The second round will be the elections of five special municipality mayors in 2010. The southern municipalities of Kaohsiung and Tainan have traditionally been under DPP leadership. In recent years, Taipei City and the New Taipei Municipality in the north have also been in the hands of the DPP. The KMT will surely face a tough fight in 2010.

Ma elected KMT chairman

President Ma Ying-jeou has become the chairman of the Kuomintang (KMT, the Nationalist Party) for the next four years. After the uncontested July 26th election, Ma reiterated his determination to reform the ruling party and to work more closely with the Legislative Yuan to increase government efficiency.

Ma won with 285,354 votes out of 308,462 votes cast. The KMT has a registered membership of 534,739, which indicated a 58 percent turnout. This is Ma’s second term as KMT chairman, his first time was in 2005 when the KMT was the opposition party. In 2007, after being indicted for misappropriating expenses as Taipei’s mayor, Ma stepped down and was succeeded by Wu Poh-hsiung. Ma was later acquitted of the charges.

Ma’s bid drew criticism from the opposition parties since one of his presidential campaign promises was that he would not seek to double as the KMT chairman. However, he justified his bid for the chairmanship by citing the need for further government streamlining in the face of the global financial slowdown.

With Ma now serving as the president and KMT chairman, the Central News Agency reasoned he now has the clout to take full responsibility for Taiwan’s future – to bring peace to the Taiwan Strait and to transform Taiwan into a fully developed country ready to meet global challenges.

The KMT was founded in 1912 by Dr. Sun Yat-sen shortly after the revolution to overthrow China’s Ching Dynasty. The party can trace its roots to the Revive China Society, which was founded in 1895 in Hawaii. The KMT ruled China from 1912 until Chiang Kai-shek retreated to Taiwan in 1949 after the Chinese Civil War.

Taiwan’s opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen sent her congratulations to Ma on his appointment, but expressed concern over Taiwan’s democracy and the relations across the Taiwan Strait. Hu Jintao, the Chinese Communist Party general secretary, also sent his congratulations to Ma. Trying to allay fears, the Taipei Times reported that Ma said he is in no hurry to meet Hu, saying that the chairman need not attend every meeting between the parties. Even so, the United Daily News commented that as KMT chairman, Ma faces a difficult task in leading his party into December’s elections for magistrates and mayors.

Powerful pundits hold sway

During the recent trial of Taiwan’s former president, Chen Shui-bian, and his wife Wu Shu-chen, political commentators were able to predict the course of action that persecutors would take, creating the impression that it was the pundits who controlled the investigation, rather then the courts. Every country has its Bill O’Reillys and Jon Stewarts, but in Taiwan, the pundits are especially powerful.

With the growth of the cable networks, there is definitely no shortage of pundits. In a recent The Journalist weekly report, television pundits in Taiwan were the focus. When Taiwan opened the government-controlled wireless television stations to private business in the 1990s, political commentary programs quickly became a forum for the audience to get involved in public affairs.

During Lee Teng-hui’s presidency and his chairmanship of the ruling Nationalist Kuomintang (KMT), the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) members often criticized Lee’s policies on television commentaries, with the more eloquent of these personalities emerging as news stars. The KMT also mobilized some members to defend its policies, with some of them becoming TV pundits and criticizing government policies after the DPP took power in 2000.

With daily programs, the popularity of TV pundits has surged, along with their paychecks. By commenting on news, using knowledge from scholars and politicians, any commentary can sound credible. Thus has emerged a group of professional TV pundits who wield substantial power. When President Chen was still in office and accused of embezzling funds, TV pundits revealed confidential documents about Chen’s financial dealings. Rumors quickly spread, especially when President Chen stepped down and was accused of embezzlement. Suddenly, journalists who had no prior experience of covering the justice department emerged to comment on the legal and persecution process.

Since taking office, President Ma Ying-jeou has been careful to keep his distance from pundits. The public affairs department of the Office of the President avoids direct contacts with pundits to remove the risk of second-hand communications.

The Journalist report concluded, Taiwan’s media has enjoyed sufficient freedom, but the TV pundits have to make political commentary in a very responsible way. In Commonwealth monthly, sources for stories are often bought. Referring to the well-known case of one KMT legislator and also a TV pundit, who spent US$3000 to buy a photo of a ranking DPP government official gambling in South Korea. The revelation caused a scandal involving the Kaohsiung Mass Transit System. The lawmaker also made great efforts to collect information showing former President Chen’s overseas bank accounts.

Minister of Justice Wang Ching-feng told the Taipei-based China Times that she supports appropriate regulation of TV pundits. According to a senior television producer, TV pundits rush from program to program, without really taking the time to study the topics in depth. They address the same topic in a continuous loop in their pursuit of airtime. However, Liu Yi-hon, a veteran reporter, strongly opposes any regulation, which he said would impede freedom of speech.

In an article on the occasion of Walter Cronkite’s death, columnist Nan Fang-shou wrote, Walter Cronkite was known as “the most trusted man in America.” Cronkite saw the media as the fourth branch of government, believing in the news media’s responsibility to inform the populace as an essential element of a healthy functioning democracy. In earlier days, Taiwan’s TV pundits were able to expose the dark sides of the government, serving to “check and balance” Taiwan’s young democracy. As the pundits themselves gained celebrity status, siding with particular politicians, they have abused their influences by swaying popular sentiments with biased views. In this media culture, Nan thinks it is almost impossible to have a Walter Cronkite.