• by Chao Yi
  • Special to The Japan Times

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TAIPEI — On Saturday, the Republic of China will hold its second direct election for the presidency and the vice presidency. Throughout Chinese history, the concept of popular sovereignty has never been so strong as it is now. Therefore, this election will surely demonstrate to the international community that Taiwan’s democracy has reached an unprecedented level of maturity.

In an intense competitive atmosphere, three of the five candidates have attained near equal levels of popular support. Although there has been a certain degree of negative campaigning and personal attacks, which is inconsistent with traditional Chinese comportment, each candidate has concentrated his efforts to impress the public with career accomplishments, popular image, academic credentials, experience, moral character and integrity.

In this three-way split, it is likely that no candidate will win a majority of the votes, and the newly elected president may be required to compromise on future policy decisions, bringing to an end five decades of strong presidential leadership.

A new political era, characterized by governmental systems, laws and regulations will prevail. The new president will be required to respect divergent and pluralistic views, and give thorough consideration to the opinions of both the ruling party and opposition groups, before establishing national policy.

Since independent candidates have attained a significant level of popular support in this election, Taiwan’s party system is on trial. During the past decade, the two-party system has left little room for independent politicians. Thus, if an independent candidates win the election and subsequently forms a new party, Taiwan’s political system will be become a multiparty system. Alternatively, independents could be drawn back into one of the main political parties, as reformers.

The ruling party has established a policy of placing party assets in trust and passing legislation to prohibit political parties from engaging in commercial enterprises. This dramatic change in the political-economic system will result in fairer competition among parties.

Since the candidates have divergent political philosophies, the election will have far-reaching effects on Taiwan’s overall development. The ROC’s current status will be maintained in the short term, but policies related to the relations between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait will certainly be adjusted after the election, thus not only affecting cross-strait relations, but also the future of Taiwan.

Since Taiwan’s presidential election will decide the progress and timing of Taiwan’s democratic development, as well as the development of bilateral relations between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, it will exert a profound influence on the future political trends in the Asia-Pacific region.

The world has rightly welcomed Beijing’s current economic reforms. However, it is clear that peace and stability in the Far East are greatly dependent on the institutionalization of democracy on the Chinese mainland. The ROC’s 2000 presidential election is an excellent foundation for democratic reform within the Chinese cultural context.

Regardless of the outcome of the election, the Nationalist Party’s policy of allowing freedom of expression, political association and opposition party development has been fully vindicated. The people of Taiwan recognize that democracy is not only the worldwide trend, but is also the only path that can ensure modernization of Taiwan and prosperity in the Western Pacific. Thus, the result of the election will be accepted by the people, and there will be a peaceful transition of power.

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