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Taiwan Election

(这是我的第一篇英文博客,一则是应我的学生们的请求,二则是给一份英文在线杂志的约稿。欢迎点评。)

Officials in Beijing must have had a sense of relief after they learned that their favored candidate, the incumbent KMT presidential contender Ma Ying-jeou, won the 2012 Taiwan presidential election on January 14th, by a margin of 800,000 (52% vs. 46%) votes. However, that sense of relief might prove to be short-lived and premature.

Ma, a Harvard law school graduate, is widely regarded as a model scholar-official and not a risk taker. Although he is very handsome looking and appealing to a lot female voters, he is not considered as charismatic or motivating as the opposition candidate. That probably partially explains why his winning margin shrank from more than 2 million votes four years ago.

Another reason why Ma’s support has been dwindling in the last four years is the economic inequality in Taiwan. From macroeconomic perspective, Ma’s Taiwan should be many nations’ envy. The unemployment rate is merely 4.3%, dropped from 6.7% in April 2010, while U.S. unemployment rate has been higher than 8% for 36 consecutive months, and across the Taiwan Strait, mainland China’s official unemployment rate is 6.1%, while unofficial quotes are close to 15%-20%. Ma’s friendly policy with mainland China has helped the economy to recover much faster than the rest of the world, with more than 1.3 million visitors from mainland China in 2011 spending big time during their tours. However, the income ratio between the top 20% households and bottom 20% has increased from a multiple of 4 in the 1980’s to 8.2 in 2009. 

Across the strait, the income inequality in mainland China is similarly severe, if not worse. The income ratio between top 10% and bottom 10% households has increased from 7.3 in 1988 to 23 in 2007 (the similar ratio in Taiwan is 26.5 in 2008). Another quote from a member of Chinese People’s Consultative Conference claims that 0.4% of the population controls 70% of the wealth. This economic disparity has definitely become a driving factor in China’s “group events”, which is a euphuistic annotation used by Chinese official media to describe protests, demonstrations, and upheavals.  The count of such events has increased almost twenty-fold from 10,000 in 1993 to 180,000 in 2010.

However, inequality would not necessarily brew “group events” in a democratic society. In Taiwan, ever since the ban on opposition party formation and free press was lifted in 1987, there has never been a presidential election as “uneventful” as the one in 2012. Naturally, when the people can take the poll station, they don’t need to take to the street. When they can cast votes, they don’t want to cast Molotov cocktails.

Thus the “uneventful” election of Taiwan 2012 has motivated a lot of people in mainland China to think: “If Taiwan people can transform an authoritarian society into a mature democracy in merely 24 years, why can’t the Chinese people do it?” The Chinese government will undergo a power transition as well in 2012. However, most Chinese citizens won’t be able to vote for their leader, or their congressional representatives. Actually they can’t even vote for their favored pop stars in the most popular talent shows. But they have witnessed their “compatriots” execute voting rights in the other part of China, maybe they would hope that China should be reunified when all Chinese people can have the same rights.

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