There’s plenty of discussion about the reasons and effects of the legislative election…First, Taiwan Communique has a whole edition out on the elections, with articles by Bruce Jacobs, among others. Go here for the most recent issue. Next, a reader in Calgary reminds me that Willy Lam at the Jamestown Foundation has a piece out on it:

The ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) stunning defeat in Taiwan’s parliamentary polls last weekend is expected to lower tension in the Taiwan Straits and speed up economic integration between the mainland and the self-ruled island. The DPP’s Waterloo may help convince President Chen Shui-bian and other pro-independence politicians in the “Green Party” to re-evaluate and perhaps tone down its tactic of provoking Beijing and capitalizing on the antagonism between Fujianese-speaking native Taiwanese (bensheng ren) and mainlanders (waisheng ren) that followed the Nationalist Government from China to Taiwan in 1949. The prospects of Ma Ying-Jeoh, the presidential candidate for the opposition Kuomintang (KMT or Nationalist Party)—which favors eventual reunification with China—in the March 22 presidential polls have also risen. Cross-Straits development in the coming year or so, however, also depends on reactions from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership. Moreover, the KMT’s total domination of the Legislative Yuan (parliament), which was due as much to the DPP’s falling popularity as to the introduction of a “Japanese-style” electoral system—could upset the delicate balance of power on the island and spell trouble for the future of Taiwanese democracy.

There’s quite a lot of people who see the election as one of great harm to Taiwanese democracy — both Ma and Siew have apparently come out with remarks that one-party rule is a good thing(”Just look at Singapore”).

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Also of note is the meeting at the Heritage Foundation the other day, chronicled in the Beltway insider briefing The Nelson Report. Pay close attention to that last paragraph — and brace yourself for the flow of self-congratulatory verbiage from US officials who will certainly claim that US opposition to Chen’s policies helped cause his loss (although not once did I ever hear any Taiwanese mention them).

TAIWAN…very excellent Heritage Foundation discussion yesterday MC’d by Amb. Harvey Feldman, saw KMT rep (and former TECRO official) Jacob Chang come out from behind his usually very quiet positioning, along with DPP rep Mike Fonte, former VP Cheney China expert Steve Yates, and Heritage vet John Tkacik, as they dissected the DPP’s devastating defeat in Saturday’s LY elections.

If you need the inside baseball version, we urge you to check the Heritage website. For our purposes, the most important parts of the discussion centered on what now seems likely for the Mar. 22 presidential election, especially for the two UN membership referendums about which the Bush Administration has been so critical…at China’s behest.

Briefly, Mike did his best…which is always very good…to try and urge perspective on the purely local, purely economic and corruption issues which seemed to feed his party’s wipe out.

Discussion there and in other venues generally concludes that the vote against the DPP was genuinely national, and that while presidential nominee Frank Hsieh is personally more moderate than President Chen, the damage done to Taiwan’s economy, the corruption problems, and continual discord with the US and China, all add-up to a likely KMT win on Mar. 22.

Jake very calmly and clearly outlined where the KMT did well, what was new about it, and also outlined presidential nominee Ma’s promises to improve bilateral relations with both the US and the mainland.

He also made clear that whatever the KMT’s goals with China might be, he personally, and Ma personally condemn China’s attempt to disrupt Taiwan’s democracy…and he strongly denied DPP charges that under a KMT government, the island might “revert to authoritarianism”.

And, Chang repeated Ma’s “three noes” for the record: no attempt to recall the President, should the DPP’s Frank Hsieh be elected; no messing around with Constitutional amendments [one root of the discord with China and the US]; and no bringing of No Confidence votes, despite the massive KMT majority.

Steve Yates, now a private consultant, said that between now and Mar. 22, he didn’t think Beijing would alter its fundamental focus on Chen himself, and its basic opposition to the DPP rhetoric and platform…but that he also didn’t think China would do anything “risky”, in this Olympic year, certainly, but for more basic reasons.

“Beijing is basically risk-averse, and has a lot to lose with the risk of opening a Pandora’s Box of ‘change’ on Taiwan”…making the point that China’s slow political evolution compares poorly with Taiwan’s dramatic democratic development.

There was a great deal of discussion on whether the strong, even strident US opposition to the UN referendums, and to Chen himself, played a role in the DPP defeat, and in any event, what both the US and China should now say, and do, in the run-up to Mar. 22.

On balance, discussants felt that since it was always clear that nothing Chen or the DPP could say would actually alter the legal status quo, perhaps both the US and China did not have to get so worked-up over Chen’s words and threats.

By extension, therefore, it was suggested that the Bush Administration might have kept things calmer had it concentrated on assuring China that “reality” was and is what matters…rather than appearance.

A calmer approach was urged between now and Mar. 22.

A final area of discussion was whether the general deterioration of US-Taiwan political relations can be blamed only on the DPP, or whether the KMT’s indulgence in domestic politics at the expense (for example) of passing the defense budget, means that US-Taiwan bilateral relations may have been harmed beyond easy repair.

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A Taipei Times editorial points to the long-term danger of the kind of permanent majority that the KMT is likely to enjoy, given its superior voter mobilization and gerrymandered districting…..

There is a saying that has long circulated in circles like Washington that “Chinese are too busy making money to worry about democracy.”

Author James Mann, however, contends in his book The China Fantasy that this is a fallacy and just a convenient sound bite for foreign businesspeople and politicians who wish to ignore the authoritarian nature of China’s current regime while taking advantage of its cheap labor.

The frequent demonstrations seen in Hong Kong opposing Beijing’s heavy-handed rule and the lack of democratic progress since its handover to China lend credence to Mann’s theory. Just last Sunday, about 20,000 Hong Kongers took to the streets in the latest protest calling for universal suffrage in the territory. The protesters were upset at Beijing’s announcement last month that they might be able to elect their leader by 2017. Hong Kongers had been pushing for the right to elect their government by 2012.

It is a safe bet that given the chance, millions of people in China would also help prove Mann right.

Contrast this with events here last Saturday, when Taiwanese voted for a new legislature. The outcome saw the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) gain a two-thirds majority in the legislature, giving the party’s presidential candidate, Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), a huge boost ahead of the March presidential poll.

The KMT backs increasing cross-strait economic ties, arguing that more business with China will help solve what they term “Taiwan’s economic malaise.”

But despite promises from Ma that he will not talk unification if elected president, the increased business and cultural contact that would occur under a Beijing-friendly KMT government and the sacrifices of sovereignty the KMT will have to make to achieve this will make future expressions of Taiwan’s current independent status even more difficult and the drift toward some kind of unification agreement all the more unavoidable.

This could eventually pose a threat to the full democratic rights Taiwanese now enjoy.

Increasing cross-strait business ties and investment will only give China more control over Taiwan’s prosperity and will likely result in more wealthy and influential Taiwanese tying their colors to Beijing’s mast. People like former United Microelectronics Corp chairman Robert Tsao (曹興誠) bear testament to this.

When Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, tried to institutionalize democratic ideals in the territory ahead of its return to China, some of his most vociferous opponents were the billionaire business barons who considered democracy an unnecessary and unwanted obstacle to their continued wealth accumulation.

Mann points out that a similar phenomenon could occur in China’s ruling and newly wealthy middle class. This could prevent the move toward democracy in China that US officials seem convinced increased trade relations will eventually bring.

Taking this into account, Taiwanese could also one day find themselves in the same situation as Hong Kongers, where tycoons who hold influence in Taipei and have a vested interest in China continue to oppose democracy.

Of course, Taiwan’s already established democratic system would be difficult for China to dismantle, but with Beijing’s relentless arms build-up showing no sign of slowing and its burgeoning economic might bringing other powerful countries to heel, 20 years from now Taiwan may be in no position to resist.

How ironic it would be if Taiwan, the first and only true democracy in an ethnic Chinese country, were to buck the global trend and give its hard-won freedom away.

As you can see, much of this analysis focuses on KMT talking points that have become the conventional wisdom, and not on the numbers that point to a very different set of problems for the DPP, as I noted below. Finally, over in Asia Times, an editor argues that All Bets Are Off in our presidential race here. Hsieh may well still win, he says. Over at Thirsty Ghosts Jon Adams of Newsweek here makes the same argument. In case anyone out there is paying attention to numbers, the DPP actually increased its vote totals over 2004, which may mean something. Or may not….