Wow! That was certainly a blast with no uncertainty. Taiwan took a huge step backward yesterday, all the way back to before 2000. Lots of people have written over the years that Taiwanese are committed to their democracy and love it. That will now be put to the test. The KMT-dominated legislature has repeatedly attempted to hollow out institutions such as the Central Election Commission. That will now be possible. Will it be carried out, and will it be stopped? I’m betting that the answers to those questions are yes and no.

The canned stories are coming out in the international media. It’s wearying to see the same crap — the NYTimes again refered to Ma as a “Harvard-educated lawyer.” Note that there were no reports of post-election violence, something only associated with the KMT. Nonetheless, we’re certain to see those reports saying Taiwan elections are “marred by controversy”….

A couple of things. I was always maintaining optimism — why not? no one else was! :) — but it was two months ago, at the first rally in Taichung, that I first privately concluded we were going to lose (didn’t foresee the magnitude of the blast, though! More on that later…). I went there, as I told some friends later, to get religion, and I most emphatically didn’t. Intead of becoming more enthusiastic about the outcome, I became less. The presentation was lackluster and formulaic, relying on stuff that was old and the stroking of emotions and themes from previous campaigns. Every speech was in Taiwanese, except part of one (KMT rallies offer a mix). My kids sat there bored, addressed by people who couldn’t be bothered to find a way to talk to the two Taiwan citizens I am raising. The DPP campaign, as I have noted, has been lackluster since day one — the bounce I expected never came, I never felt the electricity — the Ma team ran a better campaign, in almost every way — more cash, better ads, better responses to issues as they arose, better talking points, and better handling of the media. And not too much Taiwanese. Very well done. Ma’s victory shows that if Lien hadn’t mailed in his campaign in 2004, or Ma or Soong had run instead, then Chen would have been a one-term president.

I bet, if anyone ever does the surveys (this being Taiwan no one ever will) that it was Ma who benefited from the Tibet issue the most. It gave him the opportunity to look and talk tough, when he needed to.

Many things were symptomatic. Went to a meeting of FAPA, the main pro-Taiwan group in the US, in Taipei on Thursday. It was painful to watch. Sometimes I contemplate taking out ROC citizenship, but the brave new world they advocate doesn’t include me or my children — and if a strong supporter like me gets that vibe, how then the young on the street who chatter in a delightfully liquid lingo that is predominately Mandarin, with leaven of Taiwanese and English? Every person at the FAPA meet was older than I, and they were speaking Taiwanese. Not one speaker or two, but Every. Single. One. As I listened to a bunch of speeches in a language I didn’t understand — every word reinforcing my overwhelming alienness, one of the photographers standing next to me turned to camera guy next to him and remarked, rhetorically: “Why are they speaking that language? I don’t understand a word they are saying!” Not one of those people took the time to compose and deliver their speech in Mandarin, a language spoken by everyone in the room — and, mind you, a language understood by the people they most urgently need to communicate with: the Chinese. Of course there was no English, the language of the international media. Brilliant to hold a press event in a language the press don’t speak. Yes, Mandarin is the language of the hated colonialist KMT. Yes, Mandarin was imposed at gunpoint. But if you want people to listen to you, you have to speak their language. For all its gaping flaws and debased values, the KMT offers this multiethnic island a multiethnic vision. The DPP and its supporters still do not.

Another thing — the atmosphere in Taipei is nightmarish. Never again will I spend an election there — the conventional wisdom is totally out of touch with the reality of the electorate. In 2004 I stayed in Taichung and got a pretty good line on what would happen, but not this time. I used to describe what circulates in Taipei as a cloud cuckoo-land of KMT talking points, but even that isn’t right — I lack a good grip on the kind of language to characterize its vast and all-encompassing wrongness. As reporters were churning out articles saying that the election was going to be tight Ma win, as speakers everywhere were retreating to positions of nervous ambiguity, and people talking to both campaigns said it would be tight, voters were preparing to hand Ma a 17 point victory. On Friday the DPP was saying it was seeing a late surge for Frank Hsieh, which I didn’t report because it so obviously reeked of lying spin. But some apparently did. Nobody I talked to in the capital even got a whiff of a 17 point Ma victory, though all thought he’d win. Certainly somebody knew, because there were massive capital inflows into Taiwan in the last week before the election as international capital prepared to hollow out Taiwan like a gourd invest in our fine nation in anticipation of a Ma victory. Ironically, the nearest polls were the nutcase polls in the pro-Ma papers, though a close examination will show they were nowhere near correct either.

Voter patterns! I’ll have a full discussion on them later this week. One thing that really really really stands out here is the desperate need for thorough, credible, detailed survey work that is reliable through time. Tomorrow’s analyses in Taipei are going to be largely groups of people talking without the numbers to back them up.

I’m burnt out and heartsick, and I am going to take a few days off from blogging. Enjoy yourselves.