This year’s Presidential election in the USA is getting an enormous amount of coverage in Australia, but there’s an election a bit closer to home happening tomorrow in Taiwan (sometimes called the Republic of China). Its implications won’t be anywhere near as big for Australia or the globe compared to what happens in the USA, but every election can be significant, particularly in the south-east Asian region which, for a whole bunch of reasons, still doesn’t have a particularly great record when it comes to democracy.
The election tomorrow is for Taiwan’s legislature. The President is directly elected and that poll is taking place on March 22 this year. For people with an interest in electoral systems, this will be the first time the legislature will be elected mainly from single member districts – 73 of them, with 34 at-large seats being provided in proportion to the votes given to each party (half of these must go to women). There are also six constituency based seats reserved for Taiwan’s Indigenous peoples (more details here). It sounds a bit reminiscent of New Zealand’s system (except they don’t have a directly elected President of course).
One interesting electoral rule I discovered is that “campaigning on election day is forbidden” – something I wouldn’t mind seeing tried in Australia so we can end the ludicrous and wasteful how to vote card situation at polling booths. This rule even extends to not being able to send campaign related text messages (SMSs) on polling day. I’d be interested to see if it extends to websites.
Taiwan is a country that has made big strides in democratising itself in the last decade or so. In 2000 it managed the crucial test of a post-election transfer of power from the KMT, the long-serving party which had ruled the country unchallenged for fifty years, to the opposition DPP party.
Not surprisingly, relations with China are a big issue in Taiwan. The KMT favours more links with China, and according to this story, that party is expected to do well in this weekend’s elections and is also favoured to regain the Presidency in March.
Taiwan has a population very similar to Australia at a bit over 20 million, and has strong trade and social links to Australia. Those people are in the unusual situation of having no representation at the United Nations. Efforts to gain membership, or even gain some sort of observer status as a ‘non-member entity’ such as currently applies to Palestine, has been vehemently resisted by the People’s Republic of China.
I understand the historical reasons why this is so, but to me it seems quite unacceptable now that Taiwan is clearly democratic. It also seems to fly in the face of the basic international principle of self-determination. It also has the effect of keeping Taiwan out of UN related bodies such as the World Health Organisation. According to Wikipedia
“Taiwan has applied for participation in the WHO as a ‘health entity’ each year since 1997 but is denied each year because of pressure from China. China claims sovereignty over Taiwan, and its position is that Taiwan is represented in the WHO system by China. In practice, Taiwanese doctors and hospitals are denied access to WHO information, and Taiwanese journalists are denied accreditation for participation in WHO activities.”
Apart from disadvanatging the people of Taiwan, this sort of situation doesn’t seem very helpful to any of us. Full international cooperation and information flows on health issues can be very important in stopping the spread of diseases – bird flu would be an obvious example. But more broadly, having a country which is reasonably democratic and obvioulsy self-governing being denied any voice in the main global body is simply wrong.
UPDATE: Brief overview of the final results can be found here.