Taiwan vote marks watershed for democracy: The island's first full parliamentary elections being held today are dominated by electoral corruption and relations with China, writes Teresa Poole

ON 1 November this year, Peng Ming-min, one of Taiwan's most respected pro-independence dissidents, returned after 22 years and 10 months of enforced exile. Garlanded, and cheered by crowds of thousands, his homecoming was unexpectedly triumphant. 'Before I came back I knew that people over 40 knew me well,' he said, 'but I thought younger people might not.'

But at speeches given at universities since his return, students have crowded out assembly halls. On home ground, the 69-year-old former National Taiwan University professor, for whom an arrest warrant was still out until last year, is being lauded as an intellectual mentor for the opposition movement. He has also become something of an ethical steward for the high-spending parliamentary elections being held today, in which 406 candidates are contesting 161 seats.

The elections offer an imperfect watershed in Taiwan's transition from the authoritarian strong- man politics of the Chiang Kai- shek era to a more democratic system. The ruling Kuomintang (KMT) party will win comfortably, because the main opposition party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is fielding only a limited number of candidates. But it will be the first time for more than four decades that all the seats are up for election, and the first time ever that the entire parliament is being chosen within Taiwan.

The last full election for the parliament - the Legislative Yuan - was in 1948, when Chiang Kai-shek and the nationalist KMT were still on the mainland; but it was only a year ago that the aged survivors of that election were finally forced to retire. Today's vote, albeit blighted by vote- buying and the biases of a former one-party system, will be a decisive step in changing the Legislative Yuan from a rubber-stamping body populated by snoozing geriatrics to a functioning parliament with a meaningful opposition. According to David Shambaugh, editor of the China Quarterly: 'The simple phenomenon that the elections are taking place is very important.'

Taiwan's democratisation has been a comparatively brisk and bloodless transformation. It was back in 1964, 15 years after the KMT had lost to the Communists and retreated to Taiwan, that Mr Peng was arrested and imprisoned for preparing a manifesto calling on President Chiang to admit the absurdity of a 'One China' policy and to concentrate instead on building up Taiwan. Six years later, after prison and house arrest, Mr Peng escaped via Sweden to the United States. But it was not until July 1987 that Chiang's son, President Chiang Ching-kuo, decided to lift martial law. And it was only in May this year that President Lee Teng-hui, the first Taiwan-born president, who took over in 1988, abolished the sedition law which made it illegal even to discuss Taiwan independence.

This month's election campaign has been dominated by two issues: the increasingly complicated argument about Taiwan's future relationship with the mainland, and electoral corruption. In rural areas free banquets, concerts and even a chess tournament have been on offer - as well as hard cash.

Mr Peng, who is backing the DPP as the only viable opposition party, says: 'I am disappointed. The corruption is an open secret. This type of corruption will destroy the democratic process of the elections.' The state-run television stations and pro-KMT newspapers are also accused of ignoring or misrepresenting the opposition.

Rival policies towards the mainland are the central political issue. Taiwan's de facto independence and its growing business ties with China are becoming more relevant than old-style KMT claims to sovereignty over the whole of the mainland. In five years there have been more than 4 million visitors from Taiwan to China; and Taiwanese investment in China, usually via Hong Kong companies, is estimated at anything up to pounds 2.55bn.

The DPP is running with a 'One China, one Taiwan' banner, a softer version of its strident (and technically illegal) independence platform in the National Assembly elections a year ago, which appeared to put off voters. Mr Peng says: 'The big issue is whether we should concentrate on building up a democratic Taiwan.'

The KMT is split between a progressive wing of mostly Taiwan-born politicians who privately seem little removed from the DPP on the independence issue and the old-guard mainlanders who stick to the One China ethic, which for the time being is really about prolonging the status quo. Professor Chu Yun-han, at the National Taiwan University, says: 'This is a very emotional issue. The (former) mainlanders support the principle of One China but recognise that it is foolish to talk of reunification at this point. The Taiwanese KMT do not support it but also recognise that now is not the time to jeopardise the relationship with China.'

In Peking, Jiang Zemin, the Communist Party's General Secretary, said China would not hesitate to use force if Taiwan declared independence. 'We've heard it all before,' says the DPP. 'It is an insult,' says Mr Peng.

News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
i100
Life and Style
fashion David Beckham fronts adverts for his underwear collection
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape