Democracy in Taiwan doesn't have the level of civility that it has in the West. Politicians regularly slander their opponents and make extravagant promises they can't keep. Laws have been passed to bar foul language and the unsubstantiated allegations. Secret multi-million dollar donations are also a fixture of Taiwanese politics.

Politics in Taiwan have been described as “faction ridden” and dominated by “traditional power brokers. “The welter of factions includes indigenous residents and “native Taiwanese”— decedents of the mainland Chinese who settled here decades, or even centuries, before the Nationalists arrived. The ending of martial law unleashed a flood of special interest politics. Aboriginal rights, environmental groups, citizens groups, pro-democracy groups emerged when it became clear they wouldn’t be arrested anymore.

One key element of Taiwanese politics is the less than friendly relationship between "native Taiwanese" and the "mainlanders" who arrived after World War II. Before elections there have been street fights between native Taiwanese and mainlanders at political rallies. During the 1995 elections hecklers shouted, "Kick the Chinese pigs back to the mainland!" at New Party rallies. A fight between hundreds of DPP and New Party supporters broke out in Kaohsiung, injuring 10 people.

Newspapers and television stations remain largely under the influence or one party or another. Celebrity counts for a lot in Taiwanese politics. The popular TV host Sisy Chen won a seat in parliament without campaigning or formally running. On the local level, politicians hand out favors like subway stops and new schools to their supporters and punishments like garbage incinerators to their enemies.

Jens Kastner wrote in the Asia Times, “Results of opinion polls in Taiwan vary notoriously according to the pollsters' political biases. National Chengchi University's Exchange of Future Events, which doesn't ask people who they vote for but instead how much money they would bet on a certain outcome, often produces results that are most in line with real outcomes. [Source: Jens Kastner, Asia Times, December 21, 2011]

The writer Chen Jo-shi (Chen Roxi) told Asia Weekly: “I feel that Taiwan is not so democratic, because there is populism sometimes. When I was in middle school and university, I knew that there was cheating during voting when entire boxes of ballots were replaced. The students from the National Taiwan University School of Medicine were sent to monitor the votes and came back to tell us about the switches. Today, things are a lot better. But there are still things like "the two bullets." Like the United States where I had stayed, the ruling party has certain advantages and controls things to a certain degree. [Source: Asia Weekly Interview With Chen Jo-shi (Chen Roxi), November 14, 2008]

The debate on Taiwan independence has become acceptable within the mainstream of domestic politics on Taiwan; public opinion polls consistently show a substantial majority of Taiwan people supports maintaining Taiwan's status quo for the foreseeable future; advocates of Taiwan independence oppose the stand that the island will eventually unify with mainland China; advocates of eventual unification predicate their goal on the democratic transformation of the mainland. [Source: CIA World Factbook]

Superstitions in Democratic Taiwan

On the eve of presidential and legislative elections in January 2012, Kyodo reported: “When registration for the election opened, opposition Democratic Progressive Party leader and presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen and her running mate Su Jia-chyuan picked Nov. 23, an auspicious day on the Chinese lunar calendar. They also registered early in the day as morning hours were deemed most likely to bring good fortune. Tsai, a rising star in Taiwan politics, has degrees from Cornell University and the London School of Economics. Hers is one of numerous PhDs from major Western educational institutions in the DPP party hierarchy, while lawyers and hard-nosed political operatives abound. [Source: Kyodo, January 2, 2012 -]

“So why would people with such credentials be making decisions based on an ancient practice of divination that most now regard as superstition? ''Some politicians may not believe (in divination),'' said Ku Chung-hwa, a sociology professor at National Chengchi University, ''but they follow the practices anyway, not only for their political luck, but also for their party's and the country's good fortune.'' Scheduling campaign events according to the lunar calendar is politically expedient then, especially during a tight campaign. When a few thousand votes can make the difference between winning and losing, Taiwanese politicians cannot afford to alienate the significant portion of the electorate that still believes in the old traditions of how to organize the world. They also cannot afford to appear dismissive before those who may have doubts about the effectiveness of the old ways, but either do not want to take chances or still regard these ways as important to their cultural heritage and thus worthy of respect. -

“Picking auspicious times is also not the only thing politicians do to honor past beliefs. A striking feature of Tsai's headquarters in Banciao, New Taipei City, is the arrangement of her office, where a desk sits in the middle of a spacious, almost empty room, flanked on the right by a sword with a bright yellow tassel, and on the left by a large jade stone in the shape of a mountain. Tsai never addresses such issues publicly and her campaign staffers are very low-key. But the objects and their positioning in the room are supposed to bring good fortune to Tsai and the campaign as a whole, according to a feng shui master. It is unclear whether Tsai's rising popularity has anything to do with the arrangement of her office. But in such a neck-and-neck race, she cannot afford to treat the matter lightly. And her political opponents seem to agree. -

“Ruling Nationalist Party (KMT) vice presidential candidate Wu Den-yih and his wife have a long history of consulting fortunetellers. Wu is also sensitive to how this plays before a public divided on merits of feng shui as a means of political decision making. In August, a Taiwanese magazine alleged that Wu's wife went to a fortuneteller and got a reading that said her husband is destined to become an ''emperor.'' Wu categorically dismissed the prediction as ''no big deal,'' but was careful not to disparage fortunetelling itself or deny his wife's interest in it. -

“Unlike Wu, People First Party candidate James Soong's running mate Lin Ruey-shiung is open and vocal in his support. In describing his decision to pair with Soong, Lin, a 73-year-old political amateur, raised political eyebrow when he said that he consulted the book of I-Ching for advice and chose to run only after he determined that it was ''God's will.''Numerology also plays a part in the current Taiwanese election campaign as each party was quick to come up with auspicious slogans based on the numbers drawn for their place on the ballot. -

“The Tsai-Su ticket is first, so her campaign came up with ''Taiwan's first female president.'' Incumbent President Ma Ying-jeou and Wu are second, so their campaign predicts a victory for Ma's second term. Third on the ballot, the Soong campaign says the number signifies the three groups Soong emphasizes in his campaign: the middle-class, small businesses and low-income families. The effect such slogans have on the voting public is unclear, once again. It is also unclear what the future holds for feng shui, the lunar calendar, I-Ching and other forms of traditional Chinese fortune telling in the modern democracy of Taiwan. The only thing that can be said for sure is that no party is likely to relinquish such practices anytime soon.” -

Political Parties in Taiwan

The ban on political parties was lifted in 1989. Before then the only party that was tolerated was the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) party. In September 1989 there were 38 registered parties. In 1995, there were 70. Taiwanese political parties, in many ways, are defined by their position on China and Taiwanese independence. Today, there are two main parties: 1) The Kuomintang (KMT), or Nationalist Party; and 2) the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the major opposition party. Except for a brief period in the early 2000s the KMT has always had the highest number of seats in Taiwan’s legislature. The DPP’s Chen Shui-ban was president of Taiwan from 2000 to 2008 but except for that the leader of Taiwan has been a Kuomintang member.

Political parties and leaders: Democratic Progressive Party or DPP [Su Tseng-chang]; Kuomintang or KMT (Nationalist Party) [Ma Ying-jeou]; New Party [Yok Mu-ming]; Non-Partisan Solidarity Union or NPSU [Lin Pin-kuan]; People First Party or PFP [James Soong Chu-ye]; Taiwan Solidarity Union or TSU [Huang Kun-huei]. Political pressure groups and leaders: environmental groups; independence movement; various business groups. [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

Election results in 2012 for the Legislative Yuan (percent of vote by party): KMT 44.6 percent, DPP 34.6 percent, TSU 9.0 percent, PFP 5.5 percent, others 6.3 percent; seats by party — KMT 64, DPP 40, PFP 3, TSU 3, NPSU 2, independent. After the 2001 election, the DPP had 87 seats and Kuomintang held 68 seats. The PFP won 46 seats. The TSU won 13 seats. The pro-reunification New Party won only one seat. Before the 2001 election, the Kuomintang held 110 seats. The DPP had 65 and the PFP had 20 seats. See History.

The People First Party (PFP) is a splinter KMT group. It regarded as the most Beijing-friendly of Taiwan’s parties. It supports the “one country, two systems” set up used in Hong Kong. It was launched by Soong during the 2000 elections and did surprisingly well in elections in the early 2000s.

The Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) was formed by former president Lee Teng-hui in 2001 after he resigned as head of the Kuomintang (See History). The New Party supports reunification with China. It is was formed long-time Kuomintang members and younger people displeased with Lee Teng-hui. It wants some accommodation with he mainland. It so far has not faired very well. The Democratic Progressive Party is a small pro-independence party and is an ally of the DPP.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is the main opposition party and the the party of Chen Shui-ban, the president of Taiwan from 2000 to 2008, and Tsai Ing-wen, a female presidential candidate in 2012. Traditionally regarded as the party of workers, underprivileged and native Taiwanese, it was founded in 1986 by feminists, environmentalists, human rights activists and others who disliked the Nationalists. Some of its founders and early members had family members who were killed or badly injured by Kuomintang thugs. Its official color is green and it has traditionally had its stronghold in sothern Taiwan.

The DPP has traditionally been known as the pro-independence party, meaning it wants Taiwan to seek independence from China. This is rooted in the position that Taiwanese are different from Chinese and Taiwan was never really part of China. The DPP in many ways is more nationalist and more anti-Communist than the traditionally nationalist, anti-Communist Nationalists (Kuomintang). In recent years it has softened its position on the independence issue and attacked the Kuomintang as corrupt to broaden its appeal.

The DPP is divided by members who take a strong pro-independence party stance and those who take a softer approach. Support for independence is stronger in southern Taiwan. The DPP has its strongest base there. DPP supporters are suspicious of moves toward reunification with the mainland and have opposed recent efforts by President Ma Ying-jeou to form closer economic bonds and have friendlier ties with mainland China, which the Kuomintang favors.

See Chen Shui-ban, History

Kuomintang (KMT)

The Kuomintang (KMT), or Nationalist Party, has traditionally been the dominate political party in Taiwan. The party of Chiang Kai-shek, his son Chiang Ching-kuo, Lee Teng-hui (the president of Taiwan in the 1990s) and Ma Ying-jeou (the current president), it was established on the mainland China in 1912 and moved to Taiwan in 1949. Its official colors are blue. Its logo is a butterfly. See China History

The Kuomintang was party of the Chinese revolutionary Sun Yat-sen, who both Taiwan and the mainland Communists regard as the founder of modern China. For many decades it was led by Chiang Kai-shek and used to govern Taiwan as a one party state. It has traditionally supported the “one China” policy but this position is rooted in the assumption that China would be reunified under the Kuomintang not the Communists.

The Kuomintang enjoyed uninterrupted rule until 2000 and then lost presidential elections in 2000 and 2004m won by Chen Shui-ban of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The Kuomintang Party favors closer ties with Beijing than Chen’s more pro-independence DPP.

The Kuomintang has a vast grass roots organization and is much better off financially than its rivals. It has a huge business empire and receives large donations from rich Taiwanese businessmen living overseas. Before elections it mobilizes tens of thousands of people to knock on doors and give out jackets and caps and serve up dinners at party-run banquet halls. The party also has traditionally counted on the support of law enforcement authorities. By one count 85 percent of police in the 1990s were party members.

Stephen A Nelson wrote in the Asia Times, “Elections in Taiwan tend to be won in two places: in the media and on the ground with local community organizations. And, the KMT has many friends in the media. Also, in many cities and towns, the KMT has more ground troops and is better organized than the DPP. Even where it does not have more local troops (in southern Taiwan, for example) the KMT — as one of the richest political parties in the world — has a much bigger war chest. [Source: Stephen A Nelson, Asia Times, September 16, 2009]

History of the Kuomintang (KMT)

The Kuomintang was founded in 1912 by Dr. Sun Yat-sen. It consolidated its hold on mainland China by 1928 and under, Chiang Kai-shek, it led China after the Japanese were ousted at the end of World War II and was awarded one of the five permanent seats on the U.N. Security Council. But rampant corruption within the party and Chiang's inability to defeat Mao Tse-tung's communists forced 2 million party loyalists to flee to Taiwan in 1949.

David DeVoss wrote in the Los Angeles Times, Although confined to an island, the Republic of China prospered. Buttressed by a proclamation of martial law, the Kuomintang invested in banks, investment companies, television stations and petrochemical plants, eventually becoming fully integrated into the island's economic, political and social institutions. During the 1960s, the Republic of China was more often called Nationalist China, but the good times didn't last. In 1971, Beijing took Taipei's seat in the United Nations, and in 2000, the Kuomintang was reduced to minority status after 72 years of continuous rule. [Source: David DeVoss, Los Angeles Times, December 24, 2006]

Kuomintang’s Business Empire

The KMT is regarded as the world’s richest political party. At one time it owned more than 1,000 businesses, had assets worth perhaps $20 billion (2000), and companies it owned received lucrative contracts from the military and controlled the lucrative monopoly on Taiwan’s propane gas industry.

Kuomintang’s possessions in the early 2000s included seven holding companies, real estate in Taiwan, fishing plants in Alaska, a farm in Israel, a shrimp plant in Australia, a five-star hotel on the Pacific island of Palau and investments in Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and South Africa. The seven holding companies and real estate alone was worth $3.7 billion in 2000 and produced profits of $400 million a year. By contrast the DPP said it has $8 million in assets in 2000. It headquarters was three floors of an office building rented out for $7,000 a month.

When it was in the mainland the Kuomintang owned banks, factories and the Tsingtao Brewery. When it came to Taiwan it seized millions of dollars worth of property owned by the Japanese government, including a string of movie theaters that it continues to operate today.

In 1993, an economist named Liu Taiying was put in charge of the business empire. He ran it like the CEO of a modern comany, removing the party from money-losing enterprises and moved money into publically listed firms and aggressively invested money in venture capital programs at home and abroad.

Kuomintang and Corruption

The Kuomintang has been criticized for corruption, cronyism and ties with gangsters. Many nationalists in the 1990s had criminal records. The Kuomintang also has not completely sacked its totalitarian past. Until recently party leaders were chosen in secret. The KMT is still notorious for attempting to manipulate the media.

To get its candidates elected the Kuomintang has paid overseas supporters to fly home to caste ballots, redeployed military personal in districts where KMT candidates were behind and charged opposition candidates for political crimes they committed many years ago.

Taiwan president and Kuomintang leader Lee Teng-hui said in the 1990s that "corruption could kill our democracy." The KMT’s $80 million marble, chrome and pink sandstone headquarters was built on land purchased for practically nothing in sweetheart deal. In 2000, the Kuomintang was accused of selling off large amounts of stock to cause the stock market to fall sharply as a way of gaining a political advantage.

See Vote Buying

Organized Crime and the Kuomintang

Organized crime in Taiwan has traditionally had ties with big business and the Kuomintang. In China, Chiang Kai-shek hired the brutal Green Gang to kill thousands of students and labor organizers with purported ties to the Communists. When Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan many of his gangster friends followed him and set up protection rackets, brothels and gambling parlors on the island. The gangs were relatively immune from police prosecution and were occasionally called upon by the Kuomintang for their services such as the assassination of dissident writer Henry Liu in 1984.

When Chiang Kai-shek's son Chiang Ching-kuo came to power he tried to severe the links between the Kuomintang and organized crime. Today, according to Reuters, violence carried out by Taiwan's gangs is limited, though the gangs themselves exercise considerable political influence, particularly on Taiwanese county governments. It was said in the 1990s that organized crime was so deeply impeded in the Kuomintang that eliminating the gangster element completely could bring down his party. One opposition leader told Newsweek, "It's like a bees nest in a garden. If they try to burn it, they could burn down the house."

Decline and Rebirth of the Kuomintang

The Kuomintang lost presidential elections in 2000 and 2004 and thus was out of power from 2000 to 2008. It also lost its edge in the legislature in the early 2000s but gained it back in the 2004 parliament elections. See Elections in 2000, 2004, History

In the late 1990s and early 2000s the Kuomintang was accused of relying too much on it past glories and its money and failing to come up with new ideas. Alan Wachman of Tufts University told Reuters, “The KMT since the mid 1990s has been like the Russian Space Station. It’s been slowly coming apart and it is just taking a long time to realize that it has to crash to earth.”

The Kuomintang began a comeback in the mid 2000s with success in local elections after the Democratic Progressive Party began to struggle as the popularity of President Chen Shui-ban (the DPP leader) dropped sharply after his son was charged with insider trading and the president’s wife, and three members of his presidential staff, were involved in a scandal related to $450,000 missing from a secret state fund.

How Small Parties Earn Money in Taiwan

Oscar Chung wrote on Taiwan info: “Established in 1996, Taiwan's Green Party relies a great amount on the Internet because online publicity is cheaper and easier on the environment than printing campaign advertisements. It is not easy for smaller parties to raise money, but the Green Party has found creative methods of campaigning that are less costly and friendlier to the environment. For example, Calvin Wen, a senior party member, did not broadcast campaign slogans from loudspeakers mounted on trucks during his albeit unsuccessful campaign for a Taipei County district seat in January's legislative elections. Instead, he and other Green Party candidates promoted their platform by bicycling around the Taipei area. "For us, campaigning is a process of educating the public," he says. [Source: Oscar Chung, taiwaninfo.nat.gov.tw, March 2008 \^/]

“Wen says that campaigns mounted by Taiwan's major parties have devolved into a process of collecting huge sums of money and then spending it to generate publicity. "Once you win an election, you have to figure out ways to recoup the money you spent on the campaign" he says. "That's the source of corruption."\^/

The Third Society Party is another small party making the case for thrifty campaigning. "Taiwan's corruption has a lot to do with costly election campaigns," says Jou Yi-cheng, founder of the party and an unsuccessful Taipei City candidate in January's legislative elections. "Taiwan should make a law that puts a cap on campaign spending. The current election campaigns are just too wasteful." A former assistant to DPP lawmakers, Wen says that some legislative candidates spend as much as NT$100 million (US$3 million) on their campaigns. The expense for a presidential campaign is much higher, Jou notes, and can reach billions of NT dollars. \^/


Wu Den-yih is the current for vice president of Taiwan. He has also served as prime minister. He is appears ready to run for president in 2016. Some analysts say Beijing favors Wu's rise more than those of other prominent KMT figures even though he currently is not regarded as a strikingly popular politician. Wu Den-yih is an authentic ben sheng ren [of ancestry that immigrated to Taiwan hundreds of years ago as opposed to those who came with the retreating KMT after the Chinese Civil War in 1949]; he's KMT old guard; and unlike the prominent middle-aged KMT cadres such as New Taipei City mayor Eric Chu or Taipei mayor Hau Lung-bin, he has no personal dealings with Americans." [Source: Jens Kastner, Asia Times, December 21, 2011]

Tsai Ing-wen

Tsai Ing-wen, chairwoman of the Democratic Progressive Party and a political moderate who supports economic cooperation with China, was the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate in the 2012 elections. The first woman to bid for Taiwan’s presidency, she beat out former Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang by a single percentage point in an island-wide phone poll that served as the DPP’s primary. Tsai like Ma is a former law academic. She holds a doctorate from the London School of Economics. According to Reuters, “she appeared unable to press home her charges that Ma had pursued his pro-China policy with little regard to rising costs of living and a widening income gap at home.

Paul Mozur wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “A former professor known for her academic demeanor, Ms. Tsai is viewed as a moderate in the DPP. As chairwoman she has sought to increase the party's contacts with China and has accepted the necessity of economic cooperation with China, while insisting that Taiwan should simultaneously broaden trade and investment ties with other countries. Political analysts say that Ms. Tsai will seek to strike a balance between her party's formal pro-independence stance and constructive engagement with China on economic issues. The DPP received a drubbing in 2008 presidential and legislative elections following widespread accusations of corruption against former president Chen Shui-bian, who was stridently anti-Beijing. [Source: Paul Mozur, Wall Street Journal, April 28, 2011 ||||]

“The DPP has staged a strong recovery, winning the popular vote in municipal elections last year on a platform that emphasized social equality. Hao Pei-Chih, a professor at National Taipei University, said Ms. Tsai could win if the campaign focuses on social issues and eschews ideological battles about cross-Straits relations. "I look at my students, and many of them are very pessimistic about the future. When they get out of school they're not sure they will have a job," said Ms. Hao. "In order to attract these young first-time voters and key independent voters, she will likely seek to turn the dialogue to social issues like the wealth gap, rising housing costs and unemployment." ||||

On a visit to Washington, Tsai assured the United States she was not a radical and she would not whip up tensions with China if elected president. She said the DPP’s position on China has "matured along with the development of Taiwan's democracy." "The DPP's approach towards China will be stable and balanced," Tsai said at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank. "Our policy must be in line with the mainstream consensus in our society as well as international expectations and therefore we will refrain from extreme or radical approaches," she said. Tsai, however, criticized Ma for a "lack of dedication to a strong defense." [Source: Shaun Tandon, AFP, September 13, 2011]

Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times, “Tsai’ Democratic Progressive Party has traditionally advocated formal independence. In the past, pushes for independence have irritated China. Beijing has not been coy in telegraphing its preference. At a recent news conference, a spokesman for its Taiwan Affairs Office said a victory for Ms. Tsai could “inevitably threaten the peaceful development of cross-strait ties.” [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, January 4, 2012]

AFP reported: “The DPP has sharply criticized a Taiwan-China free trade agreement — one of Ma's signature achievements — saying that it could lead to Beijing's domination of the island by non-military means. But Tsai said that as the deal is already signed, the party would consider revisions only through "democratic procedures."

Annette Lu: Taiwan’s Feminist Vice President

Annette Lu Hsiu-lien was the Vice President of Taiwan from 2000 to 2008, under President Chen Shui-bian. A member of the Democratic Progressive Party, she was born in 1944 in Taoyuan City and was received degrees from National Taiwan University and Harvard Law School. In 2004, she was struck by a bullet in the assassination attempt of then president Chen Shui-ban .

After she was elected vice president in 2000, Marcos Calo Medina of Associated Press wrote: “The highest-ranking female government official in its history, she is a pioneer feminist whose career has closely tracked the island's transition from martial law to full democracy. The Harvard-educated Lu, 55, was an opposition lawmaker and county governor before former Taipei mayor Chen Shui-bian chose her as his running mate — hoping to give his already popular candidacy an extra boost from women voters. [Source: Marcos Calo Medina, Associated Press, March 19, 2000 =/=]

“Lu's ascension to the vice presidency is a vindication of the many years she had suffered as a defiant human rights activist and outspoken lawyer of Taiwan's fledgling pro-democracy movement. Her political awakening came during what is now known as the Formosa Incident in 1979, when human rights activists clashed with club-bearing riot police in the southern city of Kaohsiung. Lu, Chen and other pro-democracy activists were rounded up and Lu was given a 12-year jail term for sedition. The Formosa Group — as they were later known — helped unify Taiwan's loosely organized opposition. =/=

“Lu was released on parole in 1985, and actively promoted her pro-woman, anti-corruption platform after martial law was lifted two years later. She later won a seat in the national legislature and rose to prominence as chief of Taoyuan County, south of Taipei. She is said to have sparked Taiwan's feminist movement in the early 1970s with a series of newspaper articles on women's rights. Since then, Lu has published twelve books on feminism in Taiwan. =/=

“At the height of the military government's suppression, Lu set up women's resource centers and hotlines in Taipei and the southern port city of Kaohsiung. She also founded a publishing house that specialized in feminist literature. Fluent in English and the local Taiwanese dialect, Lu studied law at the elite National Taiwan University, graduating at the top of her class. She has graduate degrees from the University of Illinois and Harvard University. Lu has shown a keen interest in foreign affairs and has harshly criticized rival China for threatening Taiwan. She supports a "slow diplomacy'' approach to increasing Taiwan's global presence, while holding Beijing's saber-rattling at bay.” =/=

Views on Annette Lu

Tyler Marshall wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “To her admirers, Taiwanese Vice President Annette Lu is Susan B. Anthony and Margaret Thatcher rolled into one — a feminist pioneer and no-nonsense political scrapper who has broken the mold for women in one of East Asia's most conservative societies. To her critics, she's an abrasive maverick whose blunt style and caustic attacks on mainland China — whose leaders call her the "scum of the nation" — have done Taiwan far more damage than good. Either way, Lu stands today as one of Asia's most unconventional political figures: a single woman who rose from modest means to reach Harvard Law School and survive years in jail and a bout with cancer on a remarkable journey to the heights of power. "She's tested the boundaries of the system," said Hsu Hsin-liang, a onetime presidential hopeful and the former chairman of Lu's Democratic Progressive Party. "She's always controversial." [Source: Tyler Marshall, Los Angeles Times, October 20, 2003 ***]

“By all accounts, Lu is a workaholic. According to senior aides, she lives alone in a penthouse apartment just a few minutes' drive from the presidential office complex in central Taipei. She begins her days early, ends them late and frequently calls weekend meetings. "She's always so enthusiastic about her work, there's not much left for spare time," said Deputy Information Minister Lee Cher-jean, who has accompanied Lu on overseas trips. When Lu does have free time, she rarely goes out to press the flesh or relax with political cronies. Instead, she stays in, either writing or studying work-related papers. Lu's former spokeswoman, Tsai Min-hua, said Lu rarely listens to music and delegates jobs such as shopping for clothes to subordinates. ***

“Her aggressive style has made her unpopular within her party's leadership and a frequent headache for Chen. The rhetorical barbs Lu hurls at Beijing and her unabashed advocacy of Taiwanese independence have made her the darling of her party's conservative base, made up of voters who despise the mainland government and reject the ambiguity that hangs over Taiwan's status. "She's got the [brass] to say things others wouldn't dare," said Robert Wen, a Taipei electronics company executive, who, like most businesspeople, believes her blunt talk is bad for Taiwan's extensive trade ties with China. But Beijing's denunciations of her as a "lunatic" have merely added to her aura among the DPP's hard-line faithful.” ***

Annette Lu’s Life

Tyler Marshall wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Trouble has been Lu's companion for much of her life. Lu was born to a struggling middle-class family in Taoyuan County, south of Taipei. During her childhood, her father twice tried to sell her — a common practice for parents of baby girls at the time. When negotiations failed, he invested considerable energy in priming her for school. The effort paid off. She excelled in competitive exams, easily passed through a prestigious Taipei secondary school for girls and graduated first in her class at the law department of National Taiwan University. That performance won her a hefty scholarship to the University of Illinois and a front-row seat to the American political tumult and feminist awakening of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Tyler Marshall, Los Angeles Times, October 20, 2003 ***]

“Upon her return to Taiwan, she quickly weighed in against efforts to limit slots for female students in higher education with a series of strongly argued essays that social scientists now cite as a beginning of the island's feminist activism. Subsequent efforts to organize women's groups and activities made her the target of stinging personal attacks from Taiwan's political establishment. "The reason I've come so far is that I've paid a very high price," she said. By the time she left for advanced studies at Harvard in the late 1970s, Lu had also drawn the attention of the government's intelligence services — a feared organization in the Nationalist-dominated one-party state that existed at the time. When she returned home in late 1978, it didn't take long before she clashed with the authoritarian government. ***

“She joined the budding democracy movement opposed to the Nationalist monopoly on power. In one of the seminal events of Taiwan's transition from dictatorship to pluralistic democracy, she was arrested along with eight others after daring to celebrate International Human Rights Day in December 1979. She was charged with sedition and eventually sentenced to 12 years in prison, where, she said, she was harassed and mentally tortured. Only after sustained pressure from Amnesty International and local activists was she released on medical parole, after 5 1/2 years, for treatment of thyroid cancer. For all its horrors, the ordeal also contained Lu's political salvation. ***

“Among those who defended her in court was a young, idealistic lawyer named Chen Shui-bian. She retells the experience, speaking carefully and with a sense of pride. "At the time, no one thought we would come out of jail. Everyone thought we would die," she said of herself and her codefendants. "Nobody would ever expect that after so many years, one of those defense lawyers and one of those jailed would get together and campaign for president and vice president of this country. "So my encounter with Mr. Chen and the result — it's a beautiful story," she added. When Chen's presidential campaign was launched in 1999, Lu, who by then had entered politics, was governor of electorally important Taoyuan County. As a well-known woman from the northern part of the island, she was viewed as the perfect candidate to run with Chen, who is from the south. ***

“She calls it a miracle that her people elected a woman as vice president, claiming that it marked the first time in 5,000 years of Chinese history that voters had placed a woman in so high an office. She is also quick to remind a visitor that Asia's other female leaders — women such as Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Indonesian leader Megawati Sukarnoputri — rose to power by virtue of family connections and the legacies of fathers who were themselves powerful leaders. "I am perhaps the only one in Asia who has achieved so much on my own merits, coming from a very average family," she said. ***

Soong Chu-yu

James Soong Chu-yu is chairman of the People First Party (PFP) and has been a presidential candidate in several elections. Before elections in 2012, Jens Kastner wrote in the Asia Times, “Although the likelihood of Soong becoming president is almost zero, his bid is significant as it will split the voter base of the Beijing-friendly camp in Taiwanese politics to the benefit of the anti-unification Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) candidate, DPP chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen. To the KMT, this is painful deja vu. In the lead-up to polls in 2000, Soong split from the KMT and ran as an independent, with the KMT subsequently losing power to the DPP for the first time. [Source: Jens Kastner, Asia Times, November, 8, 2011 |=|]

“It's hardly a secret that Soong's attempt to spoil the chances of President Ma Ying-jeou isn't all about the current political situation, with virtually every Taiwanese aware that the seeds of the rivalry were sown years ago. Both men share remarkably similar backgrounds, being presented with almost identical opportunities in their early lives. Ma and Soong were born on the mainland side of the Taiwan Strait as KMT princelings — the former a son of a high-ranking party official, the latter as the son of a general. They both earned their doctorates in the US and on return to Taiwan became English secretaries of the late Chiang Ching-kuo — Soong while Chiang served as premier, Ma while Chiang was president. |=|

“Soong subsequently ascended to the position of propaganda minister, a job which allowed him to develop good relations with Taiwan's entertainers and the media. It was through these connections that he created a hallmark, easy-going "American" style, much appreciated in an era often described as a "soft dictatorship" under Chiang. Chiang died in 1988 and Lee Teng-hui took the helm, Soong was promoted to KMT secretary general, and in 1993, the same year, Ma became justice minister to the governor of Taiwan province. In this position, it is said, Soong set foot in virtually every Taiwanese township. Even today, the living rooms of tens of thousands of retired government employees such as policemen, teachers and rail workers across the island are still adorned with photographs depicting them shaking hands with Soong at some local function. |=|

“The down-to-earth image Soong earned himself stands in sharp contrast to Ma's. Then and now, and especially since Ma in 2009 as the president botched his response in the aftermath of the devastating Typhoon Morakot (blasting families who had lost their loved ones just a few hours earlier for not having evacuated), people have thought of Ma as an arrogant official who much prefers his comfortable office in Taipei to interacting with the population. |=|

“It was the year 2000 that brought about the first high-profile showdown between Ma and Soong. After losing the KMT presidential nomination to then-vice president Lien Chan, Soong ran as an independent. Opinion polls strongly suggested Soong was about to win the race, but suddenly news broke that his son owned several houses in the US, and that the Soong family had much more money in its bank accounts than declared. |=|

“After Soong failed to explain the source of the fortune in a timely manner, Ma quickly stepped in front of the cameras to effectively stab Soong in the back. Then, it was not the KMT's Lien, nor Soong, but the DPP's Chen Shui-bian who won. Under Chen's tenure, Taiwan was steered toward formal independence, and cross-strait relations went very sour. Soong went on to found his PFP, drawing supporters mainly from the KMT. |=|

See President Elections 2012, 1996, 2000 Under History

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourism Bureau, Republic of China (Taiwan), Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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