At a time when democratic values are under siege in many parts of the world, Taiwanese citizens last month demonstrated their continued firm commitment to a free and open political system. In the January 11 elections for president, vice president, and national legislators, nearly 75% of eligible voters cast their ballots. In the U.S., in contrast, the highest turnout in the past half-century was 58.2% in 2008 (the lowest was 49% in 1996).
Journalists and scholars from around the world who came to observe the elections were impressed not only with the size of the turnout, but also with the decorum exhibited by the candidates and their followers. Despite the heightened emotions aroused in the course of the campaigns, no untoward incidents marred the electoral process. Losing candidates graciously acknowledged their defeat and accepted the fairness of the vote count.
Also impressive was the efficiency of the polling places in managing the casting and tabulation of the votes. Final results were available within about five hours after the polls closed. That achievement was especially notable considering that each voter cast three separate ballots: for president/vice president, district legislator, and political party preference to determine the allotment of national-slate legislators.
The election was widely covered by overseas news organizations, providing a rare opportunity for Taiwan to capture the attention of the international media and to show how deeply democratic practice has taken root in Taiwan. Although Taiwanese have voted for township, city, and county leaders since the 1950s and national legislators since the 1970s, it was only in 1996 that the first direct popular election was held for president and vice president.
Over the decades, the public has sometimes found the workings of democracy to have its frustrations. Infighting among political parties, as well as the checks and balances between branches of government, often complicate the decision-making process for public policies.
But the Taiwanese are rightfully proud of their democratic accomplishments and determined to sustain them. No other system can provide the respect for the individual and encouragement for creative thinking that a modern society requires.
For their part, multinational businesses operating in Taiwan also appreciate Taiwan’s democratic advances as making for a more stable and positive investment environment. The development of democracy, for example, has institutionalized the rule of law and the principle of an independent judiciary. Both domestic and foreign companies can feel more confident that they will not be subject to arbitrary and unpredictable decisions by administrators or unfair treatment by the courts.
AmCham Taipei congratulates the winning candidates in last month’s elections and, even more importantly, commends the Taiwanese people on another successful demonstration of their devotion to a democratic system of government.