24 October 2016
Supporters of Taiwan's New Power Party wave flags at a rally in Taipei ahead of the general election on Saturday. Photo: Reuters
Supporters of Taiwan's New Power Party wave flags at a rally in Taipei ahead of the general election on Saturday. Photo: Reuters

Why HK people love to watch Taiwan election festival

Thousands of Hong Kong people, including politicians, media practitioners and students, are traveling to Taiwan to observe the conduct of the general elections on the island on Saturday.

It’s certainly not their intention to meddle in the internal affairs of Taiwan, but the occasion offers them the chance to watch Taiwanese choose their own leaders, something which they cannot do under the current political setup in Hong Kong.

Another exciting prospect in the election is that the opposition Democratic Progressive Party’s Tsai Ing-wen is expected to win the presidential race, ending the eight-year rule of the pro-Beijing Kuomintang.

It will be recalled that Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou met Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Singapore on Nov. 7, a historic event that signified growing ties between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.

But many Taiwanese viewed the meeting with concern as China continues to regard the island as a renegade province that it wants to bring back under its control, by force if necessary.

Taiwan voters will be given three ballots, one for the president, another for their representative in the Legislative Yuan, and the third for the political party they support.

Each vote carries the same weight; it will be counted and reflected in the final results.

The political exercise could be either exhilarating or depressing for Hong Kong people.

It’s certainly a happy experience to take in the festive, carnival atmosphere on the island as candidates woo the people during the election campaign and voters exercise their right to elect their leaders and representatives on election day.

But it could also be sad if it reminds Hong Kong people that they still cannot vote for their own leader, 18 years after the former British colony returned to Chinese rule.

In 2014, Hong Kong people staged a massive civil disobedience campaign to demand genuine universal suffrage, but Beijing did not heed their clamor despite 79 days of street protests.

And last year, the Hong Kong government’s “one man, one vote” proposal for the 2017 chief executive election, which provides for the vetting of candidates, was rejected in the Legislative Council.

So with no hope of being able to elect their own leader, Hong Kong people could just travel to Taiwan to witness how the Taiwanese do it. 

Apart from the presidential race, another interesting aspect is the parliamentary election, which will see the Kuomintang, the DPP and other opposition forces battling it out to secure a majority of the legislature’s 113 seats.

New Power Party, a political organization founded after the Sunflower Movement in 2013, is expected to be the nation’s third biggest political party in the new legislature.

A growing number of Taiwanese voters are getting tired of a political arena that is dominated by Kuomintang’s blue army and the DPP’s green camp.

They want new faces who will do real work, rather than just engage in empty verbal, and sometimes physical, clashes in the legislature.

Some Hong Kong people are hoping that Freddy Lim, the lead vocalist of Taiwanese heavy metal band Chthonic, will win a seat in the parliament.

Lim somehow reminds them of Hong Kong artists like Denise Ho and Anthony Wong, who cast their lot with the pro-democracy movement at the risk of incurring the wrath of mainland authorities and losing the patronage of mainland fans.

Indeed, Hongkongers feel a lot of affinity with Taiwan. While Taiwan is an independent political entity with its own government, its economic and political life is affected by its powerful neighbor from across the strait.

While top leaders in Beijing are trying to keep their mouths shut regarding the island’s election, they are very much interested in its outcome.

DPP’s Tsai, for example, remains a question mark as to how she will handle cross-strait relations if she becomes the next president.

While Beijing obviously wants the KMT to remain in power because of the latter’s readiness to strengthen cross-strait ties, it has to contend with the disenchantment of the Taiwanese people over China’s growing influence in the island.

In the final stage of the election campaign, pro-Beijing Taiwanese artist Huang An accused fellow artist Chou Tzu-yu of being pro-independence after the latter posted the Republic of China’s national flag on her social media account.

As a result, her management firm canceled all her projects on the mainland and issued a statement saying that she fully supports the “One China” policy.

Meanwhile, mainland telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies suspended all its promotional campaigns that featured Chou, citing her political stance.

The incident prompted Taiwanese people to rally behind Chou and condemn Huang for his radical pro-Beijing stance.

It has also served to strengthen support for pro-independence candidates in Saturday’s election.

Hong Kong people can sympathize with Chou’s experience as the same thing is happening to many artists in the territory who lost a lot of career opportunities on the mainland after they have been identified with the pro-democracy camp.

If Taiwan has a Huang An, Hong Kong has the likes of Anna Chan, a member of the radical pro-Beijing group Caring Hong Kong Power who urged event organizers in China to cancel their invitations to Hong Kong artists who joined the Occupy protests in 2014.

While many Hongkongers may envy Taiwan people who can vote for their leaders without Beijing’s intervention, they should remember that Hong Kong and Taiwan are in the same situation of having to deal with the growing influence of Beijing.

Hong Kong should not just observe or envy the success of Taiwan’s democracy. It should draw inspiration and lessons from its struggle to preserve its independence, join hands with Taiwan activists and form a united front in asserting our right to forge our own destiny.

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EJ Insight writer

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