How Taiwan’s elections challenge the authority of the Chinese Communist Party | Election news

If free and fair national elections are considered the hallmark of any democratic nation, Taiwan has much to boast about.

In January, the self-governing island held its eighth presidential election simultaneously with the parliamentary vote.

Just 160 kilometers (100 miles) on the other side of the narrow Taiwan Strait, the Chinese Communist Party has ruled China since 1949, and although the party often claims to rule a democracy, there is no comparable electoral process. With Taiwan.

Chinese President Xi Jinping He referred to “whole people’s democracy” to describe the Chinese political system where “the people are the masters” but the party-state apparatus manages the affairs of the people on their behalf.

Qin Kai*, a 35-year-old businessman from Shanghai, does not support Xi’s definition of democracy.

“The truth is that the (mainland) Chinese people have never been allowed to choose their leaders,” Kane told Al Jazeera.

“This is just propaganda.”

Qin’s critical assessment contrasts sharply with the Chinese Communist Party’s often-made assertion that one-party rule is satisfactory in the eyes of the Chinese people.

President Xi has long said that China is following a unique development path guided by its distinctive system of governance. Chinese officials have also criticized Beijing’s human rights and democracy record as being based on a lack of understanding of China and the Chinese people.

Chinese President Xi Jinping takes the oath of office.  He places his left hand on the Chinese constitution and his right hand in a fist.  It is in the Great Hall of the People.
President Xi takes the oath during the third plenary session of the National People’s Congress of China in the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing in March 2023 (File: Mark R. Cristino/Pool via Reuters)

That is why Taiwan’s hosting of successful multi-party elections challenges Beijing’s argument that liberal democracy is incompatible with Chinese culture.

Meanwhile, Taiwan’s liberal democratic system runs counter to Xi’s vision of a renewed Chinese nation under the control of the Chinese Communist Party and a wayward government. Taiwan is finally unified With mainland China.

“The Taiwanese experience represents a clear affront to the rhetoric of the Chinese Communist Party,” said Chung Ja-ian, associate professor of Chinese foreign policy at the National University of Singapore.

Taiwan’s election is a more sensitive topic for Beijing than elections in other democracies, because the democratic model Taipei presents could be a more direct source of inspiration for people in mainland China, said Yaqiu Wang, director of research for China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. At the US-based advocacy group Freedom House.

“When you see that people from your group are democratic and can elect their own leaders, that can cause particular frustration toward your unelected leaders,” Wang said.

“This makes the Taiwanese elections a threat to the Chinese Communist Party,” she added.

China censors Taiwanese elections

Perhaps it was not surprising that while the leaders of countries such as Japan, the Philippines and the United States congratulated Taiwan on the successful conclusion of its elections, the Chinese government did not.

Relations between China and Taiwan have deteriorated since the election of outgoing President Tsai Ing-wen in 2016.

The Chinese Communist Party, its alternate president-elect, William Lai-cheng-ti, and other members of the Democratic Progressive Party consider it foreign-backed separatists and has not ruled out using force in its future plans to unify Taiwan with China. .

Chen Binhua, spokesman for Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office, responded to the election results by saying that Lai’s 40% vote share and the DPP’s loss of its parliamentary majority reveal that the party “cannot represent mainstream public opinion on the island.” The outcome “will not hinder the inevitable trend of China’s reunification.”

On social media in ChinaMany people’s reaction to Chen’s comments was to focus on Beijing’s democratic credentials.

“Enough, how can you criticize other people’s elections when you don’t even allow elections to be held at home,” one user wrote on Chinese social media platform Weibo.

“So the general election does not represent mainstream public opinion? What new kind of understanding is this?” “(Tao’s office) is the most shameless, useless and rubbish government department,” read another comment, while a third directly attacked Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office.

All three comments have since been removed by censors.

Elaine Long*, a 31-year-old translator from the Chinese city of Shenzhen, told Al Jazeera that she found comments criticizing Taiwan’s elections ridiculous when measured against the shortcomings of China’s political system.

“You can’t ask questions about public opinion in Taiwan when people in China have never been allowed to choose anything other than the Communist Party,” Elaine said.

Freedom House’s Wang noted many similar Chinese responses appearing across Chinese social media platforms as Taiwan’s election results emerged.

“But many of them were removed quickly, even within a few minutes, many of them were gone,” she told Al Jazeera.

Hashtags, comments and news related to the Taiwanese elections have been repeatedly removed from Chinese social media by the state’s vast censorship network. Besides heavy censorship, there were also signs that on Taiwanese election day, Chinese authorities attempted to drown out interest on Chinese social media by amplifying other hashtags.

Such actions served as a way for the authorities to remove public criticism, according to Wang, but the underlying sentiment remained one of discontent with the Beijing government.

China’s democratic deficit in difficult economic times

Ken Kai from Shanghai believes that much of the online commentary about Taiwan’s elections was actually intended to express dissatisfaction with the situation in China.

“The economy is not good for a lot of people, and many of them are suffering so they are taking the opportunity to take out their frustration on the government,” he explained.

Ken believes that the elections in Taiwan also show the extent Beijing and Taipei have drifted apart.

Ken recounted how his grandparents told him how they were afraid Taiwanese nationalists would attack China, and that they had heard stories from Taiwan of crackdowns on Taiwanese people.

After the Kuomintang (KMT), known as the Chinese Nationalists, were defeated by the Communists in the Chinese Civil War, they fled to Taiwan in 1949 where they initially had ambitions about reoccupying mainland China. To strengthen their grip on Taiwan, the Kuomintang imposed martial law, suppressed civil liberties and arrested Taiwanese who opposed their rule.

He added: “But today it seems that Taiwan has free elections, a good economy, and good relations with Western countries, while China has none of these things.”

In his view, China’s democratic deficit became particularly evident during the Covid-19 outbreak in Shanghai in 2022 when most of the city was placed under a strict lockdown.

“The lockdown was worse than Covid,” he said.

“A lot of people suffered, but the government did not listen to us or care about us, and perhaps it would have been different in a more democratic system.”

Epidemic prevention workers gather before their shift to take care of buildings where residents are doing home quarantine in Beijing
COVID-19 pandemic prevention workers gather before their shift in front of buildings as residents are isolated in their homes in Beijing, in December 2022 (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

For Eileen Leung in Shenzhen, the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic has convinced her that China needs political reform, with Taiwan’s recent elections offering an attractive alternative.

Elaine paid close attention to the elections in Taiwan as she studied at a university for two years starting in 2013. Now, the cold air blowing between Beijing and Taipei has made it even more difficult to arrange business trips and visit her friends in Taiwan.

“So, I was hoping that the opposition party would be elected this time so that things would be easier again,” she said, referring to the Kuomintang, Taiwan’s largest opposition party, which has traditionally been more friendly to China than the Democratic Progressive Party.

On election weekend, she was disappointed when the final tally of votes showed the DPP’s Lai had won, but at the same time she respects the result.

“And I think the Chinese government should learn to respect such elections as well and perhaps also be more open to holding similar elections in China,” she said.

“If the Taiwanese can hold free elections with different political parties, why can’t we?”

Elaine also believes that democratic reforms would strengthen the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party in China and its claim that the Chinese people are their own masters.

“This would show that they are serious about people’s democracy.”

*Names have been changed to respect their request to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the topic.

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