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ROC presidential election, 2004

Elections for the President of the Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan are scheduled for March 20, 2004. The candidate for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, backed by the pan-green coalition, will be incumbents Chen Shui-bian as presidental candidate and Annette Lu as vice-presidental candidate. The opposition pan-blue coalition will run a combined ticket Kuomintang Chairman Lien Chan as the Presidential candidate and People First Party Chairman James Soong as the Vice-Presidential candidate.

Table of contents
1 Issues
2 Platforms and stratgies
3 Reaction from the PRC
4 Referendum
5 Other developments
6 Related topics


Although the political spectrum on Taiwan is defined in terms of Taiwan independence versus Chinese reunification, both campaigns have taken moderate positions on this issue. The reason for this is that people who are influnced greatly by either independence or unification have already decided who to vote for, and the goal of both campaigns has been to capture the moderate middle.

The main issues in the campaign are relations with the People's Republic of China, political reform, and the economy. In addition, although they tend not be noticed by the international press, local issues have been important in the campaign, particularly because these issues influence undecided voters. These issues vary from county to county but include funding for irrigation projects, the location of expressways, and location of local administrative boundaries.

Platforms and stratgies

The DPP has been attempting to portray the Lien-Soong ticket as one which would sell out Taiwan to the PRC, and has been emphasizing constitutional reform, proposing a new constitution and a referendum. This has lead to fears that Chen intends to use a new constitution and a referendum to declare Taiwan independence. Worries about this have caused the United States at several points to ask for, and receive assurances that Chen has not abandoned the Four noes and one without policy.

The Lien-Soong ticket has attempted to portray Chen as someone who lets politics get in the way of improving the Taiwanese economy. Originally emphasising Chen's inability to establish the three links with Mainland China, the Lien-Soong ticket has changed its message to focus more on what they see as Chen's inability to deal with the recession that Taiwan finds itself in, in light of the SARS outbreak in mid-2003. Until October of 2003, the Lien-Soong strategy appeared to be to avoid doing or saying anything controversial to keep its lead. This strategy was widely seen as counterproductive by the end of October.

Reaction from the PRC

Most observers believe that the People's Republic of China (PRC) would be happy to see Chen Shui-bian replaced by an administration less sympathetic to Taiwan independence and more in favor of Chinese reunification. However, some observers believe that the PRC cares less about who the President of the ROC is, than that this person establish economic linkages which Beijing believes would bind Taiwan irrevocably to the Mainland.

In contrast to the elections of 1996 and 2000, the PRC was quiet in this election until early November. Most observers believe that this was because the PRC has learned that any comments, especially in the form of threats, have been counterproductive to its own interest. However, the PRC broke its silence in mid November 2003 and issued several very sharp threats that it would not stand by if Taiwan declared independence. This widely was seen as in response to two factors. In early November 2003, Chen Shui-bian took an unofficial trip to the United States in which he was much more publicly seen than before. This trip increased his popularity on Taiwan to the point where most polls indicated that he was even or slightly ahead of Lien-Soong. The trip in early 2003, also alarmed the PRC in that it appeared to convince them that the United States would do less to constrain Chen Shui-bian than they had earlier believed.


Chen's rise in the polls caused the opposition to change its campaign strategy. To counter Chen's platform for a new constitution by 2008, the opposition campaigned for a major consitutional change by 2004. In addition, the opposition stopped its stalling of a referendum bill.

The vetting of the referendum bill appeared to alarm Beijing which issued more sharp threats of a strong reaction if a referendum bill passed which would allow a vote on sovereignty issues such as the territory and flag of the ROC. The final bill that was passed on November 27, 2003 did not contain restrictions on the content of referendum, but did include very high hurdles for referendum on constitutional issues. In addition, it contained a provision for a defensive referendum to be called if the sovereignty of the ROC was under threat. In response to the referendum passage, Beijing issued vague statements of unease.

On November 29, President Chen announced that given that the PRC had missiles aimed at Taiwan, he had the power under the defensive referedum clause to order a referendum on sovereignty, although he did not do so. This statement was very strongly criticized both by Beijing and by the pan-blue coalition. But instead, he proposed a referendum to ask the PRC to remove the hundreds of missles it has aimed at Taiwan. During a visit by Wen Jiabao, George W. Bush gave a clear statement that it "opposes" any form of referendum that will unilaterally change that status quo.

It is believed that the United States fear Chen will put the U.S. in a hard position, if his words angered the PRC and causes military confrontation between two sides. The United States has the obligation to defend Taiwan as stated by the Taiwan Relations Act, but the US is unwilling to confront China in East Asia especially while it is being tied down in Iraq. But despite the worries expressed by the United States, Chen insisted that a referendum will be held in March 20.

In a televised address made on January 16, 2004, President Chen reiterated his "Four No's plus One" pledge, justified the "peace referendum," and announced its questions[1]:

  1. The People of Taiwan demand that the Taiwan Strait issue be resolved through peaceful means. Should Mainland China refuse to withdraw the missiles it has targeted at Taiwan and to openly renounce the use of force against us, would you agree that the Government should acquire more advanced anti-missile weapons to strengthen Taiwan's self-defense capabilities?
  2. Would you agree that our Government should engage in negotiation with Mainland China on the establishment of a "peace and stability" framework for cross-strait interactions in order to build consensus and for the welfare of the peoples on both sides?

Other developments

In the months leading up to December
2003, there was speculation as to whether Chen would choose Vice President Annette Lu as his running mate. Polls had consistently showed that Chen would do better with another candidate such as Taipei county administrator Su Tseng-chang or Kaohsuing mayor Frank Hsieh and many of the DPP's most popular lawmakers had petitioned Chen to seriously consider another candidate. After several weeks of very public infighting between various factions of the DPP, Chen formally nominated Lu as his running-mate on December 11.

By the end of November 2003, the Lien-Soong ticket had appeared to recover some of the losses in polls that had occurred in October. Both groups seems as of January 2004, not to be focusing on issues of external policies, but instead are focusing on issues of personal finances. The pan-Green coalition has raised the issue of Lien Chan's personal wealth and the properties which they assert that the Kuomintang has illegally accquired while it was the ruling party. In response, the pan-Blue coalition has asked why Chen Shui-bian is much wealthier now than it was when he became President.

Curiously most polls indicate that while Chen is widely considered the cleaner candidate and that the public has doubts as to Lien's and Soong's honesty and the source of their wealth, this does not appear to affect voting decisions.

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