Taiwan: contradictions and perspectives after the DPP’s landslide victory

The results of Taiwan’s presidential and legislative elections were largely as expected. Incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen won over 8.1 million votes (57 percent), defeating the KMT’s populist candidate Han Kuo-yu, who got 39 percent of the votes. Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) maintains its majority in the Legislative Yuan (Taiwan’s parliament), while the newly established conservative Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) replaces the liberal New Power Party (NPP) as the third-largest party in the Legislative Yuan. Behind these seemingly clear results, however, lurk significant contradictions. The Taiwanese workers, youth and oppressed still need to actively seek their own political voice.

The DPP’s landslide victory after crushing defeats

The number of votes for Tsai this year was the highest of any candidate that has ever run for president since direct presidential elections were instituted in Taiwan. Aside from consolidating support in traditional strongholds, Tsai also won a clear majority in Taipei City and New Taipei City, which were traditionally dominated by the KMT. Tsai’s votes this year increased by over a million compared to how she did in the 2016 election. Compared to that year, when the voter turnout was 66 percent, this year’s turnout reached 74 percent.

In terms of the legislature elections, the DPP won 48 out of the 79 seats voted on by constituencies, while the KMT only got 25. For the seats determined by Party List votes, the difference between the parties is significantly smaller, with the DPP gaining 4.8 million votes while the KMT gained 4.7 million. Overall, the DPP maintains an absolute majority in the Legislative Yuan that they obtained for the first time since 2016.

This massive victory starkly contrasts with the DPP’s dismal defeat in the 2018 municipal elections. At the time, Taiwanese society was hugely dissatisfied with the DPP government, and support for Tsai dropped to 31 percent. The DPP ended up losing control over almost all city and county governments, even losing their traditional stronghold to the KMT’s Han Kuo-yu.

Yet this trend was very quickly reversed with the eruption of the Anti-Extradition Bill movement in Hong Kong. The Taiwanese people once again witnessed the brutality that the CCP regime used to oppose the Hong Kong people’s demands for expanding their democratic rights. They also considered Xi Jinping’s proposal for a “One Country, Two System for Taiwan” in early 2019 as a move against Taiwan.

The DPP took advantage of these circumstances and turned the election into a “defence” of Taiwan’s democracy. By exploiting the sense of “National Doom” (fear of the CCP’s annexation of Taiwan), the DPP successfully avoided discussions on policies and distracted voters’ attention from the anti-worker policies that they had implemented since 2016, such as the cutting of national holidays and work hour counter-reform. In fact, based on the DPP and the KMT’s responses to the seven demands from the radical trade union coalition, Workers’ Struggle Against Presidential Candidates 2020 (including raising employers’ contributions to pension funds, increasing national holidays, setting goals and plans for raising basic wages, lower barriers for unionization, ending contract work, ending private brokerage for migrant workers, resolving the laid-off highway toll workers’ demands), the two parties’ policies towards workers are largely the same, and they both appear evasive on certain demands. Thus, Workers’ Struggle participants consider both parties to be unsatisfactory.

We can, therefore, expect that the DPP will continue their previous pro-capitalist policies and attack workers’ interests now that they’ve defended their majority government. Business and Industrial organisations have already called on the government to institute a third round of counter-reforms on the Labour Standard Law, and it is only a matter of time before the Tsai government will comply. For those seeking Taiwan’s de jure independence, it should be noted that the DPP’s slogan ended up being a defence of the “democratic” state of the Republic of China. Yet it is precisely this state apparatus that the KMT brought over to Taiwan that suppresses the Taiwanese people’s democratic right to self-determination. This only reflects the fact that the DPP as a bourgeois party is essentially unable to push forward changes that would challenge the existing system and the interests of the ruling class. As the DPP has no one else to blame for their own faults in the next term, their bourgeois nature and limitations will become increasingly apparent to the masses.

Other than that, the world capitalist system is very likely to experience a slump at least on the scale of the 2008 recession in the next four years, and the DPP government will be responsible for managing the impact of this crisis on Taiwan during that period. At that time, the DPP’s own action will make clear what people and which class’s interest the DPP defends.

The KMT’s internal chaos continues

Although the KMT and Han Kuo-yu attempted to claim that they also reject “One Country, Two Systems” like the majority of the Taiwanese masses, they are still unable to mask their role as the CCP’s top political comprador in Taiwan. In this election, dominated by a single issue, the Taiwanese masses expressed their rejection of Chinese imperialism through defeating the KMT at the ballot box. Although in the past year the pro-China bourgeois media incessantly promoted Han, and pro-China forces (or those who are directly linked to the CCP) have been found investing in massive misinformation campaigns, the Taiwanese people still clearly rejected the CCP. Their revulsion towards it is clear and unshakable.

Han Kuo yu Image Han Kuo yu Official FacebookHan Kuo-yu suffered decisive defeat but may try to elevate his own position within the KMT / Image: Han Kuo-yu official Facebook

Additionally, we can see that the rise of right-wing populist figures around the world is not as dramatic as many liberals and reformists would think, and they certainly do not represent the return of fascism. Han’s unfiltered, discriminatory rhetoric, along with his attacks against “the elites” and his ridiculous policy proposals, are all of the same mold as those of Trump and Bolsonaro. His victory in the 2018 Kaohsiung mayoral election largely leaned on society’s dissatisfaction with the DPP, while there is no political alternative expressed by the working class. The seemingly menacing “Han Wave” actually rests on loose and fleeting foundations and can be easily cut across by great events or a militant, class-independent workers’ political struggle.

In fact, the KMT remains internally split. The mainstream bourgeoisie of the KMT placed high hops on Foxconn’s CEO Terry Guo, but Guo was defeated by the “anti-elite, anti-establishment” Han Kuo-yu in the primaries. Kuo later decided to leave the KMT and work with other pro-China bourgeois parties, such as James Soong’s People First Party and Ko Wen-je’s Taiwan People’s Party. Former President of the Legislative Yuan, Wang Jin-ping, a KMT grandee with enormous influence over the party’s local clientele networks, publically holds a low opinion of Han. Although the KMT establishment was forced to support Han, who is the only KMT figure with any degree of mass support, they are still unhappy with this unstable petit-bourgeois character. Thus the struggle between the Han faction and others inside the KMT continues.

Moreover, although Han was heavily defeated by Tsai, he still got over 1.7 million more votes than the KMT’s presidential candidate in 2016, Eric Chu, who is also a member of the party elites. Although Han was the party’s nominee, he is not the party leader, and his campaign was still largely directed by the party establishment. This all shows that Han may try to elevate his own position within the KMT, leaning on his crazed right-wing, petit-bourgeois supporters to move against the party elites, in the process pushing the KMT towards more instability and right-wing politics. This, in fact, reveals the polarisation of society caused by the crisis of capitalism. Centre-ground, “moderate” bourgeois political forces have been collapsing around the world, while some traditional right-wing parties, such as the British Conservative Party, have gone from being prestigious political tools of the ruling class to right-wing populist parties operated by the crazed reactionary petit bourgeoisie. The KMT’s recent development is part of the very same process.

The Taiwan People’s Party and the New Power Party

The more notable smaller parties got largely expected results. The Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), headed by Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je, has replaced the New Power Party (NPP) as the third-largest party in the Legislative Yuan. Almost no smaller parties were able to win any constituency-based seats, with the lone exception of Taiwan Statebuilding Party (TSP)’s Chen Bo-wei, who won the Taichung City District 2 seat as the only candidate against the KMT, after the DPP cordially backed out of the district. The TPP’s five seats and the NPP’s three seats were gained entirely by Party List votes.

The basis of the TPP’s eclipse of the NPP lies in the former’s connection with the capitalist class. This self-styled “anti-KMT and DPP, anti-establishment” party is still filled with second-or-third-rate politicians from both the KMT and the DPP. Such a composition, along with leader Ko Wen-je’s complete lack of political principles, convinced some bourgeoisie to turn to the TPP to enforce their will, such as Terry Guo. Yet the TPP only obtained around 10 percent of the votes in the constituency elections, thus showing that they still lack a figure that can capture mass support. However, as traditional smaller pro-China parties, such as the People First Party and New Party, lost all their seats, the TPP will likely cooperate with the KMT for the most part, while still potentially trying to eat up some parts of the KMT’s traditional support base. This will all be determined by the KMT’s own evolution.

Terry Guo Image Terry Guo Official FacebookAfter losing the KMT’s nomination to Han Kuo-yu, Terry Guo turned to support the Taiwan People’s Party / Image: Terry Guo Official Facebook

The NPP’s defeat again reveals that there is no political space for liberal petit-bourgeois parties in a period of capitalist crisis. As we repeatedly explained before, the conflict between the classes will sharply increase as capitalism descends into crisis, and small liberal parties fulfill neither the needs of the bourgeoisie nor those of the working class. The capitalists will use the politicians of big bourgeois parties to attack the working class, while the workers need a militant mass party with a socialist program to defend their own interests. As the NPP lacks a mass base and does not prioritise the interests of the working class, it will only continue to decline under the present situation. Before the election, many of its members left to join the DPP.

In this situation, activists within the labour movement should begin to lay the foundations for a mass workers’ party as a means of giving the working class its own, independent political voice. For example, the China Airline Employee Union Secretary-General Zhu Meixue ran for Taoyuan’s mayor in 2018 with a clear working-class image and policies. He then built on the support he gained during the campaign as a step towards building a future Labour Party. This is a correct and vital beginning. However, another noted labour leader in Taoyuan, Lin Chia-wei chose to run for legislator as the NPP’s candidate, seeing this as a means of continuing what Zhu had started, and Lin was endorsed by Zhu. We believe that this decision would blur the demand for the workers to intervene in politics on a class basis. It also places the fate of the workers’ political power in the hands of a petit bourgeois party whose future remains bleak. In the end, Lin got roughly the same amount of votes as the NPP’s candidates in other constituencies. They all gained around 20,000 votes (8-10 percent), with the exception of Hsinchu’s Kao Yu-ting.

Taoyuan’s labour movement is one of the most advanced in Taiwan. This is an excellent opportunity to explain to the workers there the need to build a workers’ party based on workers’ organisations. Although running in elections may help us spread this message, we need to do so on a clear class basis to explain our ideas to more workers. When Zhu ran independently for Taoyuan mayor in 2018, he got 18,000 votes on his own. This shows that the labour movement can use its own power to build a mass base and intervene in politics.

Impact on China and Hong Kong

Hong Kong protest Taiwan article Image fair useHong Kong and Taiwan’s working class have to connect with the Chinese working class to overthrow the CCP and Chinese capitalism / Image: fair use

Although the CCP attempted to use information warfare and their compradors in Taiwan to interfere in the election, they were unable to prevent the Taiwanese people from clearly rejecting them. To the results in Taiwan, the CCP merely repeated the trope of opposing “Taiwanese separatists’ forces” and calling for unification. The regime may choose to reorganise their departments on Taiwan Affairs, just as they changed the head of the CCP’s Liaison office in Hong Kong after the pro-Beijing parties suffered a massive defeat in the previous District Council election. Recently, several heads of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office were investigated by the CCP’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, which may be a means of re-staffing this office. Yet, a personnel change does not alter the limited options for China’s policies towards Hong Kong and Taiwan. They are unable to rapidly increase their level of interference in Taiwan affairs, let alone annex it, but at the same time they cannot repudiate the chauvinist call to “unify China” that they have repeated for years. Under the internal and world capitalist crisis, the trade war, and elevating class struggle and social problems, the CCP regime can only maintain its current strategy of increasing Taiwan’s economic dependence on China via the injection of capital.

The DPP’s massive victory may reinvigorate the movement in Hong Kong, reminding the protesting masses that the CCP is not invincible. Although recently a wave of unionisation has begun to take place in Hong Kong, which could prepare the ground for a true political general strike, the Anti-Extradition Bill movement still lacks a militant social programme and has no plans to spread the movement into mainland China. Although the CCP is not omnipotent, it will continue to exist as a powerful force until a revolution led by the Chinese working class succeeds. Therefore, the workers of Hong Kong and Taiwan must actively seek to connect with the workers of mainland China to fight together against the CCP regime and Chinese capitalism. The first step towards achieving this is to repudiate any anti-Chinese slurs and reject any idea of calling on western imperialists or other capitalist forces to intervene.

What is to be done?

The results of Taiwan’s election this year have again given the DPP the fullest political power, but that means they will be fully responsible for the crisis that is about to unfold. Although the Tsai government likes to tout the lowering of the unemployment rate to 3.4 percent and the youth unemployment rate to a new low of 13 percent during her administration, the systemic crisis of capitalism is exacerbating the low pay and precarious labour environment in Taiwan. According to The Reporter:

“The (Taiwanese) labor market’s low pay and precarious employment environment, along with rampant overwork caused by these conditions, have always been a serious predicament. According to the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting, and Statistics’ Manpower Utilization Survey, atypical employment reached a new height of 814,000 in 2018. Further, the rise of gig economy the independent laborers that gains work through the ‘intermediary’ of apps tend to largely work in transportation, food/package delivery, or housekeeping work. This kind of new form of employment has yet to be accounted for in the government’s atypical employment survey.”

Whether the DPP or the KMT takes hold of the administration, the problems caused by Taiwanese capitalism will only worsen in the next period. The impending world slump will directly impact on the livelihood and future of the Taiwanese workers and youth. By then the DPP will be forced to pursue austerity and other pro-capitalist policies, destroying the “progressive” image that they have built for themselves in the process. Under these circumstances, more people will be looking for a way out. Some of them may turn to Han Kuo-yu or extreme reactionaries of his kind due to a lack of a political alternative.

At the same time, however, the call of the Marxists to build a mass workers’ party will gain a wider echo. At some point the Taiwanese workers will find their own political expression, and in this process wider layers will be looking for answers that only revolutionary socialism can provide. The fact that the International Marxist Tendency recently gained a small foothold in Taiwan is a modest expression of this very same process.

Taiwan not only needs a mass party of the working class, it also needs a Marxist Tendency that can effectively promote genuine, democratic ideas of socialism to provide the entire working class a way out of the crisis. The IMT is patiently building up such a tendency around the world, including Taiwan. We sincerely invite you to join our work in Taiwan, to struggle alongside comrades and workers internationally.

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