Saturday, November 10, 2007

Elections Coming Up

Both of the Asian countries i've lived in have Presidential elections coming up soon. And I feel almost bad because I don't think I care enough about either of them.

In Korea, President Roh Moo-hyun is legally prevented from running for another five-year term (he's quite unpopular, so it might not have mattered much anyway). Practically everybody expects the December 19 election to be won by former Seoul mayor Lee Myung-bak of the GNP (Grand National Party). It's not clear exactly who Lee's main opponent is; for the past few years the Uri Party has been the GNP's main foe, but the Uri Party has completely disintegrated over the past year. (Korean political parties are very unstable; despite being the main left-wing party for much of this decade, the Uri Party did not exist yet when the last Presidential election was held in 2002, and no longer exists now that the country's holding another Presidential election.)

There's an assortment of candidates opposing Lee. The main center-left party now is the UNDP (United New Democratic Party) and their candidate is Chung Dong-young, but one recent poll shows independent candidate Lee Hoi-chang as the main challenger.

I expect Lee Myung-bak will probably win (although Roh scored quite a come-from-behind victory in 2002, and I suppose it could happen again), but I find I'm not all that concerned with the outcome.

Then there's Taiwan, which has its Presidential election on March 22. President Chen Shui-bian is barred from running again due to term limits. Ma Ying-jeou, former mayor of Taipei and charman of the KMT, is expected to win. There's still plenty of time for Frank Hsieh of the DPP (Democratic Progressive Party) to close the gap. (About half of Taiwanese politicians use Anglicized given names. It's really rare to see that in Korea.)

Taiwan has as many political parties as Korea, but in Taiwan they align themselves into two broad alliances: the Pan-Blue Coalition, centered on the KMT, and the Pan-Green coalition, centered on the DPP.

Even though I live in Taiwan, I don't have strong feelings about the upcoming election. On the single most fundamental issue in Taiwanese politics (independence from China, or unification with China?) I generally agree with the pro-independence Greens. Otherwise, I don't think the world will end if Ma wins, as he's expected to.

But the election dominates domestic news here, and always leads the front page of the English-language Taipei Times (which has a fairly obvious pro-DPP, anti-KMT slant - someday I'm going to pick up the other major English-language daily, the China Post, to see if it's as obvious about leaning the opposite way).
That huge sign in Yonghe is pretty typical of the huge election signs that have sprung up. That's Ma on the left; he's shaking the hand of some pan-Blue politician seeking local office.

The other day, I was walking down Zhongxiao East Road when a car with loudspeakers blaring a patriotic-sounding song I couldn't understand sped by - while waving the flag of the People's Republic of China. It's not unusual to hear political songs being blasted out of cars festooned with political signs and slogans, but I was amazed to see a pro-PRC version. You wouldn't expect the Beijing government to be popular here, to say the least. I think there's a lot I have to learn about Taiwanese politics.

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