by Brian Hioe
AS WE ALL know by now, Taiwan’s next president will be a woman. This has been an object of much attention in international press coverage. While Tsai will not be the first female president of an East Asian country, this being Park Geun-Hye of South Korea, international media touts the historic nature of that Tsai is the first female president of an East Asian country who does not come from a political family. It is also claimed that Tsai is now the most powerful woman in the Chinese-speaking world.
Although the presidential race ultimately resolved to a race between Tsai and Eric Chu, during the point in time in which Hung Hsiu-Chu was the presidential candidate of the KMT, international media previously seized upon that the next president of Taiwan would be a woman. Ironically enough, after Eric Chu resigned from his position of chairman of the KMT following his loss, in the crisis of succession for the next chairman of the KMT, the two strongest candidates for chairman, Hung Hsiu-Chu and Huang Min-Hui, are both women. This means the KMT will likely have a woman as its next chairman.
International media would be particularly interested in the aspect of 2016 presidential elections in which the next president of Taiwan will be a woman. One suspects that much of coverage of elections was to juxtapose Taiwan to China, seeing as Taiwan has democratic elections to choose its head of state, and China is not a democracy, only having elections for certain local positions. Notably, China has a lack of powerful female politicians. Emphasis on Tsai as a female president has been a large part of the narrative about the Tsai victory so far and this has benefitted her overall image, seeing as Tsai faces uphill challenges to prevent from being seen as a dangerous pro-independence warmonger.
Yet if claims that Tsai Ing-Wen is “Taiwan’s Angela Merkel” or even “Taiwan’s Sarah Palin” have also followed suit, this would be on the pure basis of association because Tsai is a female politician and so, too, are Merkel and Palin. One would hope that Tsai, who claims a socially progressive political vision, would not be a figure of the right as Merkel or Palin. Tsai has herself claimed admiration for Merkel, but probably this on the depoliticized basis of Merkel being one of the most powerful female politicians in the world.
Tsai claiming admiration for Merkel has less to do with Merkel’s politics than Merkel being another example of a powerful female politician. Tsai has called for embrace of a multiethnic and multicultural society in Taiwan, for one, where Merkel has on the other hand called for restrictions on refugees. Along such lines, Tsai has bizarrely attempted to claim Merkel as having been a supporter of letting refugees enter Germany when this was a highly reluctant move on Merkel’s part.
On the basis of being a female politician Tsai has also praised Park Geun-Hye of South Korea, who we might, in fact, dub South Korea’s Chiang Ching-Kuo, as the daughter of former dictator Park Chun-hee who has spearheaded renewed authoritarianism in South Korea under her rule. Tsai even wrote a promotional blurb to the Chinese-language translation of Park’s autobiography when released in Taiwan.
In the case of Park, Tsai may be seeking geopolitical alliance with South Korea against China, but we see quite quickly the limits of praising female politicians simply for being female when their political views may be reprehensible. One would have thought that this lesson would have been well learned after the experience of Margaret Thatcher sometime in the 1980s, never mind contemporary examples of powerful, right-wing female politicians as Merkel, France’s Marine Le Pen, Park herself, or Taiwan’s own Hung Hsiu-Chu.
Certainly, that Taiwan could elect a female presidential candidate reflects progress where gender equality is concerned. We see this quite clearly, in that in the past year, we have seen accusations that Tsai is unfit to lead Taiwan’s military as its commander-in-chief because she is a woman. We see this also in James Soong’s claim that Tsai is unable to understand the needs of the nation because she does not have a family of her own, as well as Shih Ming-de’s accusation that Tsai is a closeted lesbian, which also somehow makes her unfit to be president. Tsai Ing-Wen being elected as a female president of Taiwan hardly means that all problems of sexual or gender discrimination have been solved in Taiwan.
If there have been comparisons, Tsai is a far cry from Merkel or Palin. If Hung Hsiu-Chu had become the next president of Taiwan, such comparisons may have been more apt. Yet it remains that the electoral victories of female politicians leads to the depoliticized view in which the victory of a female politician occludes consideration of what politics they stand for. And this is a sign of continued gender disparity in politics within itself.