By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

The Lectern: Another presidential election

We in the United States are pretty fixated, of course, on our own presidential election. On Saturday another democracy goes to the polls to elect a president -- Taiwan.

As faithful readers of this blog know, during the past three years I have served as faculty chair for an executive education program at Harvard for up-and-coming forty-something Taiwanese civil servants. Getting to know Taiwan and Taiwanese, thanks to this program, has been among the top experiences of my life. The Taiwanese executive ed students are smart, uncynical (a big plus for me personally) and eager to learn. Not only I, but my colleagues, love teaching them. The Taiwanese, as a group, are probably the friendliest and most helpful people I have ever met. There's a button the Taiwan tourist office puts out saying "Taiwan -- Touch Your Heart." I wear it with pride; Taiwan has touched my own heart.

Taiwan has also, over the past ten plus years, made an amazing transition to democracy. Long an authoritarian dictatorship (it was under martial law until 1987), in 2000 Taiwan made a peaceful transition from the 50-year rule of Chiang Kai-shek's KMT party to the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, which is sympathetic to Taiwanese independence. At this point, Taiwan is a raucous democracy -- with a raucous press and occasional fistfights in Parliament -- but a proud one.

Odds are that the KMT will win the election and take power back. They have a dynamic candidate, Ma Ying-jeou, former mayor of the capital city of Taipei (and, by the way, a graduate of Harvard Law School who is sometimes photographed with a Harvard baseball cap, and who speaks magnificent English).

In a strange twist of history, the KMT -- originally the fierce opponents of the Chinese Communists -- is now the more pro-China of the two parties, and the business community hopes that a KMT victory will encourage expanded economic relations between Taiwan and China, which will help Taiwanese businesses. For this reason, the Taiwan stock market has been the best-performing stock market in the world during this year of market turmoil.

All friends of democracy should be happy to observe a presidential election in a new, proud member of the democratic club.

Posted by Steve Kelman on Mar 20, 2008 at 12:09 PM


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