National elections in Taiwan have long been routine affairs. The Kuomintang, the dominant political party, regularly wins an overwhelming majority in the two elected houses, the Legislative Yuan and the National Assembly. In the past only independent candidates and two small government-approved opposition parties—which usually support the K.M.T.—have been permitted to compete. Last week, however, for the first time in 41 years of K.M.T. rule, an unsanctioned political group, the Democratic Progressive Party, successfully challenged the government. The party, formed only in September, won twelve of 73 open seats in the legislature and eleven of 84 in the assembly. It also captured about 23% of the total vote. Delared D.P.P. legislator-elect Kang Ning-hsiang: "The election proves that we already have a strong base of support. The K.M.T. will find it impossible to ignore us."
The fledgling party's successes, however, made little immediate practical difference. The K.M.T.'s iron hold on power remains unshaken, and there is no guarantee that the government will allow the D.P.P. to continue functioning. Though President Chiang Ching-kuo promised last October that he would lift martial law, which has been in effect for 38 years, and permit the formation of new political parties, the changes have yet to be approved. But even when they are on the books, the D.P.P. could continue to remain outside the law because it refuses to meet one key government requirement: acceptance of Taiwan as politically indivisible from mainland China. The party insists that Taiwan residents must have the right of self-determination.
Despite this, Chiang's government did not try to prevent the Democratic Progressives and other Tangwai (literally "outside the party") candidates from campaigning in the election. K.M.T. and D.P.P. politicians alike favored free enterprise and Western ties, and both railed against pollution and corruption. The final days on the hustings, however, were overshadowed by the attempts of Hsu Hsin-liang, 48, a Taiwanese dissident in exile in the U.S., to return to Taiwan.
The D.P.P. sent its supporters to Chiang Kai-shek International Airport on the day Hsu was due to return for what was promised would be a peaceful demonstration. But the scene turned violent after 2,000 marchers on their way to the airport were stopped by a police roadblock. Demonstrators, suspected by some of being government provocateurs, began throwing rocks, and police responded with tear gas and water cannons. By the time the fracas was broken up, 31 police vehicles had been overturned.
As it was, Hsu had never managed to get on the plane in Tokyo. Taipei had warned all Taiwan-bound airlines not to accept any passenger without proper entry documents. Two days later he used a false name to get on a flight from Manila, but Taipei had been tipped off, and he was forced to return on the same plane.
Even many D.P.P. members were dismayed by the timing of Hsu's attempted return, which was seen as a quixotic effort to imitate the tragic return from exile of Benigno Aquino Jr. to the Philippines in 1983. "If he really had our interests instead of his personal interests at heart," said a prominent D.P.P. leader, "he wouldn't be trying to come back now."