On Saturday, voters in Taiwan will go to the polls to elect a new president. Interest in Communist-ruled China, which claims the island as its own territory, is great, yet one word is almost entirely missing from the voluminous debate over the event: “president.” Instead, reports in the state-run news media and even in somewhat freer online discussion forums are riddled with euphemisms: “The big election.” “The leader’s election.” “The Taiwan-area election.” Where the phrase “presidential election” does appear, it is invariably encased in quotation marks, as if it were not quite legitimate. China and Taiwan have been estranged since Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists retreated to the island after their defeat in the Chinese civil war in 1949 to Mao Zedong’s Communists. Beijing continues to regard Taiwan as a province awaiting reunification with the mainland and has threatened force should the island move toward formal independence. Many Chinese state news outlets have largely focused on the mechanics of the Taiwan elections. (In addition to a president, Taiwan voters will be choosing a legislature. Or “legislature,” as the Chinese state news media renders it.)
An ironic, even patronizing, tone has also been featured: A widely circulated article in the overseas edition of People’s Daily, the Communist Party newspaper, focused on the wackier side of Taiwan politics by featuring photographs of candidates dressed up as traditional gods, or spotted dogs, to attract attention from voters.
Many people in Taiwan suffer from “election syndrome,” the article said, an obsession with politics that can result in “sleeplessness, headaches, faintness, loss of appetite, anger and violent tendencies.”
While deploring that syndrome, the article also paradoxically deplored what it perceived as its decline, saying that it was evidence that voters in Taiwan had grown bored with the process.