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Taiwan Presidential Election: Results and Process.

1. Election Results. The Nationalist Party (Kuomintang, KMT) presidential candidate Ma Ying-Jeou won a landslide victory today, defeating the Democratic Progressive Party candidate Frank Hsieh by 17% (58.5% to 41.5%). Ma won about 7.6 million votes, compared to 5.4 million for Hsieh. The results exceed even the election-eve expectations of the KMT, which was hoping that its internal polls showing a victory margin of about 11-13% would hold up.

Compared to the 2004 election (in which the DPP's margin of victory was only 0.22%), the KMT improved its performance in every Taiwan county by 7-10%, and won 20 of the 25 counties. (The only county where the KMT did not improve dramatically was Kinmen County, which consists of some small islands very near to China; a large percentage of the population of Kinmen County is military and their families, and the military has historically favored the KMT. The KMT got about 95% in Kinmen in both 2008 and 2008.) The only counties with the DPP won were a cluster in southwest Taiwan, the party's heartland.

The KMT and DPP positions on domestic policy were not greatly different, but the DPP nevertheless suffered from voter unrest about lower economic growth rates in recent years, in comparison to the rapid economic growth of not long ago. The parties have significant differences on international relations, particularly on how to deal with China, but both Ma and Hsieh are moderates within their parties. For further analysis of the policy implications of the election results, tune in next to a webcast of a TV program in which I interviewed a pair of Taiwanese political scientists. (Details later.)

The DPP also performed very poorly in the January elections for the legislature (Legislative Yuan), in part because a group of 11 DPP incumbents were defeated in primaries by hard-liners who could not carry swing districts. Nevertheless, because Hsieh is a moderate, there is a significant possibility that DPP's remaining moderates may be driven from leadership roles.

President-elect Ma will take office on May 20.

A pair of initiatives were also on the ballot, regarding Taiwan's membership in the UN. A DPP referendum asked if Taiwan should apply to join the UN under the name of "Taiwan." A KMT counter-initiative asked if Taiwan should apply to "rejoin" the UN under the name of "Republic of China" or "any other convenient name." Both initiatives received an overwhelming majority of votes cast, but neither passed, because the law states that no initiative will be valid unless 50% of eligible voters (not actual voters) vote on the initiative.

2. Election Process. The voting and vote-counting were a model of integrity, transparency, and efficiency. I observed voting at three north-central Taipei precincts: at St. John Bosco Catholic Church, and at a pair of precincts voting at National Taipei University.

Throughout Taiwan, voting was by paper ballot, with marked ballots placed into sealed ballot boxes. Photography during the voting process is forbidden, but is allowed while the ballot are being counted.

When the ballot box is opened, and vote-counting begins, each ballot is held up one-by-one, and the vote is announced. The vote-counting is open to the public, and is observed by party representatives, as well as other interested citizens.

Each vote is recorded on a tally sheet which is also visible. Each small box on the tally sheet holds a total of five votes, which are recorded one at time with hashmarks. The completed five-strokes of the hashmark form a Mandarin character which means "correct" or "upright."

After the last ballot is tallied, the empty ballot box is displayed for all to see.

The results are transmitted to a district election office, and then the district results are sent to the Central Election Commission, where results are displayed as fast as they are recorded.

The Central Election Commission's work (which was conducted in an auditorium at the National Police Academy) is open for everyone to watch, with the data processors located at the front of the room.

Between the time when we left our precinct after the votes were counted, and when we arrived at the Central Election Commission, about half an hour had elapsed. By then, the CEC was already displaying over half of the votes cast nationwide.

In a typical American general election, which may have dozens of races and issue votes, it would be very difficult to achieve such speedy results with hand-counting. Even so, the transparency of the Taiwan process inspires confidence and helps assure legitimacy.

As in any election, there are plenty of people who are disappointed with the result, and no one should minimize the difficulty of the challenge that President Ma will face in ensuring that when he leaves office in 2012 or 2016, Taiwan's freedom and sovereignty have not been eroded by its aggressive neighbor. But for now, all the people of Taiwan should be proud of their beautiful island of freedom, and their successful exercise of the inherent right of the sovereign people to chose their government.