This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
In the latest twist in Taiwan’s possibly most surprise-a-minute presidential election since they commenced in 1996, former Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou has announced he’s boycotting Taiwan’s Double Tenth National Day celebrations.
Calling the day Taiwan National Day, said Ma, is part of a ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) plot to make Taiwan independent.
“Since when [has] our official title … been changed from the ‘Republic of China’ to ‘Taiwan’?” said Ma in a statement on Monday.
Local pundits were quick to point out that in fact Ma himself, as president in 2010, celebrated Double Ten (Oct. 10) as Taiwan National Day.
“Remember when Ma Ying-jeou told the world as president, in English, that “‘Taiwan’s future has to be decided by the 23 million Taiwanese?’” asked Taiwan-based journalist Klaus Bardenhagen on X, formerly known as Twitter, referencing a YouTube video of Ma’s statement.
Oct. 10 is celebrated by Taiwan’s former Nationalist government, also known as the Kuomintang (KMT), as the date when the 1911 revolution started, leading to the collapse of the Manchu Qing dynasty and the founding of the Republic of China (ROC).
Taiwan acquired the name ROC when the KMT were defeated by the Chinese Communist Party and retreated to the island in 1949. The KMT and the CCP both lay claim to all of China to this day. According to the DPP party charter, on the other hand, self-ruled Taiwan is a de facto independent nation.
Ma urged voters to remove the DPP government in January’s presidential election, accusing the DPP of violating the Taiwanese constitution.
According to the latest polls, the opposition to the DPP is so divided – three high-profile so-called Blue politicians are competing against one Green candidate, Lai Ching-te – that the DPP at present looks very likely to win an unprecedented third term in January.
As for Ma’s accusation that the word Taiwan is unconstitutional, Taiwan-based Californian lawyer Michael Fahey said, “Ma should – and does – know better.
“He’s saying that calling Double 10 ‘Taiwan National Day’ is an act that does not abide by or uphold the ROC constitution – and he must also know that ordinary people will understand this to mean that ‘Taiwan National Day’ violates the constitution.”
That’s not the case, said Fahey, adding that Taiwan’s constitutional court would throw the case out.
“It’s a political question. Political questions are issues that are not subject to constitutional review because they are issues that other branches of government have sole power over.”
Ma also probably couldn’t even bring the case to court because he would have to prove that he is in some way being specifically and concretely harmed, said Fahey, which he isn’t, so he has no case.
“The only reasonable explanation is that he is disingenuously using his reputation as a legal graduate of Harvard to make a symbolic political gesture,” said Fahey.
Even China, added Fahey, has never complained about Taiwan National Day.
“There’s a very good reason for that – they object to any National day by any name because neither Taiwan nor the ROC is a nation.”
“It has been longstanding policy of the KMT to subsume Taiwan into its Greater China myth and symbol systems and suppress its independent Identity,” said long-term Taiwan observer and columnist Michael Turton.
“They have failed. Instead, the pro-Taiwan side has defeated them, hollowing out and redefining ROC symbols, such as the flag, as symbols of Taiwan. The recasting of ROC national day as Taiwan National Day is just another example of this process at work.
Ma knows this, which is why he is sulking.”
Taiwan political observer and former Tiananmen student leader Wu’er Kaixi is less forgiving. He said, “I think he’s suffering from dementia. He’s called it Taiwan National Day himself in the past, and in fact, his 2010 National Day logo doesn’t even look all that different from the DPP’s 2023 logo.”
But if he’s of sound mind, added Wu’er Kaixi, “it’s a kind of betrayal of the Taiwanese people.
“Ma was president twice and he was one of the highest polling presidents in Taiwan history. The Taiwanese who voted for him voted for a man who was unafraid of calling Taiwan by its name, as well as referring to it as the ROC. He would never have been elected president if he had refused to call Taiwan in the past.”