CHANGHUA CITY, TAIWAN —
A record number of candidates – more than 550 from nearly 30 parties, and vying for just 113 seats – are running in Taiwan’s legislative elections on Saturday, the same day voters will choose a new president.
Much of the legislative race has focused on how many seats the opposition Democratic Progressive Party may win and whether they will take control of the legislature and presidency for the first time in history.
Yet in the central city of Changhua, female candidate Lin Li-chan could possibly reach another historic milestone, by becoming the island's first immigrant lawmaker.
Lin was born in Cambodia, and when her family married her off to a man from Taiwan for money 18 years ago, she had no idea where the island was located.
Transition to Taiwan
Like many who arrived in Taiwan more than a decade ago, the transition was not easy. Lin learned the Taiwanese dialect first. And when her two children needed help with schoolwork, she went off to university to get a degree and improve her Chinese.
Now, a full-fledged citizen with a bubbly and infectious personality, Lin spends much of her time engaged in volunteer work, which led to opportunities to serve as a government consultant as well as her nomination as an at-large candidate in the legislative elections for the ruling Nationalist Party (KMT).
Lin said she is living a life she would never have imagined for herself in Cambodia.
“For many immigrants, we would never think about participating in politics in our home countries or what we could do (for society). Many would have never thought about being a volunteer in their home country, let alone participating in politics,” she said.
The language skills and cultural understanding immigrant spouses bring with them are a source of strength both for themselves and Taiwan, Lin said.
Breaking down stereotypes
By serving others -- from volunteering at a social club for the elderly to helping with tours at Changhua city’s historic train roundhouse and the immigration bureau – she said she and her immigrant sisters, as she calls them, have helped to break down cultural barriers and negative stereotypes.
“We hope to use this strength to help our fellow new immigrant sisters to not only transition to life in Taiwan but to also help with other things such as trade and with Southeast Asian countries and economic development,” Lin said.
Taiwan’s attitude toward immigrants still has room to improve, activists say. Cases of abuse and suspicions about the motives of immigrant spouses persist.
But the fact that Lin was nominated is seen as a step in the right direction. And while challenges remain, the situation has improved since she first arrived on the island, she said.
Feels Taiwan is inclusive
Wang Yan, a friend of Lin’s who also is involved in volunteer work, is from China’s Anhui province, which is located near the eastern Chinese coastal city of Shanghai. Wang said she’s found Taiwan to be very inclusive.
“I used to live in Shanghai for more than 10 years and there I always felt like an outsider. But after being in Taiwan for more than a year, I can say that I really have never felt like an outsider here,” she said.
Lin’s nomination is also recognition of the growing importance of the tens of thousands of immigrant spouses and their families in Taiwan, said Liao Qingping, who came to Taiwan from China’s Jiangxi province in 2001.
“The fact that a new immigrant can be nominated as a candidate is a new democratic beginning for the government,” Liao said.
As an at-large candidate for the KMT, Lin is fourth in line for a seat. At-large seats are based on the number of votes a party receives in the election. The KMT is projected to win at least 10 seats in the race, meaning she has a good chance of winning a seat in the lawmaking body.