I did not think the DPP would gain control of the legislature from the KMT, but I also did not believe they would lose this badly. The KMT won 82 out of 113 seats. Ouch! Before the KMT just had a slight majority, enough to create deadlock. It seems this was a referendum on Chen Shuibien’s administration.
If Ma wins the presidency and completes KMT dominance, a lot of things will change in Taiwan. The 8 year deadlock has caused significant social stagnation on the island. I’m sure China will be pleased with this. The KMT are not ready to rejoin China, but they will not make any provocative moves either. This takes pressure off of American and Japan. Closer economic ties with the Mainland would likely help to jump start the economy; right now Taiwanese business is handicapped, which is a primary reason that business is firmly behind the KMT.
I repeatedly noticed during the campaign that the KMT has calmed down some of their “pro-mainland” rhetoric. It seems that multi-party democracy has led the Taiwanese government to reflect the pragmatic mood of the public. This is a good thing. I do not interpret this as a push by Taiwanese people (Benshengren and Waishengren) toward a pro-China position, but more of a pulling back of the more extreme rhetoric from Chen Shuibien in recent years; economic sluggishness; and corruption in the DPP (who originally ran on anti-corruption). The campaign rhetoric in both the Pan-Blue and Pan-Green camps has been to moderate their positions to the center. A good example of this is the fact Ma did not oppose the UN Referendum. He just opposed “how it was being handled”. My understanding was he wanted Taiwan to try to join the UN under the Republican of China (or maybe China Taipei); whereas he feared Chen wanted to do it as “Taiwan”, which would indicate “political separation” from the mainland.
As I have said many times, I am not pro-reunification or pro-independence. I’m pro-democracy. If this is what the people want then so be it.
Will Ma be Taiwan’s next president? It looks very likely.
Opposition wins easily in Taiwan
The Associated Press
Saturday, January 12, 2008
TAIPEI: Taiwan’s opposition Nationalist Party won a landslide victory in legislative elections Saturday, dealing a humiliating blow to the government’s hardline China policies two months before the presidential election.
President Chen Shui-bian resigned as chairman of the Democratic Progressive Party immediately after his party’s defeat. “I should shoulder all responsibilities,” Chen said. “I feel really apologetic and shamed.”
Chen has been criticized for aggravating relations with Beijing by promoting policies to formalize Taiwan’s de facto independence from China. Critics say that has allowed Taiwan’s once vibrant economy to lose competitiveness and ratcheted up tension in the perennially edgy Taiwan Strait.
The election on March 22 to chose a successor to Chen, who must step down after eight years as president, pits Frank Hsieh of Chen’s Democratic Progressive Party, or DPP, against the Nationalists’ Ma Ying-jeou. Recent opinion polls give Ma a 20-point lead.
The Nationalists, or Kuomintang, favor more active engagement with China and do not rule out eventual unification. The DPP wants to make official the independence Taiwan has had since a civil war nearly 60 years ago, but has held back due to fears that Beijing would make good on its repeated threats to attack.
With most votes counted, TV station San Li projected the Nationalists would win 82 seats in the 113-seat legislature, against only 27 for the DPP, with four going to independents. In Taiwan’s bitterly partisan media environment, San Li is a strong DPP supporter.
The legislature was halved in size, from 225 seats, under electoral reforms approved by voters in 2005. Even so, on a proportional basis the DPP’s showing and that of the allied Taiwan Solidarity Union were the parties’ worst performance in an island-wide election since 2001.
If the Nationalists go on to recapture the presidency, they will be in a strong position to end years of deadlock between Taiwan’s legislative and executive branches, and to stabilize the island’s rocky relations with China.
Shelley Rigger, a Taiwan specialist at Davidson College in the United States, said it was still possible for Hsieh to win the presidency, but only if he distances himself from Chen, whose approval rating has plummeted amid a series of debilitating corruption scandals and a sputtering economy.
“Hsieh needs to pull himself out of the shadow of Chen Shui-bian and run his own campaign,” Rigger said. “He needs to convince people that he is different from the rest of the party.”
During Chen’s two terms as president, the Nationalists used a slender legislative majority to block many of his policy initiatives, including the purchase of a multibillion-dollar package of U.S. weapons. Also left stagnating have been negotiations to open direct air and shipping routes between Taiwan and China.
Ma took a high-profile role in the legislative campaign, pressing home his message that Chen’s reluctance to engage China inflamed tensions with Beijing and hurt the island’s economy, one of the 20 largest in the world. Taiwan is also a major research and manufacturing base for the computer industry.
Ma also drew attention to American unhappiness with Chen’s China policies. Twenty-nine years after it shifted recognition from Taipei to Beijing, the U.S. remains Taiwan’s most important foreign partner, supplying it with the means to defend itself against any future Chinese attack.
But Washington has made it clear it finds Chen’s China policies dangerous and provocative, particularly a planned referendum on Taiwanese membership in the United Nations, which appears designed to underscore the island’s political separateness from the mainland.
In contrast to Ma, Hsieh maintained a relatively low profile in the legislative campaign, apparently because of his ambivalence over Chen’s pro-independence stance.
Hsieh hews to the DPP’s pro-independence line in principle, but has made it clear he rejects some of Chen’s hard-line policies, including his moves to limit Taiwanese economic ties to the mainland.
He has come out in favor of ditching Chen’s across-the-board requirement that Taiwanese companies limit their investments in China to less 40 percent of their asset value. He has also indicated a willingness to expand direct charter flights across the Taiwan Strait.
Ma and the Nationalists go considerably further. They want to remove the asset requirement altogether, and sanction scheduled flights between China and Taiwan.