The election-eve shooting of Sean Lien (連勝文) notwithstanding, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) still lost the overall vote in the recent five special municipality elections by about 400,000 votes.
Some people believe the shooting benefited the KMT in the north, and harmed the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in the south, but this was not borne out by a Global Views Monthly magazine survey. Experience suggests the DPP generally does better in elections than pre-election opinion polls say, but in these elections the party performed slightly worse than the Global Views survey predicted. Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌), the DPP candidate for Taipei City, got 5.5 percentage points less than forecast, while DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) in Sinbei City, Su Jia-chyuan (蘇嘉全) in Greater Taichung, William Lai (賴清德) in Greater Tainan and Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊) in Greater Kaohsiung fell behind by 3.7 points, 0.5 points, 2.1 points and 2.8 points respectively.
Beijing will claim, as the government here has done, that the Taiwanese have little to be unhappy about — this year’s economic growth rate is at a 20-year high, possibly due to economic integration with China after the signing of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA). During the election campaign, the DPP avoided the issue of independence. Could it be because it realized that discussing the current cross-strait situation would help the KMT? So, why did the latter still lose the popular vote?
The two main parties may well have kept quiet about cross-strait issues, but that didn’t stop it from being the dominant undercurrent in the elections.
The first reason for this is the high degree of cross-strait economic integration. This, coupled with the hollowing out of industry in Taiwan as manufacturers relocate to China, has meant unemployment and salary stagnation here, and bigwigs getting positions in China while small stores in Taiwan watch their business shrink. Consequently, the general public doesn’t see the actual benefits of this GDP growth.
From 1991 to 2007, income from labor as a percentage of GDP fell from 51.4 percent to 44 percent. A drop of this magnitude has not been seen anywhere else in the world. In the last three years, of the four Asian tigers, Taiwan and Hong Kong have trailed Singapore and South Korea in average GDP growth and rate of employment. Discernible in this undercurrent is a sea change in the political topography in Taiwan.
The second reason was a function of the Taiwanese collective consciousness. When the Asian Taekwondo Union’s (ATU) technical delegate Zhao Lei (趙磊), who happens to be from China, spoke out against Taiwanese athlete Yang Shu-chun (楊淑君) in the Asian Games in Guangzhou recently, the KMT thanked him, and this did considerable damage to the pan-blue camp.
In these elections we saw the KMT having to deal with yet another crisis: the significant weakening of local factions. In the past, even if the DPP won in county commissioner or mayoral elections, the KMT still had an overwhelming advantage in the county and city councilor elections.
Things were different this time around. In this election the votes were spread 38.6 percent to 35.34 percent, translating to 130 seats each. The KMT used to be able to get at least 60 percent of the village chief seats: This time it was able to secure less than a third of the seats and the overall vote. In another link in the local factions network — the urban and rural townships and the cities — these local factions have stayed away from the elections, leading to an unprecedented crisis in the KMT’s core support.