Ma’s team has criticized Tsai for vagueness on these same questions and will continue to reinforce those attacks as the election draws closer. There is a widespread perception that it is to the KMT’s advantage to focus the campaign agenda on cross-strait issues, but this is not necessarily the case. Ma also has unanswered questions on China. He has achieved what he set out on China in his first term, but what are his plans for the next four years? He has also been rather vague on this. The peace accord idea is an interesting proposal, but this is a long-term objective and not feasible in his second term. In fact, the whole thing may end up backfiring, particularly with his pledge to put any agreement to a referendum.
What I would like to see is more discussion on how the two parties will tackle the pressing domestic issues. For instance, the growing gap between rich and poor, the integration of new migrants, the promotion of gender equality and reforms to Taiwan’s political and judicial systems are just a few issues that need addressing. Hopefully, these discussions will be had in the debates and in the final weeks of the campaign, but I am not too confident: Identity and external relations often dominate the final hot period of the campaign.
One of the surprises this year is James Soong’s (宋楚瑜) candidacy, the first potential third candidate since 2000. However, I doubt he will have a major impact on either campaign. Many assume he will split the pro-KMT vote and favor Tsai’s chances. My reading of the polls is that although he has more sympathy from pan-blue voters, he is also attracting support from the independents and those undecided voters that Tsai needs to stand a chance of winning. My instinct is that most of the pan-blue voters that sympathize with Soong will see he has no chance of winning and end up voting for Ma. It is completely different from 2000 when no one really knew who was ahead between Lien Chan (連戰) and Soong in the last weeks. So what are the most likely outcomes?
We can rule out a repeat of the landslide KMT victories of 2008, just as we can rule out the DPP winning both elections. The KMT’s incumbency advantage and the bias in the electoral system make a DPP legislative majority unlikely. The two most likely outcomes are that Ma narrowly wins re-election and the KMT gets a narrow legislative majority or that Tsai wins narrowly and the KMT gets a narrow legislative majority. My view is still that the first is more likely, but that the second is still a genuine possibility at this stage.
What would be the implications of such results?
Although China would prefer the former, neither is particularly promising for its objectives. Whoever wins the presidency will face much stronger domestic constraints on developing external relations. This could lead to increasing impatience from China.
However, both outcomes could be beneficial to Taiwan’s democracy. During the past four years, Taiwan has demonstrated some features last seen in the late 1980s and early 1990s in that there were no real institutional checks and balances on the ruling party, as the KMT’s majority was simply overwhelming. This should make Ma more willing to seek domestic consensus and move more slowly on relations with China, hopefully refocusing on domestic issues. However, another more dangerous scenario is that we get a return to the antagonistic and polarized politics of the second Chen term.