The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has resorted to an old electoral tactic — playing up the “stability card.” Spending millions of dollars on TV and newspaper ads, including public endorsements by several tycoons, President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration is trying to scare voters, saying that if Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) wins, it would have a disastrous effect on the economy and cross-strait relations, while society would become unstable, because Tsai and the DPP reject the so-called “1992 consensus” — which Ma and the KMT claim to be the cornerstone of cross-strait dialogue and interaction for the past three-and-a-half years.
To counteract the KMT’s “scare” tactics, Tsai has stressed that “it’s the economy, stupid” and that “all politics are local.”
It is natural that both camps should focus their message on a single issue. For Ma, “four more years” is the main theme. For Tsai, “change” is the key word. However, for voters, perhaps the best way to gauge their choice is to consider why their ballots matter so much.
In 2008, 58 percent of voters cast their ballot for Ma and the KMT, giving them a majority in both the executive and legislative branches. The US supported Ma’s conciliatory approach toward China, while Ma pledged to take absolute responsibility for the KMT’s absolute governance. Had he done a good job, he could have boasted of his diverse achievements and demonstrated stronger confidence as he ran for re-election. Instead, he has been reduced to portraying a potential DPP comeback as a “destabilizing” influence on Taiwan’s economy and cross-strait relations.
What did he do wrong? It has a lot to do with his incompetence, his failure to listen to public opinion and his over-reliance on the relationship with China. Ma has been forced to rely on the “scare card” and continued bashing of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) to try to win.
However, even if Ma were re-elected, he would likely become a “minority president” because of People First Party (PFP) presidential candidate James Soong’s (宋楚瑜) share of pan-blue votes. The number of KMT seats in the next legislature is expected to shrink to a “fragile majority.” Ma will be literally a lame-duck president and it would be easier for Beijing to pressure him into political talks.
Tsai has her weaknesses too. She has a limited political profile and administrative experience. She has been challenged for failing to present a more concrete China policy. Nevertheless, she has led the DPP back from its debilitating defeat in 2008 and prepared it to govern the country again, transforming it into a more moderate, rational, policy-oriented political force. Most importantly, if she wins, it would make her the first female president in Taiwan and East Asia. However, she will also face the dilemma of a divided government. Her proposals to push for a “grand coalition” and to generate a bipartisan “Taiwan consensus” on cross-strait relations face huge challenges.
For most foreigners, whether cross-strait dialogue and interaction can be maintained constitutes a major concern. For Taiwanese voters, whether they can improve their lot, find a decent job or better salary, see social justice in action and the wealth gap shrink are key to their decision.