With enthusiasm, though not quite passion, voters have had their say in the presidential and legislative elections. The peaceful and smooth execution of the elections is a sign of deepening and maturing democracy, and democracy in Taiwan is the real winner.
In 2008, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was elected by a margin of more than 2.2 million votes and he was further backed up by his party gaining a near three-quarter legislative majority. His four-year road toward re-election has been filled with scares and dangers, and in the end, he only defeated the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) by a margin of 797,561 votes.
The concern for the nation’s disadvantaged and for the Taiwanese values that Tsai displayed during her campaign received a resounding response from voters, and although she was unable to lead the DPP to victory over Ma and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), she ran an excellent campaign. She lost honorably.
Ma’s campaign focused on the so-called “1992 consensus” and cross-strait relations. In the final moments of the campaign, several business leaders came forward in support of Ma and the consensus. On several occasions, China also said that without the “1992 consensus,” cross-strait relations would be destabilized. These threats from both sides of the Taiwan Strait were effective in frightening many voters into voting for the pan-blue camp.
The question is if Ma’s re-election will mean that cross-strait relations remain stable and continue to develop. Not necessarily.
Over the past few years, China has continued to nurse and support the Ma administration. Paying no attention to cost, Beijing has offered many policy benefits and advantages, what Ma and his government have called “peace dividends.”
Following Ma’s re-election, we can be quite sure that China will no longer keep a low profile in relations with his government, in particular since Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) is scheduled to step down this year. Before he does, he is almost sure to want to make progress on the Taiwan issue as part of his political legacy. We can therefore expect China to increase its pressure on Taiwan.
As revealed in documents published by WikiLeaks, Ma and the KMT’s top leadership are under pressure from Beijing to enter talks with China. Now that China has helped Ma win re-election, Beijing will want to collect on the “political debt” that Ma has racked up.
Ma stressed several times ahead of the election that he would not enter into political talks with Beijing or visit China if re-elected, but judging from his weak political style, it will be up to the opposition, the media and the public to supervise him and see that he sticks to those promises in the face of Chinese pressure, and that Taiwan’s interests and sovereignty do not sustain further damage over the next four years.
Over the past four years, the Ma administration has been criticized over its poor performance, and if it were not for the intervention of the National Stabilization Fund, the stock market could well have dropped to its lowest point in a decade. The unemployment problem has not improved, blue-collar salaries have dropped, housing prices are skyrocketing, the wealth gap is widening and Ma has been unable to deliver on many of his 2008 election promises. These are some of the reasons why Ma’s road to re-election has been so difficult.