President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has won a dramatic victory. He has used the advantages of incumbency and overcame suggestions from some polls that the election was very close. Part of Ma’s victory came from voters who initially said they would vote for People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜), but changed their minds at the last minute to ensure Ma’s victory.
During Ma’s second term we can expect a continuation of the policies from his first term. If China cooperates, Taiwan will deepen economic cooperation with the giant across the Taiwan Strait. Yet, Premier and now vice-president-elect Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) has said on several occasions that Taiwan is economically over-dependent on China and that the nation needs to expand trade with other partners in Asia and around the world. Will there be such moves during Ma’s second term to reduce such over-dependency?
Whether Taiwan gains more international space will remain to be seen. Will Taiwan gain better status in the World Health Assembly? Will Taiwan gain access to other international organizations? Will China continue to belittle Taiwan with terms such as Taipei China (中國台北) instead of Chinese Taipei (中華台北) or the Republic of China on Taiwan? Will Ma’s “diplomatic truce” continue to be respected by both sides so that Taiwan’s diplomatic allies do not switch to Beijing? Will Taiwanese gain visa-free status to the US? Will the US and other nations provide more ministerial-level visits?
The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) also won a healthy 64 seats in the legislature, seven more than required for a majority. The difficulty for Taiwan is that the political system does not generate disciplined political parties. Thus, in parliamentary systems such as the UK, Australia and Japan, a government falls if it loses its parliamentary majority. This does not happen in the US or Taiwan. One of the difficulties facing the Ma government will be keeping the legislative majority disciplined.
In 2008, the KMT defeated the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) by more than 16 percentage points in the presidential election. Former DPP chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) is to be congratulated for winning more than half of those votes back for her party.
However, one in five of her votes in the presidential election leaked to the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) in the party vote, where the TSU won three times as many votes as forecast, with 9 percent, the third-highest party total. The TSU’s strong showing indicates some unease with the softening of the DPP’s policy toward China.
The DPP won only 40 legislative seats, well under the 45 that the leadership privately hoped to gain. Even with the TSU’s three seats, the pan-greens have only 38 percent of the seats, an improvement on 2008, but still insufficient for a party hoping to win back control of the government. This poor result clearly indicates that the DPP must reconsider how it determines its nominations for legislative seats, a process that has failed in the past three legislative elections.
Although the DPP has made some gains, it still has a considerable distance to go before regaining the presidency. This campaign showed some substantial difficulties with the DPP and its campaign organization.
Tsai initially did not listen to advice. Thus, for example, her performance in the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) debate with Ma was disastrous. After that, she improved her debating performance, but her key aides, who controlled access to her, remained limited to three young women. These aides were overworked and blocked access to Tsai herself. On several occasions her aides proved they weren’t up to the tasks facing them and the DPP.