The presidential election results are in, and President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) won the re-election he wished for. Since the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) won a majority of the legislative seats, Taiwan will be continue to be governed by Ma and the KMT for another four years. The voters have made a collective decision, and politicians and political parties will have to humbly consider public opinion as they debate their gains and losses, victories and defeats.
Ma received a majority of the vote, but despite the advantages offered by China’s help and the mobilization of the state apparatus, his proportion of the vote dropped by 6.85 percentage points from 7.66 million votes or 58.45 percent of the vote in 2008. In other words, he lost more than 760,000 votes despite the fact that the number of eligible voters increased.
The reason for this decline was not that “After three years in power, you’re bound to irritate someone,” as Ma said. The reason was because during the past four years, many policies have failed to live up to the public’s expectations and even aroused dissatisfaction and provoked questions. As Ma celebrates his re-election, he must therefore also never forget that almost half of Taiwanese are concerned about his policies and the direction in which he is leading Taiwan.
More concretely, during Ma’s term, the economic situation has brought suffering to the public and national sovereignty has taken a hit: These are two main reasons for his loss of votes. Economically speaking, his love for China and big business has caused unemployment to rise, and farmers and blue collar and office workers have not shared in any economic progress, as their salaries have dropped while housing prices are skyrocketing. The number of working poor has increased sharply and the wealth gap has widened.
The Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) piggy bank campaign during the election was just one expression of grassroots feeling. By pinning its hopes on China, the government is causing investment, consumption and employment to flow to China, resulting in a worsening economic dynamic and less fair sharing of the results.
The loss of national sovereignty is abundantly clear. During the election, the government may have used the so-called “1992 consensus” and the Republic of China to stress that there is “one China” and that each side of the Taiwan Strait has its own interpretation of what that China is, but at any meeting where someone from China is present, it shrinks back of its own free will. Internationally, Taiwan has even been denigrated to the status of a Chinese province.
Ma is deceiving himself and the public that the economic policies China is using to trap Taiwan are a sign of improving cross-strait ties and a “peace dividend.” This is clearly difficult for the public to accept: The Taiwan Solidarity Union, whose mission it is to prevent rapid unification, was the third-largest beneficiary of the party vote, while the New Party, which is promoting quick unification, went up in smoke.
The clear drop in Ma’s vote also highlights discrepancies in decision-making and staff appointments. Within the party and the government, Ma and his campaign manager, King Pu-tsung (金溥聰), have been criticized for working behind closed doors. In society at large, they extend privileges to Ma’s supporters, something that has often has drawn criticism. The president must be concerned with universal interests and respond to domestic and external challenges to the country.