The upcoming local nine-in-one elections have entered their final stages, with most public polls showing that the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) is likely to suffer huge losses, particularly in the mayoral seats of six municipalities and commissioner seats in 16 counties. Various polls, including some by KMT-friendly media outlets, suggest that President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration will lose at least Taipei, Greater Taichung and Keelung. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) seems likely to add at least two or three mayoral seats. Moreover, independent Taipei mayoral candidate Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), who is supported by the DPP, is very likely to beat his KMT counterpart, Sean Lien (連勝文).
If the prediction is correct, Ma would face not only a potential power struggle within the KMT, but also uncertainty on cross-strait relations after Nov. 29. The chance for the DPP to win back central government power in 2016 will increase.
Facing such changes and dynamics, it is time to assess the nation’s domestic and external policy environment next year by identifying elements affecting cross-strait relations.
The Sunflower movement, which erupted in the spring, counterbalanced the way the Ma government fast-tracked cross-strait ties. In the summer, Chang Hsien-yao (張顯耀) was accused of divulging state secrets while serving as Mainland Affairs Council deputy minister. Chang’s case illustrated the lack of transparency in the government’s negotiations with Beijing. The cooking oil scandal this fall involving the Ting Hsin Group has further undermined the KMT’s election prospects, as well as public trust in Taiwanese business conglomerates that have invested in China and earned huge fortunes. Finally, the Occupy Central protests in progress in Hong Kong challenge Beijing’s so-called “one country, two systems” experiment.
Current cross-strait relations have entered problematic areas and require further reassessment.
After urging Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) for months to hold a meeting with Ma on the sidelines of the upcoming annual APEC summit in Beijing, Ma has seen his hopes for such a historic meeting evaporate after Beijing’s expected refusal.
In his Double Ten National Day address, he took a tougher stance, when after reiterating that Taiwan upholds the so-called “1992 consensus” of “one China, with different interpretations,” he expressed his strong support for Hong Kongers’ struggle for universal suffrage. Ma even appealed to Beijing “to let some people go democratic first.”
Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office shot back by saying: “The Taiwanese authorities should not make irresponsible comments about Hong Kong.”
Since Ma’s approval ratings have been dismal for a long time, he needs a high-profile meeting with his Chinese counterpart to divert attention from his incompetence, while leaving a legacy on cross-strait relations. However, deeply disappointed about Ma’s inability to push the cross-strait service trade agreement through the legislature, Beijing no longer intends to deal with Ma. Instead, China is preparing to join hands with the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) leaders of the “post-Ma” era. Cross-strait relations are expected to slow next year as Ma becomes a “lame duck” president.
On the DPP side, the election prospect looks encouraging. DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) chances to win the DPP nomination for next year’s presidential election have markedly increased. However, even if the DPP wins big in the local elections, this does not necessarily mean it will return to power in 2016, since the pan-blue camp’s sense of crisis over the possible loss of central government power will increase, as will its resulting sense of solidarity. This time, Tsai’s opponent would no longer be Ma.