Projecting the post-election scene

By Liu Shih-chung 劉世忠  / 

Wed, Jan 04, 2012 - Page 8

As the presidential and legislative elections approach, what concerns the foreign community is the possible development of post-election politics. And the results of the elections will determine not only the new landscape of party politics, but also complicate cross-strait relations.

In the presidential elections in 2004 and 2008, there were clear winners. Former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) both won a majority of votes. In the 2000 presidential election, Chen won as a “minority president,” owing largely to a split between the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) candidate, then-vice president Lien Chan (連戰) and independent candidate James Soong (宋楚瑜).

The Jan. 14 elections will most likely duplicate the scenario in 2000 thanks to Soong’s participation in the race. Despite Soong not being as strong in this campaign as he was in 2000, he could attract at least 5 percent of the vote, the majority of those votes coming from Ma’s camp according to various polls, which could be enough to unseat Ma.

In the 2008 presidential campaign, when the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was in its worst shape, its candidate still won nearly 42 percent of the vote. This time, DPP presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) is expected to increase her party’s share of votes. Even if Tsai fails to garner 50 percent of the vote, she is expected to receive between 47 and 48 percent.

With Soong expected to win at least 5 percent of the vote, or between 600,000 and 700,000 of votes, depending on the turnout, it is very likely that Tsai will beat Ma. Even if Ma wins re-election, because of Soong taking votes from the blue camp, he could become a “minority president” in his second term. This would give him less of a mandate to push any bold agenda.

The second key indicator is the number of seats the major parties win in the legislative election. The most optimistic estimate for the DPP is to win 50 seats, but 45 is the most likely number. The KMT is likely to maintain its majority in the legislature, but its de jure majority depends heavily on whether Ma can win re-election.

If Ma loses the election, the KMT would face a potential split and internal power struggle. Its majority in the new Legislative Yuan might be further dented if the new Tsai administration successfully reached out to other parties. Particularly if Soong’s People First Party (PFP) wins at least five seats, it would increase the opportunities for the new DPP government to cooperate with the PFP, other independent legislators and some KMT legislators to form a de facto majority on an issue-driven basis. As Tsai pledged during her campaign, she has not ruled out establishing a non-partisan special task force to handle cross-strait affairs or a coalition government to consolidate a majority. This would constitute one of the major items on the DPP’s agenda during the four-month-long transition were Tsai to win.

Different results would produce different policy implications for Taiwanese and the foreign community. If Ma wins, there will be a continuation of his administration’s policies. Beijing would increase its pressure on a second Ma administration to begin political negotiations and further entrap Taiwan in its own definition of a “one China” framework. Ma’s biggest challenge would center on his possible failure to consolidate a “majority presidency” and on improving his administration’s poor governance.

In the case of a Tsai victory, it depends on whether she can secure a majority of votes. If not, she will face the same dilemma that Chen faced in 2000 — a lack of sufficient mandate to be a “majority president.” And because her party will remain a minority in the legislature, it would require more political wisdom and skill for Tsai and her administration to seek bring about party-to-party cooperation.

Another, tougher challenge for the possible Tsai government is China’s reaction. Based on the experience of 2000, as well as the fact that Beijing will undergo its own power succession in the spring, the chances of the Chinese leadership showing goodwill to a new DPP government are slim. Even if Tsai makes efforts to replace the KMT’s so-called “1992 consensus” with an alternative basis for cross-strait dialogue, Beijing would most likely repeat its old strategy of “watching Tsai’s words and deeds” for a certain period of time.

Liu Shih-chung is a senior research fellow at the Taipei-based Taiwan Brain Trust.