The past two months have been eventful as far as cross-strait interaction goes, and yesterday's National Assembly elections, which roughly coincided with the conclusion of opposition leaders' controversial trips to China, have come to be viewed as a gauge of public opinion on politicians' recent actions.
It is not hard to see why the timing of the elections might make it tempting to transform the vote results into a sort of affirmation or protestation of differing views on cross-strait policies. The election follows closely on the heels of controversial China visits made by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜). Both leaders had come home after having hammered out communiques with Chinese President head Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), which urge closer cross-strait economic ties and increased communication.
In addition, looking at the larger picture, the elections take place in the wake of Beijing's enactment of its "Anti-Secession" Law, which authorizes the use of force against Taiwan to check what it calls "secessionist activity" and marked the beginning of a new juncture in cross-strait relations. At the time the Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) administration had cautiously put the brakes on cross-strait interaction, saying that it would have to thoroughly evaluate the impact of the legislation before going ahead with the previous course of its China policy.
Yesterday's elections can thus be seen as the first systematic assessment of public opinion on the various events since the legislative elections in December last year. Several analysts saw the pan-green party's comparative victory yesterday -- with the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) taking the lead and the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) beating out its pan-blue counterpart, the PFP -- as proof that the recent bout of "China fever" propelled by the opposition leaders' visits to China has had little impact on the majority of Taiwanese voters.
"The pan-green camp's success indicates that people were not really influenced by the `China fever,' and there has been a sort of backlash," Hsu Yung-ming (
A recent poll commissioned by the Mainland Affairs Council would further confirm that conclusion.
Asked about the increasing indirectness in cross-strait ties, 42 percent said it was appropriate, up from 35.8 percent December of last year. The poll questioned roughly 1,000 respondents during the first week of this month.
In addition, Hsu said that a KMT win would have been a vote toward increasing cross-strait interaction. He explained that had the KMT received more votes than its main competitor, the DPP, there would have been a greater likelihood of Lien's holding on to the KMT chairmanship, and hence a push for increasingly cozy ties with China. He said that Taipei Mayor and party chairmanship candidate Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) would be faced with increasing pressure to formulate cross-strait policies that Lien, as an outgoing political figure, does not have to worry about.
But caution should be taken in equating voting patterns with public sentiment. The low voter turnout of 23.36 percent certainly suggests that the election was an imperfect representation, but more importantly, voters and politicians have both professed to confusion at the ballot box.