The five special municipality elections to be held in December are crucial for Taiwan’s future and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), political experts said.
At the end of the year, Taipei County will become a directly administered city called Sinbei City, while Taichung City and County, Tainan City and County and Kaohsiung City and County will be merged into directly administered cities, in accordance with a decision by the Executive Yuan last year at the request of the cities and counties concerned.
Soochow University political science professor Lo Chih-cheng (羅致政) said the elections were important because of cross-strait concerns.
President Ma-ying-jeou (馬英九) and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) have expressed the hope of signing an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with Beijing in May. If that happens, Lo said, Taipei and Beijing would start talks on political issues by the middle of the year, citing the director of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, Wang Yi (王毅), as saying that after Taiwan signs an ECFA with Beijing, there would be few cross-strait economic issues left for both sides to discuss, so dialogue on political issues would be unavoidable.
Lo said political dialogue would possibly include signing a peace treaty with Beijing, so to slow down “Ma’s reunification with China policies,” the DPP has to win the municipality elections and then challenge Ma in the 2012 presidential campaign.
“The elections could decide Taiwan’s destiny,” Lo said.
If the DPP is able to secure three of the five seats up for grabs at the end of the year, Lo said, the party would govern more than 13 million people, accounting for 60 percent of Taiwan’s population.
The DPP could then make Ma a “lame duck,” he said.
Michael You (游盈隆), another professor at Soochow University and former vice chairman of the Straits Exchange Foundation, said: “If the DPP loses the 2012 election, there would be only one result for Taiwan, it would end up in the hands of the Chinese communists.”
You said a good performance by the DPP in the municipality elections could boost morale within the party and build momentum that could carry it all the way to victory in 2012.
The DPP has lost badly in elections since 2005, causing concern that the party’s appeal has faded.
The KMT took 81 seats in legislative elections in January 2008, while the DPP only managed to win 27.
In the same year, Ma scored an overwhelming victory in the presidential election in May, taking nearly 60 percent of the vote to defeat DPP candidate Frank Hsieh (謝長廷).
The DPP finally bounced back, however, in elections last year.
Although the KMT clinched 12 of the 17 counties and cities up for grabs in the December elections, the DPP secured four seats, or 45.32 percent of the total ballots, a 7.2 percent increase on last time, marking the party’s best performance since 2001. The party was also able to win three legislative by-elections last month.
The results were a pivotal point allowing the DPP to bounce back, while the KMT has gone from prosperity into decline, Lo said.
You said the challenge facing the DPP ahead of December, however, was who would represent the party in the municipalities and how would it remain unified in the face of intensive competition for nominations.
You said his dream team would be former premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) in Taipei City, DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) in Sinbei City and Frank Hsieh in Taichung.