Ma in Trouble?


Taiwan is an interesting island — despite its small size, it has the tenth-largest economy in Asia (26th in the world) and plays an outsized role in regional strategic reckoning because of its uncertain status.

So polls here, even local ones, can be interesting if they shed light on the broader struggle between the ruling KMT, which seeks closer ties with mainland China, and the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, which is more independence minded.

And the results at the weekend for President Ma Ying-jeou–who has pushed for better ties with the mainland–were cause for concern for his party. Although the KMT only lost two of the races it won in the same polls in 2005, it saw its share of the vote fall 2 percentage points, while the DPP’s jumped 7 points.

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As Ted Galen Carpenter of the Cato Institute writes for us in an upcoming snapshot on Taiwan, Ma’s election has merely delayed one of the region’s major potential flashpoints, and it would be interesting to see what would happen to these currently warmer ties should Ma’s popularity continue to slide and he was defeated in 2012.

I asked Taipei-based blogger and editor Leonard Chien for his take on what has prompted the apparent slide in KMT support. He told me:

‘There were many influential elements in this election. While tensions between China and Taiwan have somewhat relaxed since Ma’s inauguration, many locals still have doubts about interactions and dialogue with China. Last year, when the Chinese official managing Taiwan affairs, Chen Yunlin, visited Taiwan, he attracted a lot of protesters wherever he went. He’s visiting again later this month and the main opposition party DPP has already planned to call for protests again.

‘The current government’s inefficiency in explaining China-related policies also exacerbates social insecurity and dampened its election performance. Governments in China and Taiwan are planning to sign an economic agreement called ECFA, but no one in the government has clearly explained, or at least not often enough, the contents and essence of this plan. Confusion and uncertainty leads to insecurity, if not panic, and many frustrated voters decided not to vote, or went more strongly for the opposition.’

US politician Thomas (Tip) O’Neill once said all politics is local. Maybe. But some local politics can have very big implications.

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