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Taiwan Presidential Election and Its Outcome

Satoshi Amako,
Professor,
Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies, Waseda University

Tibet Riot and Rapidly Emerging Disputes

The first presidential election in four years saw Nationalist Party candidate Ma Ying-Jeou securing a landslide victory over Democratic Progressive Party candidate Frank Hsieh, allowing the party to march back to power for the first time in eight years. The election turned out to be a quiet one, lacking excitement due to the convergence of popular belief 10 days prior to election day. The Nationalist Party candidate who gained sweeping victory in the Legislative Yuan last December, continued to dominate a 2-digit lead over the DPP candidate in later polls. The March 5 to 7 polls conducted by the Sun Yat-sen University, Social Science School Public Opinion Research Center also showed a vast gap between the two with Ma securing an approval rating of 41.3% and Hsieh 19.8%. The Research Center used the special "Spiral Philosophy" analysis method to make the final prediction that 56.4% of the Taiwanese would vote for Ma and the remaining 43.4% for Hsieh. However, came the riots in Tibet immediately after this, which rapidly brought to surface communist party problems, which had been hiding till then, in the final stage of the election campaign.

Cool Political Attitude

This made the perfect incident to inspire Taiwan nationalism of "whether to become independent or unify" and "whether their identity was Taiwan or China" , which has always been a hot issue in presidential elections to date. However the outcome was Ma ran away with an overwhelming win of 2 210 000 votes, acquiring 58.5% of the people's support. Hsieh's win was 41.5%. This result more or less matched the final prediction by the Sun Yat-sen University Center, and the strategy to win support for the DPP using campaigns protesting "reign of terror by the communist party" and "anti-China" through the riots in Tibet proved totally unsuccessful. This also in a way reflects that the party politics of the Taiwanese and their feelings towards China have become cool and realistic, and influence of sensationalistic Taiwanese nationalism is growing smaller.

Ma's Sweeping Victory,Support for Unification with China

It however should be noted that Ma's sweeping victory does not immediately mean "support for unification with China". The December 2007 polls prominently demonstrate the people's marked wariness towards the unification as well as their strong identity of being Taiwanese. Specifically, in respect to the independence-unification issue, the polls revealed that only 3.3% replied that the two countries should unite immediately, another 7.5% said the country should become independent immediately, with the majority of 89.2% saying they wanted Taiwan to remain as it is. The breakdown for this is; unify after remaining as it is for some time: 9.5%, decide what to do later: 46.3%, remain as it is forever: 21.2%, and become independent later: 12.2%. Regarding the Taiwanese-Chinese identity issue, only a mere 5.5% identified themselves as being "Chinese". In contrast to this, 43.7% replied they were "Taiwanese" and 45.8% that they were "both Taiwanese and Chinese".

Ma's administration has successfully dealt with such identity issues of the Taiwanese as well sentiments towards China astutely. They first concentrated on securing the middle class and layer disappointed with the DPP (green party) upon deeming it possible to secure the pro-blue party (National Party color) layer. Ma, who is from mainland China, spoke in native Taiwanese to appeal to the people as the New Taiwanese. Secondly, in their policies towards China, they pledged from early their "three-no policy" of no declaration of independence, no declaration of unification and no military aggression if elected, skillfully avoiding issues with China to become the contested ground. Thirdly, they appealed the presence of China as "favorable opportunity" for Taiwan to resurface, advocating the "cross-strait common market" plan which aims to proactively promote economic interchange with mainland China to rejuvenate Taiwan's economic vitality. When the riots in Tibet erupted, Ma's administration promptly strongly criticized the suppressive actions taken by the Chinese government to appeal their distance with China. Another question was whether Ma's policy line of Taiwanification of the National Party would be accredited, and apparently it has been.

DPP's "Negative Legacy"

The cause of Ma's victory is also the cause of Hsieh's defeat. In particular, the past eight years of Chen Shui-bian's administration proved to be a very heavy "negative asset" to Hsieh. Despite economic growth, other problems were escalating during this period; high unemployment rate (officially 3.91% in 2007, but a different Taiwan statistical survey showed the unemployment rate of youth to be more than 8%), widening gap between the rich and poor, hollowing of industry, etc. Leader Chen who emerged with a clean image succumbed to a dirty administration with the discovery of large-scale corruption involving close aides including his wife. Being a minority government, he constantly faced criticism from opposition parties in the Legislative Yuan and was thus unable to practice his politics. He was also denied dialogue by the mainlandfs communist regime for being an independent party. Eventually, he was even given the cold shoulder by President Bush whom he had relied on. With constant faction-fighting within the DPP as well as unending power struggles, the last days of Chen's administration were equivalent to a state of being forsaken as a "do-nothing" ministry. It should take time for the DDP to rebuild itself.

Stabilization of East Asia

Considering the future trends of international relations surrounding Taiwan, Chinafs orientation towards moderation seeking stability and peace should grow strong externally for some time with the upcoming Beijing Olympics, Shanghai Expo, and instability problems at home. Both Korea's new president Lee Myung-bak and Japan's prime minister Fukuda are pro stability and peace. Ma's emergence is welcomed basically in Japan, Korea, and the U.S., from the viewpoint that the situation in Taiwan and East Asia would not intensify, and things would remain as they are. Ma's administration is therefore expected to first repair relations with the U.S. which collapsed under Chen's rule. Relations with Japan are also expected to be the same, or Ma may seek new closer ties. Boosted by Japan and the U.S., he is also expected to improve relations with China to ease current tension. To date, Japan has remained silent, taking Taiwan's "anti-China stance" as being a preventive move. However, with the framework for cross-strait coexistence and collaboration gradually being established though not an easy task, the choices that Japan make will be an issue.

Satoshi Amako,
Professor,
Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies, Waseda University

Profile:

Born 1947 in Okayama Prefecture. Graduated from Waseda University. Completed masters at Tokyo Metropolitan University and Ph.D at Hitotsubashi University. From 1981, served as associate professor at University of the Ryukyus, professor at Kyoritsu Women's University, and Aoyama Gakuin University, and is currently a professor at the Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies, Waseda University. During this time, he also concurrently served as a researcher at the Japanese Embassy in China (1986 to 1988), guest professor at American University (1999), and chairman of Japan Association for Asian Studies (1999 to 2001). He has been the director of Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies, Waseda University since October 2006.

Primary works:

"CHINA-Transforming Socialist Power"(University of Tokyo Press, 1992), "Life-Size CHINA" (Keisoshobo, 2003), China as Seen from Japanese Eyes (China Social Science Literature Publications, 2006), "China, Asia, Japan could become a Threat?"(Chikumashobo 2006), etc.