Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Substance vs. Style

* The two leading mayoral candidates vying in Kaohsiung--Han Kuo-yu and Chen Chi-mei--had a televised debate on November 19. Afterwards, both candidates and respective camps were expectedly pleased with their performances. Since public opinion polls are not allowed to be published ten days before the election, there is no way to tell "who won" from that highly emotional debate.
* With the election just days away, the debate, though highly anticipated, probably would not swing the final outcome. It could, however, solidify the candidates' core support and possibly make some inroads among the middle-of-road voters, which could be the key in this hotly contested race.
* Judging solely from the debate, Han might have been a bit disappointing since he was not familiar with a number of nitty gritty details. Chen, on the other hand, came across more like an aggressive legislator, not as the future leader of the island's second-largest city. It's like comparing apples and oranges--voters of Kaohsiung will have the final say on November 24.
* Win or lose, Han will remain a prominent political figure in the foreseeable future, particularly within the Kuomintang (KMT). His direct, no non-sense style is a welcome change from the old-style politics that the KMT has been well-known for. In the case he wins, he will be, at least, a kingmaker as the island looks to the 2020 campaign. Otherwise, he is probably on the party's short list for either a presidential bid or the preferred running mate to those presidential aspirants. Indeed, the real drama begins after the November 24 vote.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Ma Ying-jeou's New "Three Nos"

* In the symposium commemorating the third anniversary of his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jin-ping in Singapore on November 7, 2015, Taiwan former President Ma Ying-jeou promulgated a new "Three Nos" position--not ruling out unification, no independence, and no use of force--on cross-Strait relations.
* This was a marked shift from his earlier version of the "Three Nos"--no unification, no independence, and no use of force--during 2008 to 2016 as president. Though he no longer holds any position within the KMT and the government, Ma's new perspectives on cross-Strait relations could have ripple effect in the upcoming mayoral elections on 11/24.
*  One of the biggest criticisms against the incumbent Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was its inability to manage the complex relations with China. President Tsai Ing-wen has repeatedly refused to accept the so-called "1992 consensus"--one China, subject to seperate interpretations, and that has made the maintenance of status quo difficult, as Beijing, among other things, has further squeezed Taiwan's international space and orchestrated the drop-off in mainland tourists to Taiwan and government-level exchanges and activities.
* Ma's latest remarks offered another indication that he plans to stay "front and centre" in Taiwan's domestic political scene, at least within the KMT. As his popularity grows amidst cross-Strait malaise, there are increasing calls for him to launch another presidential bid in 2020, when he turns 70. For politicians of any color, "never say never" seems to be a prudent approach.
* The 11/24 mayoral elections and concurrently the ten referendums could have a huge impact on Taiwan's political landscape and prospects of 2020 presidential race. With just two weeks to go, leaders from both the KMT and the ruling DPP have been out campaigning for respective party nominees, Ma included. More importantly, these two weeks will provide an opportunities for likely presidential hopefuls--KMT Chair Wu Den-yi, outgoing New Taipei City Mayor Eric Chu, former Legislative Yuan (LY) Speaker Wang Jin-pin, and Ma himself--to "test the water" before making future plans.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Will He or Won't He...

* With the mayoral elections in Taiwan just two weeks away, political parties and candidates have stepped up their efforts in the final dash toward the finish line. The picture does not look particularly promising for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), however, as their nominees now appear to be the underdogs in a number of key races.
* Barring something unforeseen, Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je will win his reelection as the top executive of the capital city. The only suspense remaining is by how big of a margin for the incumbent mayor.
* Overall, the political landscape will likely undergo changes if current projections hold. It will make life more difficult for the ruling DPP, as Taiwan looks forward to the 2020 presidential and legislative elections.
*  President Tsai Ing-wen will most likely seek reelection in 2020, and the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) may need to first resolve intra-party rivalry, especially if it wins big on 11/24, before reaching consensus on a presidential candidate. Judging from the KMT's past history, that will likely be a difficult and divisive process.
* Not the DPP or the KMT, the overwhelming attention will be on the future plans for Mayor Ko Wen-je. Though he has reiterated there are "no plans" to run for president in 2020, the expectations are that he will, as an independent candidate, launch a presidential bid in 2020.
* Without a political party that provides local organizational support throughout the island, it will be an uphill battle for the one-time surgeon. Ko is currently one of the most popular Taiwanese politicians in the Internet world. The challenge is to translate his support on-line into concrete votes with, at best, a make-shift organization in the presidential run. No one should discount Ko's abilities to put forth a presidential campaign, but it will be tough.  

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Prelude to Reconciliation?

* After months of tensions and escalating rhetoric, US President Donal Trump and Chinese President Xi Jin-ping had a phone conversation last week over trade. Though no details were given, the exchange was apparently productive despite US threats of imposing additional tariffs on $267 billion of Chinese imports.
* Markets around the world, particularly in Asia, reacted favourably to this development, gaining anywhere from 2-4% on 11/1 and 11/2 combined. There is no evidence last week's rebound would translate into a sustained recovery if US-China relations continue to make, albeit incremental, progress. The period leading up to the G20 summit will be critical.
* With midterm elections just days away, some suspect the Trump-Xi phone call was a designed and calculated step by Washington to stabilize battleground states that voted for Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016, and seize as many seats as possible in those Congressional districts that supported Clinton in 2016. Many of these fiercely contested states were hard hit by the recent US-China trade war, however.
* Beyond just a referendum on Trump't first two years in office, the midterm election results may redefine the remaining two years of his presidency. Though there's been talks of a possible impeachment proceeding against Trump if the Democrats gain control, at least, of the House, they remain premature and speculative. Besides, any more divisive steps by either the Democrats or Republicans would further undermine the already-fragile trust between individuals, groups, and communities in the US under President Trump.
*  There is indication that Trump and Xi will likely meet at the G20 summit in late November, but there is no reason to believe that one meeting would cure all the ills in this complex relationship. The allegations Washington has made against Beijing--not conforming to international norms and practices, uneven playing field, and state interference in the private market--now appear to be exactly what the Trump administration is doing under the guise of "America first." Nationalism and unilateralism may win votes in an election, but who is to pick up the pieces, both domestically and internationally, when the final tabulation is done?

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Momentum is Changing...

* With the yearend mayoral elections just three weeks away, the momentum seems to have shifted in favour of the opposition Kuomintang (KMT). From Taipei to Kaohsiung, many KMT candidates have either solidified their lead or narrowed the gap. The overall picture does not look promising for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
* Reasons for DPP's electoral woes are many. First and foremost, the administration's apparent inability, or unwillingness, to stabilise cross-Strait ties with China. Rising tensions have, in turn, led to declining mainland tourists and economic activities. The direct casualty is the island's hospitality and retail sectors.
* Though the majority of Taiwanese prefers the maintenance of status quo, they would like to see President Tsai Ing-wen and the DPP administration "better manage"  this emotional but vital relationship. From rhetoric to action, tensions have been rising since Tsai took over in May 2016. Since Tsai refuses to accept, or acknowledge, the so-called "1992 consensus," there does not seem to be an end in sight as the standoff continues.
* Two things to watch as the mayoral campaign enters the final days:
(1) Which party or candidate(s) would make the fewest mistakes, irrespective of strategy or substance; and
(2) Which party is able to mobilise its supporters and attract most middle-of-the-road voters?
* It maybe too early to call the election, and three weeks can be a lifetime in politics.