Saturday, November 27, 2010

Taiwan's voters go to the polls tomorrow

The mayoral elections for the five special municipalities in Taiwan--Taipei, Xinbei, Taichung, Tainan, and Kaohsiung Cities--will take place this Saturday, November 27. More than just a “dress rehearsal” to the 2012 presidential election, the results from this weekend’s vote will be a direct reflection of why, how, and how much the Taiwanese public has moved along the political spectrum since President Ma Ying-jeou’s landslide victory in the March 2008 presidential election. Therefore, though these mayoral elections remain local in nature, the implications behind the final vote tallies will go far beyond just Taiwan's domestic political landscape.
Besides greater local autonomy and more tax revenues, these five “super mayors” will most likely have a bigger say in the formulation of government policy from the economy to cross-Strait relations. Moreover, it remains interesting to see how these mayors will interact with the central government and with each other, especially if they belong to different political parties. Though a Taiwanese version of the “Boris Yeltsin” syndrome is unlikely, more power sharing and expanded participation in policy-making are almost inevitable.

Since this weekend's mayoral elections cover roughly 60% of the population and 50% of the land space in Taiwan, there is growing attention concerning Beijing’s possible reactions and responses if the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) performs disappointingly at the polls. There are speculations that cross-Strait relations may slow down considerably if the KMT suffers a setback. There could also be rising calls within China that, since “yielding benefits” through measures like the ECFA was apparently not enough to win the “hearts and minds of the Taiwanese people,” Beijing should reexamine past measures and identify those that had—and those that had not—worked following the thawing of cross-Strait ties more than two years ago. Though a reversal of current policies by Beijing is out of the question, some tactical changes are likely.

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