Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Taiwan's 2012 Elections:A New Chapter in cross-Strait Relations

Results of the 2012 elections:

l  Taiwan’s 2012 presidential and legislative elections were held on Saturday, January 14, 2012. President Ma Ying-jeou, representing the ruling Kuomintang (KMT), won the reelection with 6,891,139 votes, or 51.60% of the total votes cast. Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen gathered 6,093,578votes, or 45.63%. People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong had only 369,588 votes, or 2.77% of the total.
l  At 5.97%, the final margin of victory for President Ma was slightly larger than many earlier predictions. It was mostly because of the “abandonment effect”—where voters throw their support behind the candidate most likely to win—among the pan-Blue voters. Fearful of another painful experience reminiscent of the 2000 presidential election when the KMT split, most pan-Blue supporters cast their ballots behind President Ma to prevent the DPP from returning to power, thus marginalizing Soong in the final vote tallies.

Ma Ying-jeou
Tsai Ing-wen
James Soong
Vote total

Figure I. Results of Taiwan’s presidential election, January 14, 2012
l  At the same time, the KMT was able to retain its majority in the Legislative Yuan (LY), but the total number of seats shrank from 73 to 64. The DPP had a modest increase from 33 to 40, with the PFP and the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) capturing three seats each. The Independents won the remaining three seats.
Political party
Number of LY seats (before)
Number of LY seats (after)
Net change

Figure II. The number of seats held by Taiwan’s political parties in the new LY

Factors responsible for Ma’s reelection:

l  Stressing progress and breakthroughs in cross-Strait relations, Ma was able to convince most voters that “peace, stability, and prosperity” through continued engagement with China was the “right course” for Taiwan.
l  More and more Taiwanese voters are now beginning to sense and appreciate, albeit gradually, the benefits of the “Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement” (ECFA), signed with China in June 2010. This, in turn, has cut into the once seemingly insurmountable advantage that the DPP has long enjoyed in southern Taiwan.
l  Ma has promised, and delivered, a clean government since assuming office in May 2008, making Taiwan a more attractive destination for investment.
l  Because of improvement in cross-Strait relations, Ma has elevated Taiwan’s international visibility, evidenced by the increasing number of countries and regions, currently at 114, which have granted Republic of China (ROC) passport holders visa-free status.
l  Amidst ongoing global economic uncertainty brought on by the European sovereign debt crisis, most Taiwan voters believed that experience is important in steering the island’s economy through uncharted waters in the coming years.

Implications on cross-Strait relations

l  Besides being an impressive victory for Ma, this was also a vindication of Beijing’s policies pursued vis-à-vis Taiwan in the last three and a half years. To the Chinese leaders, these policies have proved to be largely effective and welcomed by the majority of Taiwan voters.
l  In the next four years, we expect the following to take place in relations across the Taiwan Strait:
(1)   The ongoing exchanges, particularly cross-Strait flights, Chinese procurement missions, and visits by mainland businessmen, tourists and students, will continue and likely intensify;
(2)   The cross-Strait mutual investment protection agreement will probably be signed soon, possibly as early as the first quarter of the year, and other post-ECFA negotiations, e.g. protection of intellectual property rights and service and commodity trade, will also begin shortly thereafter;

l  More importantly, Ma’s reelection will mark the beginning of “comprehensive engagement” between China and Taiwan. Although both sides will continue to stress that “economics first, politics later,” political dialogue on some politically sensitive issues appears inevitable.

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