President of Taiwan Ma Ying-jeou re-elected! Saturday January 14, President Ma Ying-jeou was re-elected by a comfortable margin, fending off a challenge from his main rival, Ms. Tsai Ing-wen. Recent polls had suggested the race would be very close, raising anxiety among those who prefer the status quo. That group included some American officials, who expressed unease in private that a win by Ms. Tsai could complicate the already difficult relations between Mainland China and the United States, a longtime ally of Taiwan (Republic of China). By N. Peter Kramer
ursuing closer ties with the Mainland helped solidify Dr. Ma’s support despite withering attacks from Ms. Tsai. More than 200,000 of Taiwan’s citizens who live and work across the Taiwan Strait in China flew home to vote, most of them taking the direct flights that Dr. Ma helped establish. Not surprisingly, many returnees were Ma supporters spurred by the polls that had showed him in a close race. “The people gave their approval of our efforts to put aside dis agreements and focus on peace on both sides of the straits, turning crisis into economic opportunity,” Re-elected President Ma told his supporters. His party also retained a majority in the Parliament, but with a reduced margin. Dr. Ma, of the Nationalist Party (Kuomintang), won with 51.6 of the vote. Ms. Tsai, of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), drew 45.6 percent. A third independent candidate, James Soong of the People First Party, who had been expected to siphon off as much a tenth of the electorate from Mr. Ma, received 2.8 percent, according to the Taiwanese Central Election Commission. Turnout was more than 74 percent.
Mainland China, Obama and EU comment
The People Republic’s agency that handles Taiwan affairs lauded Mr. Ma’s victory, according to China’s state-run Xinhua news service, saying it showed that improved cross-strait ties were the “correct path and have the support of the Taiwanese compatriots.” In a statement the White House in Washington DC congratulated President Ma on his reelection and the people of Taiwan on the successful conduct of the presidential and legislative elections. “Taiwan has proven to be one of the great success stories in Asia and has again demonstrated the strength and vitality of tits democratic system”. Also saying, “Cross-Strait peace, stability and improved relations, in an environment free from intimidation, are of profound importance to the United States.” The European Union sent a message without even mentioning
the name of the re-elected President, clearly showing the strange relation the European Commission has with the country. The High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and VP of the Commission, Catherine Ashton wrote: “I welcome the elections held in Taiwan on 14 January and reiterate the EU’s support for democratic values. The EU welcomes the improvements in cross-strait relations over the past four years, and I hope that this trend will continue, to the benefit of the people on both sides of the strait.”
Ma’s second term more challenging
The economic benefits from Dr. Ma’s first term have been pronounced. They include a landmark trade agreement between the two sides, which slashed tariffs on 800 items, helping to increase Taiwan’s exports to China last year by 35 percent over 2009. Spending by mainland tourists has pumped $3 billion into the local economy. But despite such figures, many working class and middle-class Taiwanese say they have yet to feel any trickle-down effect. But a plurality of voters appeared to side with President Ma’s contention that improved relations with Mainland China were the island’s best hope for prosperity. But the margin of Dr Ma’s victory this time - down from the 17 point spread from his first election in 2008 - highlights deep divisions among an electorate still wary of Mainland China’s intentions. “The true message of this election is that people in Taiwan are anxious about the future, and Beijing would be wise to note this division,” said an analyst of the Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC. Dr. Ma may find dealing with China far more challenging in his second term, analysts say: “with low-hanging fruit on trade and transportation matters already picked, both sides could be forced to tackle thornier concerns, including a peace treaty, measures to protect Taiwanese investment in China and the future of the roughly 1,500 Chinese missiles still aimed at the island.”
Issue 1/2012 of "European Business Review (EBR)" magazine