The elections in Taiwan are over and incumbent president Ma Ying-jeou has won a second and final term of four years. In addition, his Kuomintang Party (KMT) preserved its legislative majority.
In the post-election aftermath, attention shifts from who will win and by what margin to the question of what these elections meant.
While President Ma can be pleased with his victory, as he beat the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate Ms. Tsai Ing-Wen by over 5%, his winning margin of 760,000 votes was appreciably lower than the 2.2 million vote plurality that he amassed in 2008. In the legislature the KMT lost 17 seats. Taiwan’s geographic divide persists, with an industrial, KMT-dominated north and the DPP-controlled south.
Both Beijing and Washington were pleased with the victory of President Ma. Ma is an adherent of the one China policy and the United States, already back in the Shanghai communique signed by Richard Nixon in 1972, has endorsed this position.
While the United States has been assembling a coalition to restrain China from fresh demands, such as claiming the South China Sea as China’s territorial sea, it shies away from adding Taiwan to a coalition designed to contain China. Championing Taiwan and equipping that country with top-of-the-line weaponry would enrage Beijing at a time when important economic issues as well as geostrategic ones (with Iran topping the list) are at stake. The United States requires Chinese goodwill at present.
The business class in Taiwan endorsed President Ma en masse. Back in 2008, only an individual business leader or two dared to take the same step. This has fostered speculation that Taiwan may be following the example of Hong Kong, where the influential business class took the lead in pressing for unification with China.
What broke open a tight race was the veritable airlift of 200,000 Taiwanese residing in the mainland who came home in order to vote and their float broke heavily in favor of Ma.
Ma and the KMT campaigned heavily claiming that the so-called 1992 Consensus and the status quo were beneficial for Taiwan. The 1992 Consensus is an unwritten understanding positing that Taiwan will not declare independence if China does not attempt to achieve unification by force. The question is whether the KMT victory promises more of the same.
Optimists would argue that Beijing can relax now that the KMT has retained power and the pro-independence DPP has been defeated. China is performing a leadership change this year that is expected to introduce a degree of caution until the new leaders have settled in. This will encourage a stand pat position on Taiwan.
Another read on the situation is that Beijing practiced restraint when it appeared that the KMT’s position was under threat and therefore it allowed Ma a long leash. Now that the KMT has won, China can afford to accelerate its pressures towards unification, relying on the Taiwan business community as its spearhead.
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