The Impact of Cross-Strait Relations on the Five Cities Elections
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
December 10, 2010
During the five cities elections, the KMT received approximately 1.5 million fewer votes than during the 2008 presidential election. The candidates' individual qualifications, the state of society, and the state of the economy were part of the overall equation. But another factor was the impact of cross-Strait policy. This subject deserves closer scrutinizing.
One could say that the Ma administration's cross-Strait policy is its "signature dish." Nevertheless it failed to give the KMT a significant boost at the polls. Candidates in the three northern cities found voter support hard to come by. Candidates in the two southern cities were thoroughly routed. As mentioned before, other factors were involved. Nevertheless this suggests that cross-Strait policy, generally considered one of the Ma administration's strengths, failed to prevent the loss of 1.5 million votes.
One reason may be the DPP's avoidance of cross-Strait issues. During election season it avoided debating the KMT altogether. As a result the KMT was denied the opportunity to underscore the merits of its cross-Strait policy. But there may be a deeper reason. The public knows that the Ma administration's cross-Strait policies have brought them peace and prosperity. But some believe the DPP must act as a buffer between the two sides, and check and balance the KMT. In other words, a considerable number of swing voters may accept the KMT's development of cross-Strait economic and trade relations. But they still feel the DPP provides a political firewall between the two sides.
The reactions of the three parties on the two sides of the Strait has been fascinating. The DPP announced that as part of its 2012 presidential campaign, it would set up a think tank. It would increase cross-Strait policy debate and exchanges with Mainland China. The most visible move by the KMT was by Mainland Affairs Council Chairwoman Lai Shin-yuan, who declared that among "the seven core interests of the people of Taiwan" vis a vis cross-Strait relations, was the "right of 23 million people to continue participating in free elections under democracy." Beijing responded publicly to Lai Shing-yuan's statement on the same day. It posted a long article by Mainland Foreign Minister Dai Chenguo at its official web site, stating that Taiwan is a "core interest" of China that must not be violated and destroyed. It also mentioned it would "never renounce the use of force," a phrase not heard for at least two and a half years.
Among the three political parties on both sides of the Strait, the DPP is the one sitting pretty. All it needs to do is come up with a vote-winning political platform for the presidential election. Will its platform be able to withstand the test of reality following the election? The DPP can worry about that when the time comes.
Lai Shin-yuan "dialogued" with Dai Bingguo. Presumably the tit for tat was not mere coincidence. The two sides have at least publicly showed their hands regarding their "core interests." Assume that Lai Shin-yuan's statement was an indicator of policy. This suggests that the Ma administration realizes the public perceives "economic interests" and "political risk" as separate issues. That is why it touted "free elections" as "a core interest of the people of Taiwan." Dai Binguo may have been concerned that "free elections" overrode the Ma administration's self-proclaimed "no to Taiwan independence," and "One China Constitution," thereby harming "China's core interests." That may be why Dai reiterated the phrase "would never renounce the use of force." Dai's remarks may be seen as Beijing's preparations in case the Ma administration backslides, or the the Democratic Progressive Party returns to power.
The Ma administration's cross-Strait policy has been a boon to Taiwan in terms of economic effectiveness. But ECFA has been denounced for allegedly "widening the gap between rich and poor." In fact, the gap between rich and poor has other, more complex causes. ECFA has also been blasted by the Green Camp as "pandering to [Mainland] China and selling out Taiwan," and as furthering "eventual reunification." Elections on Taiwan are dogged by populist demagoguery. That is why the Ma administration's cross-Strait policy successes have not won as many votes as expected. The results of the recent five cities elections surprised the Ma administration. They also made Beijing wonder why their generous concessions were received with so little gratitude.
As mentioned earlier, the key may be that voters on Taiwan approach "cross-Strait economics and trade," and "cross-Strait politics" differently, as separte matters. The Ma administration has improved cross-strait economic and trade relations. But when it comes to national security, some voters remain skeptical about Ma's arguments regarding the "Republic of China," "one China constitution," "one China, different interpretations." The Ma administration was unable to allay the fears of these voters. That is precisely why Lai Shin-yuan reiterated concerns about "free elections." Her purpose was to pave the way for competition with the Democratic Progressive Party during the 2012 presidential election. The DPP sees how the Ma administration's arguments about "Republic of China," the "one China constitution," "one China, different interpretations," have not been as persuasive as hoped. As a result, newly-elected Tainan Mayor Lai Ching-teh now says the DPP will "advocate Taiwan independence, but engage in exchanges." This will be the main plank of its 2012 presidential campaign. The DPP will not advocate Taiwan independence explicitly, only implicitly. Its "Political Platform for the Coming Decade" may restate its "Resolution on Taiwan's Future," and continue to practice backdoor Taiwan independence. It may also restate its "promise to continue cross-Strait [economic and trade exchanges] after it assumes power." In any event, it is all meely election rhetoric. It can all wait until after the DPP is reelected.
The DPP argues that adherence to the "Republic of China" has political risks. The DPP argues therefore that it must continue championing Taiwan independence. The DPP's sophistry may be useful during election season. But it is useless when attempting to govern the nation. The Ma administration on the other hand, must do a better job of championing the "Republic of China," the "One China Constitution," and "One China, different interpretations." It must strike a balance between cross-Strait economic and trade relations and political relations. Only then can it persuade enough voters to accept its cross-Strait policy. Beijing must not make economic concessions while taking a harder line politically. It must not harp on "never renouncing the use of force." Otherwise over two years of "peaceful development" may come to naught.