Saturday, March 22, 2008

So did Tibet swing the Taiwanese election? - The Result

The sequel to last night's post, Will Tibet swing the Taiwanese election? ...

The Result (3/22/08): In the end, the answer to that last question was no. Ma and the Nationalists won their landslide victory after all.
Ma Ying-jeou, a Harvard-educated lawyer and former Taipei mayor from the Nationalist Party, won by a convincing margin. [....] With all votes counted, Mr. Ma prevailed 58.45 percent to 41.55 percent and Mr. Hsieh quickly conceded defeat. [....]

Both parties’ polls showed an increasingly close race in the final days of campaigning, in contrast with the last polls by media organizations nearly two weeks ago, which showed Mr. Ma ahead by 20 percent. But in election day interviews, voters echoed Mr. Ma’s stance that closer relations with the mainland and its fast-growing economy represent the island’s best hope of returning to the rapid economic growth it enjoyed until the late 1990s.

Jason Lin, a 41-year-old interior designer, said as he left a polling place in Taipei that he had always voted for the Democratic Progressive Party until this year and remains a member of the party. But he crossed party lines to vote for Mr. Ma on Saturday because he was convinced that Taiwan’s economic survival depended on closer ties.

“If we don’t get into China’s market, we are locked into our own country,” he said. [....]

Two controversial referendums, calling for Taiwan to apply for membership in the United Nations, also fell well short of passage. [....]
Ma and the Nationalists appear to have convinced a lot of 'native' Taiwanese that they would do a better job of promoting Taiwan's long-term economic interests, both domestically and in terms of relations with China. But Ma also seems to have gone out of his way to convince voters that he would not simply be a patsy for China, and apparently he did that with some success.
Mr. Ma has taken a more cautious approach to the mainland [than previous Kuomintang candidates--JW], attending annual vigils for those killed during the Tiananmen Square killings in Beijing in 1989 and denouncing the mainland’s repression of the Falun Gong spiritual movement over the past decade. During the campaign, he ruled out any discussion of political reunification while calling for the introduction of direct, regularly scheduled flights to Shanghai and Beijing and an end to Taiwan’s extensive limits on its companies’ ability to invest on the mainland.

Chinese government officials had no immediate response to the election results on Saturday evening, but had made little secret of their hope that he would win.

“China has a love-hate relationship with Ma — when I visited China last November, they criticized Ma a lot, and then asked me to vote for Ma,” said Yen Chen-Shen, a political scientist at National Chengchi University.
Actually, Ma's victory is probably a source of satisfaction to both the Chinese and the US governments. The last thing the US government wants is for the Taiwanese to upset China, so they have become increasingly irritated with the DPP. But if Ma does his job, he is likely to do things that will irritate both Beijing and Washington, too.

Overall, whatever one thinks about the outcome of this particular election, it is hard to avoid reflecting that Taiwan seems to have developed a surprisingly stable and mature democratic polity--all things considered--in a pretty short time.

--Jeff Weintraub