Ma Ying-jeou won a second term as Taiwan's President on Saturday, defeating Democratic Progressive Party challenger Tsai Ing-wen by six percentage points. Mr. Ma's Kuomintang party also retained its majority in the legislature.
Taiwanese voted Saturday in a closely fought presidential election that pits incumbent Ma Ying-jeou's vision of better relations with China against his main challenger's attempts to galvanize resentment over growing income inequality. Opinion surveys published a week ago -- the last permitted under Taiwanese law -- showed Mr. Ma clinging to a slim 3 to 4 percentage point lead over Ms. Tsai Ying-wen of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party.
The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) suffered a surprisingly large defeat yesterday in a presidential election that was expected to be a neck-and-neck race as DPP presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen failed to keep President Ma Ying-jeou of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) from winning a second term.
Mr. Ma’s victory is seen as a mandate to keep peace with Beijing while managing wealth-distribution issues at home.
President Ma, a 61-year-old former justice minister and Taipei mayor, staked his re-election on his success in tying Taiwan's high-tech economy ever closer to China's lucrative markets. His China initiatives -- including opening Taiwan to Chinese tourists and increasing the number of flights across the 100-mile- (160-kilometer-) wide Taiwan Strait -- have helped reduce tensions between democratic Taiwan and authoritarian China to the lowest level since they split amid civil war in 1949.
Ms. Tsai, 55, who has a doctorate from the London School of Economics, showed no signs of undoing the economic aspects of Mr. Ma's China policies, though she charged that they have helped spawn economic inequality in Taiwan. She has also accused President Ma of undermining Taiwan's de facto independence in exchange for benefits from the mainland -- a claim that resonates strongly with her party's pro-independence base.
A third candidate, Mr. James Soong, a former heavyweight in Ma's Nationalist Party, secured only 2.77 percent of the total votes, despite polling at more than double that prior to the election.
Eventually, Ms. Tsai, who aspired to become the first female president in Taiwan’s history, garnered only about 45.63 percent of the total votes, while Mr. Ma received 51.60 percent.
In the concurrent legislative elections, the KMT maintained its majority in the Legislative Yuan in yesterday’s legislative elections. However, it suffered a setback in the number of seats won, while the DPP, as well as smaller parties the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) and the People First Party (PFP), made gains.
According to the results announced by Central Election Commission (CEC) Chairwoman Chang Po-ya, out of the 73 seats to be filled by the nation’s electoral districts, the KMT won 44 districts, the DPP took 27 districts, the Non-Partisan Solidarity Union (NPSU) took one district and another went to an independent candidate.
“As for the legislator-at-large seats, the KMT won 16 seats, the DPP 13 seats, while the TSU grabbed three seats and the PFP garnered two,” Ms. Chang told a press conference.
The KMT received 47.58 percent of the at-large votes, the DPP received 36.98 percent, the TSU received 9.56 percent and the PFP received 5.86 percent.
Commenting on the KMTs losing of 17 seats in the legislature, President Ma, who also doubles as his party’s chairman, acknowledged the situation would make the legislative process more difficult for his second administration, but he promised to seek cooperation from all parties in pushing through bills.
“We are still the majority in the legislature and we will adopt to the new situation and work with other parties ... We will respect the strength of opposition parties and act more humbly,” he said in a post-election press conference at his campaign headquarters in Taipei.
At her campaign headquarters in New Taipei City, DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen acknowledged that the party did not do well in central and northern Taiwan in the legislative elections, showing that it still has to work to do on its grassroots connections in local communities.
Strategic voting was a crucial factor in President Ma Ying-jeou’s surprisingly comfortable re-election victory on Saturday, but Ma will not enjoy a one-party dominance as he did in his first term because of a different legislative makeup, academics said yesterday.
“It was plain and simple. PFP’s Chairman James Soong’s vote share was the deciding factor of the presidential election,” in which Ma cruised to a 6 percent lead over DPP’s presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen, Soochow University political scientist Hsu Yung-ming said at a post-election forum -organized by Taiwan Thinktank.
The Ma camp successfully created a sense of crisis for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the pan-blue supporters, who opted to abandon Soong at the last minute out of fear of a Ma loss, Professor Hsu added.
If Soong had won 7 percent of the votes or more, Tsai could have won, Professor Hsu said.
The DPP’s expectation of a landslide win in southern Taiwan and stronger support from urban voters did not happen because of those swing votes, Professor Hsu said, adding that the DPP had no strategy to counter strategic voting.
However, President Ma, who doubles as KMT chairman, will not be able to dominate the legislature as he had during the past four years, when his party controlled three-quarters of the 113 seats, after the opposition made gains in the legislative elections.
Despite the KMT retaining its majority in the legislature with 64 seats, the DPP and its ally, the Taiwan Solidarity Union, won 40 seats and three seats respectively, accounting for 38 percent of the total seats.
President Ma’s mandate will not be as strong because support for the KMT dropped in both elections, said Mr. Lai I-chung, director of Taiwan Thinktank’s foreign policy studies.
“Ma will have to increase dialogue with the opposition, since the KMT will not be able to dominate the policymaking and legislation process,” Mr. Lai said.
President Ma now faces the uphill task of building up Taiwan’s internal economy in his four-year term without diluting the island’s autonomy.
After signing economic deals with China in his first term, President Ma will face more difficult issues such as China’s military buildup and Taiwan’s political status with the mainland, which claims sovereignty over the island, said Abe Denmark, a former China desk officer at the US Defense Department.
Continued success in building links with the mainland keeps the relationship from infecting ties between the US and China, the world’s two biggest economies, and may bolster financial markets as improved relations draw investors. President Ma must balance that progress against concerns voiced by the Taiwanese opposition that many of the island’s 23 million people do not want cooperation with the mainland to infringe on their sovereignty and economy.
Despite many uncertainties ahead, one thing is for sure. Democracy is maturing in Taiwan, even as the island grows closer to the mainland.
Report: Ma Weighs Taiwan’s Concern About Autonomy [Bloomberg, 16 Jan 2012]
Report: Taiwan Re-elects President Ma [VOA, 14 Jan 2012]
Analysis: Taiwan unlikely to move to reunify with China, despite Ma Ying-jeou’s reelection[The Washington Post, 16 Jan 2012]