Azja-Pacyfik

Parliamentary and Presidential Elections on Taiwan (added on 2012-02-03)

Ma Ying-jeou (Ma Yingjiu), the president of the Republic of China (ROC) since 2008, has once again won the elections to hold his office until 2016. One of the leaders of the governing Guomindang party (GMD), Ma Ying-jeou has gained the support of nearly 51.6% of the voters (6,891,139 votes), whereas his main competitor in the race for the office, Tsai Ing-wen (Cai Yingwen), the leader of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) got 45.63% (6,093,578 votes). Only 2.77% (369,588 votes) of the voters chose the third candidate, James Soong (Song Chuyu), the head of the People First Party (PFP). In the elections to the unicameral legislature, the Legislative Yuan, which, for the first time in history, were held at the same time as the presidential election, the GMD succeeded in maintaining a majority of 64 seats from a total of 113 (with a loss of 17 seats). The DPP got 40 seats (and gained 13 of them) and the remaining nine seats went to three minority parties and one independent candidate. The result of this year’s elections is undisputedly worse than the 58% support which Ma Ying-jeou gained in 2008. The turnout was still rather high – 74.4%, not much lower than four years ago.

The reelection of the current president and the governing party’s retaining of power will determine the atmosphere of the cross-Strait relations (which are crucial for both the island's, as well as Beijing’s and, in some way, global politics) for the next couple of years. During his 4-year-long term in office Ma Ying-jeou managed to improve contacts between Taiwan, regarding itself as the heir of the 1911 Republic of China, and mainland China. The previous president, Chen Shuibian (from the DPP), who is currently serving a twenty-year-long sentence for corruption charges, made Sino-Taiwanese contacts very tense by calling for a formal sovereignty of the island. As opposed to his predecessor, Ma Ying-jeou has concentrated on improving and expanding economic contacts with the PRC, while trying not to touch sensitive political matters. On the one hand Beijing does not attempt to hide that in their opinion the only and final solution is a formal re-annexation of Taiwan, on the other hand the Taiwanese supporting these measures are still in minority. According to a public opinion poll conducted in September 2011 only 12% of respondents supported unification with the mainland in the near future, 22.7% opted for formal independence in the near and even later future, while 25.9% voted for retaining the current status quo. As many as 33.6% of the respondent wanted to keep the status quo in the next few years and postponed the decision to a not-so-precise future, whereas 5.8% remained undecided.

During Ma Ying-jeou's first term the fundaments of political trust were built between the two entities across the Strait formally remaining in a state of war. This trust resulted in thirteen economic agreements making trade exchange between Taiwan and PRC easier (up to now there are 16 such treaties, including the ones regulating legal cooperation). The most important out of them, the 2010 Economic Co-operation Framework Agreement (ECFA) reduced or eliminated tariffs on hundreds of Taiwanese goods exported to China and allowed Taiwanese companies to invest in certain service sectors on the mainland. This agreement greatly helped the Taiwanese economy which profits from opening the boarders to individual Chinese tourists as well (1.3 million in 2011). Already in the initial stages of the current process of rapprochement of the two players on the opposite sides of the Taiwan Strait special attention was devoted to allow for establishing contacts, and making it easier to maintain them, between common citizens. After that for the first time in 60 years direct aerial and marine connections were established between Taiwan and the biggest mainland cities. The authorities on both sides reestablished postal services and allowed individual mainland Chinese to attend Taiwanese universities.

Ma's victory was welcomed by both China and the United States -  a very rare situation. Ma Ying-jeou is a guarantor of maintaining, or even deepening, the current policy of increasing integration of China and Taiwan. Thanks to his actions “the Taiwan question” ceased to be an inflammatory issue constituting a potential threat to the stability of the region. However, all signs indicate that during the second term of the GMD and Ma Ying-jeou it will remain an important issue discussed in top diplomatic circles. This is dues to the fact that, as Ma himself stated during the election campaign, the issue of a "peace agreement" between China and Taiwan may be soon put on the agenda. The nature of such an agreement remains unclear. The aims of Beijing are obvious and straightforward - reunification. But what do the Taiwanese and the government in Taipei will say? Here we have to remember that new leaders will come into power in Beijing in November 2012 and March 2013 and it is hard to predict whether they will continue the current policy of patience and gentleness of Hu Jintao vis-à-vis the island that was once called a "rebel province". Nonetheless, the "Taiwanese question" is gaining even more, this time geopolitical, importance and thus is and will be interesting and deserving much more of outside observers' attention.

Redakcja: azjapacyfik@swps.edu.pl. Wykonanie strony: Stanisław Meyer, stan.meyer@uj.edu.pl.