This past October was a time of big events, and not only because it marked celebrations of the Republic of China’s (ROC) centennial. At the end of the month, the headquarters for the Kuomintang (KMT) candidates in this year’s presidential election, Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Wu Den-yih (吳敦義), the ROC’s incumbent president and premier respectively, opened in Taipei City. Earlier in the month, Ma’s counterpart Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate, undertook an 11-day bus tour with her running mate Su Jia-chyuan (蘇嘉全). The tour set off from Oluanpi at the southern tip of Taiwan on October 6 and ended in Taipei City, northern Taiwan exactly 100 days before election day, which falls on January 14 this year. Not long after the bus tour, the national campaign headquarters for the Tsai-Su ticket opened in New Taipei City. The opening of the headquarters for the KMT and DPP hopefuls alerted people in Taiwan that another intense election season was about to begin.
“I’ve put things right in my first term,” Ma said in an interview with a TV talk show host in October 2011. The president was referring to his administration’s achievements since he took office in May 2008, notably efforts to ease tension in the Taiwan Strait and build closer economic and transportation links with mainland China in order to boost Taiwan’s economy. “In the second term, I’ll help Taiwan change from the inside out,” he said. One of the president’s second-term goals is helping Taiwan reach OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) standards for a developed country, although Taiwan has already surpassed OECD levels in certain areas, such as its unemployment rate and consumer price index. Moreover, the International Institute for Management Development ranked Taiwan sixth among the world’s 59 largest economies in 2011 in terms of global competitiveness, its highest ranking since the Switzerland-based research organization began releasing the annual list in 1989.
Equally confident of victory at the polls is Tsai Ing-wen, who joined the DPP in 2004 and has served as its chairwoman since May 2008. During Taiwan’s rule under former President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) between 2000 and 2008, Tsai was minister of the Mainland Affairs Council and then vice premier. “I was told that after crossing the Zhuoshui River the DPP would be greeted with increasingly cold responses as we moved northward, but the situation was totally different,” the DPP candidate said to a large crowd of supporters at the final rally of her bus tour in front of the Presidential Office in Taipei.
The Zhuoshui River, which runs through central Taiwan, is often referred to as a divide between the northern and southern parts of the island, which are dominated by the KMT-led, or “blue” camp and the DPP-led, or “green” camp respectively. The pan-blue coalition includes the KMT, the People First Party (PFP) and New Party. The greens include the DPP and Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU). The DPP was founded in 1986 after some 40 years of KMT rule in Taiwan. It was Taiwan’s first major opposition party and took a strong pro-democracy stance at a time when Taiwan was still under martial law. One touchstone issue among the parties is statehood, with the DPP and TSU traditionally favoring Taiwan independence.
Chao Chun-shan (趙春山), chairman of the Taipei-based Foundation on Asia-Pacific Peace Studies, says the 2012 election is unique in several respects including the nomination of Taiwan’s first female presidential candidate. “The election is unlike previous ones also because Tsai is an atypical DPP candidate. Like Ma, she is a scholarly type of candidate. She’s less emotional and has less of a tendency to resort to populism than traditional DPP politicians,” he says.
Taiwan Thinktank scholar Hsu Yung-ming (徐永明) says that Tsai is leading a “no-surprise” election campaign. “She rarely tables explosive topics or acts in a surprising way. She is a new DPP ‘product’ for the public,” the scholar says. “She’s also changing the party’s image and will help it recruit elite members [who are more like her].”
On the other hand, Liao Da-chi (廖達琪), a professor at the Institute of Political Science at National Sun Yat-sen University in Kaohsiung, has some reservations about Tsai’s appeal to swing voters. “She’s never been elected as a mayor or anything else. This could make people question her ability to govern,” Liao says. Except for Tsai and Lin Ruey-shiung (林瑞雄), who is running with James Soong (宋楚瑜) of the PFP, all of the other four presidential and vice presidential candidates in the 2012 election have been elected to a leadership position in government.
This year’s historic combination of the presidential and legislative elections is the most important feature of the 2012 poll for Liao. Thanks to a constitutional amendment in 2005, terms for legislators were extended from three to four years starting in 2008, which means legislative elections were also slated for this year, just a few months before the presidential election. This created a chance to combine the two polls, which the Central Election Commission (CEC) decided to do by advancing the date of the presidential election to coincide with voting for the legislature, a move the CEC announced in April 2011.
The benefits of the two-in-one elections are many, according to the CEC, including cost savings and an expected increase in voter turnout, which would strengthen the legitimacy of the electoral process.
On the other hand, some critics say the ruling party pushed the change through for its own benefit. “The DPP is expected to perform better [in the legislative elections] this time than in the previous election [where the party won only 27 of the 113 seats], which would be deemed a victory over the KMT. The KMT wouldn’t want to prepare for the presidential election under the shadow of defeat,” Hsu says.
According to an opinion poll commissioned by the CEC, 55.7 percent of respondents support the combined polls.
The announcement of the simultaneous elections was soon followed by heightened competition between the parties. Indeed, the DPP and KMT started their selection processes for candidates later that month, with Tsai winning the bid to represent her party and Ma being officially nominated on April 27. President Ma announced Wu as his running mate in June, while Tsai’s choice of running mate remained anybody’s guess until she decided on Su Jia-chyuan in September.
Yet amid the increasingly intense atmosphere of campaigning, a binary dynamic has developed. The KMT slogan of Taiwan Bravo competes against the DPP’s Taiwan Next. While the Ma-Wu team has put forward its plan for a Golden Decade, the Tsai-Su ticket has announced a series of election pledges collectively known as the 10-Year Policy Platform. Both Ma and Tsai have stressed the importance of trade. In his speech to the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei in November 2011, Ma highlighted a number of achievements in this respect including the signing of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) between Taiwan and mainland China in June 2010 and the Taiwan-Japan trade pact inked in September 2011. As well as negotiating economic cooperation pacts with New Zealand and Singapore, Ma noted that the government will endeavor to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement within 10 years. The TPP is currently being negotiated among nine countries in the Pacific region. The TPP is also a crucial issue for Tsai. In her speech on the same occasion, Tsai said she would better prepare Taiwan for further liberalization of its markets in order to join such a pact. “The Ma administration, over the past three years, has only actively pursued trade relations with China,” Tsai said, adding that she would boost Taiwan-United States trade links.
When it comes to cross-strait policy, which some see as crucial to Taiwan’s development, the most salient difference between the two parties is that the KMT operates on the basis of the so-called 1992 Consensus, whereas the DPP rejects the concept. The KMT holds that the consensus is a point of agreement between Taipei and Beijing, albeit one on which they more or less agree to disagree. It emerged during pilot talks between authorized representatives of the Taipei and Beijing governments in Hong Kong in 1992, their first since the two sides split in 1949. The Hong Kong talks were premised on the informal, oral consensus that there is “one China,” while allowing Taipei and Beijing to each have its own interpretation. For Taipei, one China means the Republic of China, while for Beijing it is the People’s Republic of China. The talks preceded a high-level meeting between the two sides in Singapore the following year. The 1992 Consensus has been deemed by the current administrations on both sides of the Taiwan Strait as the foundation on which they are able to negotiate and build mutual trust. It also made possible the signing of ECFA between the two sides, through which they pursue closer economic ties.
In October 2011, Ma floated the idea of a peace pact with mainland China, launching a wave of discussions on the issue. Pursuing a peace agreement has long been a part of the KMT’s party platform and was one of Ma’s pledges when he ran in the 2008 presidential election. The idea is to institutionalize a “no use of force” pledge, part of the “three noes” policy governing cross-strait relations Ma has touted during his presidency, the others being “no unification” and “no independence.” This is a challenging job, though, since to this day mainland China has never renounced the use of force against Taiwan and continues to deploy additional missiles aimed at the island.
“In the past, cross-strait negotiations were about direct transportation links and mutual economic benefits, but this peace pact is highly political and involves Taiwan’s sovereignty,” Hsu Yung-ming says, explaining why Ma’s pitch this time could stoke greater controversy than previous plans. Actually, Hsu says the idea has already consolidated support for DPP candidates among “deep green” voters, or staunch seekers of Taiwan independence. “Maybe Tsai is not so green for them, but Ma is an immediate and obvious threat to their ideal. [The peace pact idea] only serves to stop them from criticizing Tsai for not being green enough,” he says.
That being said, Ma has emphasized that he would only promote the peace agreement under three conditions. These are a high level of public support, such as could be gauged through a referendum, a clear national need and with legislative supervision. During the first Chen administration, Tsai also spoke of a framework for peace in the Taiwan Strait.
The parties’ platforms are quite different in other respects, too. An example is nuclear energy development in Taiwan, which has received increasing attention since the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in March 2011. In their policies on energy development, Ma and Tsai emphasize the importance of developing renewable energy sources and maintain that Taiwan should move toward a nuclear-free future by decommissioning its three existing nuclear power plants as scheduled. Where they differ is that Tsai sets a deadline for Taiwan to go nuclear free by 2025, the year when the last of the reactors currently in use is slated to be decommissioned. A fourth nuclear plant is still under construction, but Tsai says it should not enter commercial operation. Ma believes this new plant, the construction of which started in 1999, should begin to operate by 2016 on the condition that it meets heightened safety requirements. After that, Ma says the timetable for reducing nuclear dependence should be evaluated every four years until the nuclear-free goal stated in the ROC’s Basic Environment Act is achieved.
Chao Chun-shan believes the issue of social justice is another crucial consideration for voters. “As Taiwan has developed economically to a certain extent, the rich-poor gap has gradually become a major concern for the public, especially for low-income earners and young voters,” he says.
Jason Lin (林俊憲), a DPP spokesman, says the decisive factor for voters will be worry about their livelihoods. Lin says the electorate is dissatisfied that pledges Ma made for the 2008 election remain unfulfilled, such as reducing the unemployment rate to 3 percent and increasing annual economic growth to 6 percent. During Ma’s October TV talk show appearance, the president explained that no one could have foreseen the global recession, which started several months after he took office. The government counts 2010’s 10.72 percent growth compared with negative growth in 2009 as an achievement, as well as the unemployment rate—4.28 percent for September 2011—considering that the world economy has yet to recover fully from the recession.
Many other observers view the PFP’s James Soong, another challenger to Ma, as the greatest variable in predictions about the presidential race results. The PFP was unable to qualify automatically for this year’s presidential election as it had less than the minimum requirement of 5 percent of the total number of valid ballots in the most recent presidential or legislative election. As such, the party had to collect a total number of signatures equal to 1.5 percent of eligible voters in the 2008 legislative election in order to allow Soong and his running mate Lin, a well-known public health expert, to qualify for the upcoming presidential poll. Soong is a senior politician who enjoyed great popularity on the island during his 1994–1998 term as governor of the now largely superceded Taiwan Province. He needed 257,695 signatures to qualify for this year’s presidential bid and wound up with 445,864 valid signatures.
The three-way race has parallels with the 2000 presidential election, in which Soong, a former KMT heavyweight, ran against Chen Shui-bian and Lien Chan (連戰) from the DPP and KMT respectively. At the time it was founded, the PFP was largely a KMT offshoot of “deep blue” supporters. It is seen as strongly in favor of eventual political integration with mainland China.
“As long as Soong is officially registered as a candidate and his name appears on the ballot, he will play a role,” Hsu says. Hsu believes Soong will utilize the election debates to boost his party’s public profile and help PFP candidates running in the legislative elections. “Then we’ll see the dynamic changing as it becomes a three-way debate, which is unfavorable for Ma. The real fight started only when we entered November,” Hsu says. Jason Lin thinks otherwise, however, saying that this time around, “society is divided into anti-Ma and pro-Ma camps.” Lin says Soong’s participation means a split in anti-Ma voters, which would impact support for the DPP.
Liao Da-chi agrees that Soong’s entry into the game could affect Ma’s chances of winning, although the PFP leader is very likely to be marginalized in the end. In the run-up to the 2000 election, Soong ran as an independent candidate after failing to gain the KMT’s presidential nomination. The DPP’s Chen Shui-bian emerged as the winner with only 39 percent of the ballots, with the majority of the remaining votes divided between Soong at nearly 37 percent and Lien Chan at around 23 percent. “Previous lessons have taught the blue camp that if they’re divided, they could lose to a united green camp,” the scholar says. “But even if Soong garners only a few tens of thousands of ballots, that could be decisive for the election results,” she says. In the 2004 election, for example, Chen and running mate Lu Hsiu-lien (呂秀蓮) defeated a combined Lien-Soong ticket by a very narrow margin of fewer than 30,000 ballots, or about 0.2 percent of all eligible votes cast.
Depending on who wins the election, observers say Taiwan faces two different future scenarios. In terms of cross-strait ties, Chao thinks if Ma is re-elected, relations will continue to improve, although not necessarily at a quicker pace than now. “It’ll depend on how strong popular support is,” he says. “Besides, mainland China wouldn’t want relations to develop too fast. They prefer it to happen at a steady pace. And they have other issues to think about, not just Taiwan.” On the other hand, Chao believes that cross-strait relations will stagnate or even deteriorate if Tsai is elected, at least in the short term, which could have a significant influence on Taiwan diplomatically and economically. “[Beijing] could break the diplomatic truce [between Taiwan and mainland China] and restart efforts to win over Taiwan’s allies. The number of mainland tourists to Taiwan could dwindle sharply too,” the scholar says. Hsu says with another victory, Ma would prepare to enter political negotiations with mainland China, whereas Tsai would largely maintain the status quo. “She’ll instead focus on domestic affairs,” he adds. The president, however, has said repeatedly that there is no timetable for political negotiations with Beijing.
Another concern for Hsu is the four-month period between the election and the presidential inauguration on May 20. If there were a major incident during such a period, the government could be slow to respond if the incoming and outgoing presidents were from different parties, for example. Hwang Giin-tarng (黃錦堂), a professor in the Department of Political Science at National Taiwan University, however, says that the government operates on established systems and rules, so it still will work properly whatever the election outcome.
Most observers think the president is facing a much more challenging situation than when he ran in the 2008 election. At the time, in a race against the DPP’s Frank Hsieh (謝長廷), Ma garnered a whopping 58.42 percent of the ballots cast, the highest percentage since Taiwan began direct presidential elections in 1996. “That’s too high a record to break,” Liao says of the strong support Ma earned four years ago.
No doubt, there is a tough three-way battle at hand for Taiwan’s top job. Given the stakes, the local election climate looks likely to be as intense as ever.
Bachelor of Laws, National Taiwan University, 1972
Master of Laws, New York University, 1976
Doctor of Juridical Science, Harvard University, 1981
Deputy Director, First Bureau, Office of the President, 1981–1988
Chairman, Research, Development and Evaluation Commission, 1988–1991
Vice Chairman, Mainland Affairs Council, 1991–1993
Minister of Justice, 1993–1996
Minister without Portfolio, 1996–1997
Associate Professor of Law, National Chengchi University, 1997–1998
Mayor, Taipei City, 1998–2006
Chairman, KMT, 2005–2007, 2009–Present
Bachelor’s degree in History, National Taiwan University, 1970
Journalist and editorial writer, China Times, 1971–1973
Member, Taipei City Council, 1973–1981
Magistrate, Nantou County, 1981–1989
Mayor, Kaohsiung City, 1990–1998
Member, Legislative Yuan, 2002–2009
Secretary-General, KMT, 2007–2009
Vice Chairman, KMT, 2008–2009
Bachelor of Laws, National Taiwan University, 1978
Master of Laws, Cornell University, 1980
Ph.D. in Law, London School of Economics and Political Science, University of London, 1984
Associate Professor and Professor of Law, National Chengchi University, 1984–1991
Professor of Law, Soochow University, 1991–1993
Adviser, Mainland Affairs Council, 1994–1998
Minister, Mainland Affairs Council, 2000–2004
National Policy Adviser to the President, 2004–2006
Member, Legislative Yuan, 2005–2006
Vice Premier, 2006–2007
Chairwoman, DPP, 2008–Present
Bachelor’s degree in Food Science, National Taiwan Ocean University, 1979
Master’s degree in Public Affairs Management, National Sun Yat-sen University, 2001
Member, National Assembly, 1986–1993
Member, Legislative Yuan, 1993–1997
Magistrate, Pingtung County, 1997–2004
Minister of the Interior, 2004–2006
Minister, Council of Agriculture, 2006–2008
Secretary-General, DPP, December 2009–May 2010, December 2010–Present
Bachelor’s degree in Diplomacy, National Chengchi University, 1964
Master’s degree in Political Science, University of California, Berkeley, 1967
Master of Library Science, Catholic University of America, 1971
Ph.D. in Political Science, Georgetown University, 1974
Director-General, Government Information Office, 1979–1984
Director-General, KMT Department of Cultural Affairs, 1984–1987
Secretary-General, KMT, 1989–1993
Governor, Taiwan Province, 1994–1998
Chairman, PFP, 2000–Present
Doctor of Medicine (MD), National Taiwan University, 1965
Master of Public Health, National Taiwan University, 1968
Doctor of Medicine (Dr. med.) in Human Genetics, Heidelberg University, 1971
Doctor of Public Health in Epidemiology, Johns Hopkins University, 1977
Professor, College of Public Health, National Taiwan University, 1986–2006
Dean, College of Public Health, National Taiwan University, 1993–1996
Professor Emeritus, College of Public Health, National Taiwan University, 2006–Present
photo 1: KMT candidates Ma Ying-jeou, right, and Wu Den-yih open their national campaign headquarters in Taipei on October 30, 2011. (Photo by Central News Agency)