Bhim Subba, ICS-HYI Doctoral Fellow.
More than 18 million registered voters among 23 million people, above the age of 20 will exercise their suffrage for Saturday, January 16 in Taiwan. As expected, the mood in the island is with the Pan-Green Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) coalition under Tsai Ing-wen. The Pan-Blue Kuomintang (KMT) under Eric Chu, who replaced Ms. Hung Tsui-Chu (Deputy House Speaker), breaking the convention, is most likely to face drubbing and James Soong, former KMT heavyweight, heading the People’s First Party (PFP) rallying at the last.
The 2014 March-April Sunflower Movement, and KMT, ruling party’s lacklustre performance in November’s ‘Nine-in-One’ elections were important events in the KMT’s dwindling political share. As to pollster Taiwan Indicators Research Survey, since 2004, for the first time, there were fewer people below the age of 40 identifying with the Pan-Blue. Thus, DPP is leading in every regional electoral bloc that accounts for 75 electoral districts (73 regular and 2 indigenous).
2016 elections also witness the growth of ‘third forces’ with progressive outlook. The New Power Party (NPP) which emerged after the sunflower protests with most electorates consisting of liberal arts, law and social sciences, and challenging the established two-party system. Their rallies include plays, songs, and including rendition of Don Quixote in the evenings with props, including a metallic horse, a giant windmill, and two giant balloon squids. These groups espouse LGBT rights, declining education standards, real estate prices, financial corruption among politicians and rising socio-economic inequalities. Not to mention the strong reservations against import of American pork that made headlines in the island’s presidential debates. Having no much base in the rural areas, the NPP have been rallying in the Pan-Green coalition, garnering support from DPP sympathisers. Similarly, Wuer Kaixi who fled China after Tiananmen protests in 1989, have also entered into fray as independent legislative candidate with pledge to fight for human rights and justice, and have been closer to the DPP coalition. Thus ‘livelihood’ issues have become important factors for political factors.
But at the same time, the Cross-strait relations cannot be ignored. If Ma Ying-jeou had won the 2008 elections for ‘trade and warmer relations’ with the mainland, the sense today is different. With rising mainland’s investment in media, high technology industries in the island have led to increasing suspicion of Ma’s China policy. Ma’s meeting with Xi Jinping at Singapore in early Nov 2015 further led to disenchantment, as it betrayed the 2012 KMT election call of ‘shunning meeting with the mainland leaders’. Though, the Xi-Ma meet was a major milestone for Ma Ying-jeou’s political legacy, this has not gone well with the younger people, who today yearns for Taiwanese self-identity and ‘respectable’ standing in the comity of nations, as one Pan-Green supporter quips.
However, Tsai Ing-wen cannot afford to simply reject the ‘1992 Consensus’ in totality. Despite stiff opposition, it may be difficult for DPP to manoeuvre Beijing’s courting, and thus the continuum of the ‘status quo’. It depends on how Tsai Ing-wen and her mainland counterpart tango for the future have to be seen post-election. Besides, the DPP has to balance interests between China and US for its own security and future.
Though tomorrow’s elections as trend indicate, Pan-Green under DPP will come out victorious, have made everyone’s job easier for predictions, but what may lie ahead have to be keenly watched.
[This was written some days before the 16 March elections.]