Opposition win may bring Taiwan closer to China
The resurgence of pro-China opposition party, Kuomintang, which took a majority in Saturday's legislative elections, boosts its chances for the presidential vote in March.
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The DPP's candidate, Frank Hsieh, also supports closer economic ties with China, but analysts say Ma would make more progress. "If Ma wins, the increasing trend of cross-strait human and economic exchange will be quite positive," said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University of China in Beijing. "But if Hsieh wins, China will take a 'wait and see' attitude – there will be no progress in cross-strait relations for at least two years."Skip to next paragraph
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It's too soon to call March's election, despite the KMT's decisive win Saturday. In fact, the pro-independence party's overall share of the vote actually increased from the last legislative elections in 2004. That it ended up with so few seats reflected the new, smaller legislative system that uses winner-take-all districts instead of the old multimember ones – a change that favors the KMT.
Presidential elections, however, typically have higher voter turnout and focus on Taiwan's sovereignty – both of which tend to help the DPP. "Presidential elections aren't a choice about candidates or a party," says one KMT insider. "It's a choice about national identity: Do you think Taiwan is a country or not?"
The DPP's proud, unqualified "yes" to that question has helped it mobilize voters in past presidential elections. But this time it will have to surmount long odds and widespread discontent over its performance.
In a working-class Taipei suburb Saturday, voters vented a long list of complaints about the ruling party. "It's done a lousy job," said a fruit vendor.
"[Pro-independence president] Chen Shui-bian is still cheating the common people," said her friend. "The DPP has been in charge for eight years, and the economy keeps getting worse," said a noodle-shop customer.
Strolling out of a poll station in flip-flops, Pan Cheng-hou said he still preferred the DPP, but had voted for a KMT candidate to be his legislator because "he'd be better for this area."
Such parochial concerns, gripes over the economy, and the new districting system best explain Saturday's result, analysts say.
Watching the election returns come in on TV early Saturday night in her Taipei office, Hsiao Bi-khim – the DPP's young point person on foreign affairs – was visibly upset seeing her party get pummeled by its rival. But asked whether her party's China stance had hurt it at the polls, Ms. Hsiao had a strong message for Beijing.
"Independence had nothing to do with this election; the election was based on local issues – whether a highway stops in a district, whether a park is built," said Hsiao. "It would be misleading for China to think that independence is out of the picture."
Independence may still be in the picture. But the consequences remain: with the pro-independence party sidelined in the legislature, the independence movement is sidelined as well – at least for the next four years, and likely longer.