Taiwan president-elect's bold mandate: improve ties with China, U.S.
Ma Ying-jeou, a former mayor of Taipei and Harvard Law School graduate, may face resistance to his conciliatory approach.
TAIPEI AND TAICHUNG, TAIWAN
Voters in Taiwan handed opposition candidate Ma Ying-jeou a landslide victory in Saturday's presidential election, raising hopes of détente with China after eight years of pro-independence brinksmanship that strained ties with the US.Skip to next paragraph
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The result was a rebuke to President Chen Shui-bian, whose candidate, Frank Hsieh, lost by 2 million votes out of 13.2 million cast. Analysts said it signaled a prioritizing of economic interests over ethnic identity and the anti-China rhetoric of Mr. Chen's ailing party, which also lost heavily in January's legislative elections.
"Taiwan should be united without using ethnicity as an issue for political purposes... I will be symbol of national unity, not a source of social division," said Mr. Ma at a victory press conference, taking a swipe at the opposition Democratic Progressive Party's (DDP) campaign ads that highlighted his roots on the mainland, in contrast to Taiwanese-born opponents.
A Harvard Law School graduate, Ma rose through the ranks of the Kuomintang (KMT), the political party that lost China's civil war in 1949 to Mao Zedong's communists and retreated to Taiwan where it ruled by fiat for four decades. In the 1990s, Ma served as a corruption-busting justice minister, a role that alienated many powerbrokers within his own party. He then built his own base as mayor of Taipei until 2006, before pressing his claim to lead the KMT after party candidates lost two successive presidential elections.
Now that he has secured Taiwan's top post, Ma – a mild, somewhat cautious politician – will need to keep his own party in line as Taiwan's new president, as well as display diplomatic resolve to show he isn't going soft on Beijing, say analysts. His solid mandate should strengthen his hand over the KMT-dominated legislature, but some question how well-anchored his pragmatism and financial probity is on sensitive matters such as military defenses against China.
"He's not someone with strong convictions on key issues, so he can be pushed around.... He faces a lot of pressures. It will be difficult to balance the forces within his own party," says Lo Chih-Cheng, a politics professor at Soochow University in Taipei.
Ma's vision for Taiwan
Ma's supporters say that his conciliatory approach to Beijing isn't a sellout of Taiwanese sovereignty, as opponents have claimed, and won't prevent Ma from criticizing China's human-rights abuses such as the crackdown in Tibet. Speaking during a noisy victory celebration Saturday at his campaign headquarters, Ma told reporters that any future peace treaty between the two countries must remove Chinese missiles pointed at Taiwan, currently estimated at 1,000. He also repeated a campaign pledge to maintain defense spending above 3 percent of Taiwanese gross domestic product.