NEWS | 2016 Taiwanese Election : Victory for DPP, But The Final Outcome is Still Uncertain
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NEWS | 2016 Taiwanese Election : Victory for DPP, But The Final Outcome is Still Uncertain

By IndraStra Global Editorial Team

2016 presidential election in the Asian island-state of Taiwan evokes much commentary in the Western press today. Analysts assessed the victory of Tsai Ing-wen in Taiwanese general election, the incumbent chairwoman of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). At the same time, they also look at the defeat of the Nationalists (KMT) who ruled the island for half a century, and the implications for Taiwanese and Western relations with Beijing's communist leadership.

 Image Attribute:  Madam President-elect Tsai Ing-wen's victory speech

Image Attribute:  Madam President-elect Tsai Ing-wen's victory speech 

Today’s election result has shown how Taiwan has taken an important new step in its democratic evolution. But it may also have inaugurated a period of potentially dangerous uncertainty in its relations with mainland China. Beijing's recent military threats toward Taiwan were aimed primarily at defeating Chen, who first entered politics as an advocate of Taiwanese independence.

Madam President-elect, Tsai Ing-wen, a 59-year-old lawyer with a PhD from the London School of Economics, Tsai is part-Hakka and part-Paiwan, an aboriginal Taiwanese ethnic group. From 2000 to 2004, she was Minister of the Mainland Affairs Council, Taiwan’s government agency for developing policies on mainland China. She assumed chairmanship of the DPP on May 20, 2008 - the same day as Ma Ying-jeou took office as the President of the Republic of China.

Tsai says that today's victory represents the first kilometer of a road to reform, but her party recognizes that the reforms will not happen in one day, nor will the challenges Taiwan faces disappear in one day. As a member of the international community, Taiwan is willing to participate and cooperate internationally, sharing benefits and responsibilities, she says.

With respect to regional stability, she added that the future of cross-Straits relations will be based on democratic principles within the current constitutional framework. Both sides should make sure there is no “provocation” or “accidents”. Tsai emphasises that the sovereignty of the Republic of China must be respected, citing the Chou Tzu-yu incident at the end of her speech. There is a significant possibility that with Tsai's presidential win, a cross-strait crisis could ensue, despite Tsai's stated strategy aimed at maintaining the status quo.

Since the Sunflower movement, Taiwanese society has taken an increasingly critical view of political developments and, consequently, the KMT suffered a humiliating defeat in the local elections in November 2014. Recently, the KMT switched their presidential candidate Hung for the current one Chu, primarily because Hung was immensely unpopular due to her pro-China view, which closely resembles those of President Ma. The new presidential candidate Chu has not yet improved KMT’s standing in the polls significantly.

With time, KMT and the DPP have cultivated differences which seem to be irreconcilable. Such differences in their positions are generally demonstrated in three areas.

First, Cross-Strait relations: Whilst the KMT has accepted the “1992 consensus” as a foundation for Cross-Strait relations, the DPP has denied the existence of such a consensus, although they promise to “maintain the status quo” should they come to power. The issue could be explosive because Chinese President Xi Jinping has made it clear that “1992 consensus” is the very foundation for peace and stability between two sides of the Taiwan Strait.

Second, the approach toward the United States: It’s crystal clear that the DPP will maintain status quo as defined by the US, especially by the US “One China Policy”, whereas the KMT’s approach leans towards a relationship that is in Beijing’s favor, given their acceptance of the “1992 consensus”. Such a division will have different implications to the involvement of the US in Cross-Strait relations.

Third, Taiwan’s future: On the one hand, the KMT believes a close economic relationship with the Mainland is not only necessary but also inevitable, as the irrevocable economic interdependence with the Mainland China will be essential for Taiwan’s development and stability. On the other hand, the DPP sees that a closer tie with China will entrap Taiwan into the process of reunification. Thus, instead of further development of economic exchange with the Mainland China, they want to diversify Taiwan’s economic relationship with the region, which would be seen as a fundamental challenge to Beijing’s “One China Principle” as well as Washington’s “One China Policy”.

Based on the three fundamental differences between two competing political parties in Taiwan, the US position remains strategically ambiguous. Such ambiguity implies more uncertainty, given the upcoming US presidential campaign in which the China issue will surely surfaces as a focus of debate. As such, the Taiwan issue will become more sensitive, not only in the debate of US internal politics, but also to US-China relations.

The Analysis of  Election's Outcome:

The 2016 campaign largely pivoted on economic issuesas growth in Taiwan has slowed dramatically over the past year. Wages have stagnated and housing prices in major cities like Taipei have remained out of the reach of many people.
Chart Attribute: Nationwide polling for the Taiwan presidential election of 2016
Chart Attribute: Nationwide polling for the Taiwan presidential election of 2016, 
with polynomial regression.

Voters also soured on the departing president, Ma Ying-jeou, and his policy of pursuing a closer relationship with China, Taiwan’s giant neighbor, which considers the self-governed island to be a part of its territory with which it must eventually be united.

The Financial Times explores the election's "challenge for Beijing." It says the greatest need now is for Taiwan and mainland China to resume talks on future relations. Chen, it writes, "is keen for improved relations and prepared to make concessions on trade and investment that were rejected by [his predecessor]. As long as China does not become too preoccupied with the doctrinal basis for talks," the editorial adds, "this should be an opportunity for closer economic relations."

The Financial Times concludes: "It is still too early to know whether China's initially mild response to the election shows this point has been understood. But Beijing should be in no doubt of the damage an over-hasty response would do to its own ultimate objectives." 
Chart Attribute: Nationwide polling for the Taiwan legislator-at-large election (party vote) of 2016.
Chart Attribute: Nationwide polling for the Taiwan legislator-at-large election (party vote) of 2016, with polynomial regression.