At last, the special elections for the new direct-controlled municipalities 直轄市 are over, and relative peace and quiet has returned to the land (though on Sunday, the day after the balloting, the winners drove through our neighborhood thanking the voters, and setting off what sounded like M-80's). In the aftermath, the analysts have stepped in to pontificate on the results, with the Japan Times ジャパンタイムズ joining the fray in Wednesday's edition:
VOTE OF CONFIDENCE FOR THE KMT
"Local elections in Taiwan are considered a bellwether for national politics. By that standard, the Kuomintang 中国国民党 (KMT), the ruling party on the island, should be feeling good. KMT candidates won three of five mayoral seats in the local elections held Saturday. While a lot can change between now and 2012, when the next round of national elections are to be held, President Ma Ying-jeou (Ba Eikyū) 馬英九 appears to have a mandate to continue his opening to China — as long as that policy boosts the Taiwan economy."
Many observers in the Western media are trumpeting the same line, that the ruling party has been given a green light to pursue closer ties with China, but this armchair pundit has his doubts, for the following reasons:
1.) As the American saying goes, "All politics is local", and Taiwan is no exception. I didn't see the acronym "ECFA" 両岸経済協力枠組協議 plastered on any of the candidates' numerous billboards;
2.) The voting results were split along the usual north/south axis, with those elections that took place north of the Choshui (Dakusui) River 濁水渓 going in favor of the blue side, while the greens, not surprisingly, did well in their solid south;
3.) While the Japan Times notes "The stock market has risen 12 percent since the ECFA was signed and the economy grew 9.8 percent in the third quarter (compared to the previous year), the fourth consecutive quarter of expansion...there is no mistaking the economic payoff from Mr. Ma's approach", it's still far too early to notice any benefits that may arise from the agreement between China and Taiwan. The economic impact probably won't begin to be felt until next year. The political effect, unfortunately, won't be known until much later.
To their credit, the JT editorial writers note the successes of the Democratic Progressive Party 民主進歩党 at the polls:
"DPP supporters see reason for hope as well. Their party actually won more votes in the five races, claiming 49.87 percent of aggregate votes cast versus the KMT's 44.52 percent (the remainder went to independents). In fact, KMT votes dropped in all five cities compared to the 2008 presidential race. Second, while losing three of the races, DPP candidates did well in KMT strongholds, another indicator that the party is gaining strength. The shooting of the son of former KMT Vice President Lien Chan (Ren Sen) 連戦 on the eve of the ballot galvanized KMT supporters; without that incident, the DPP would likely have done better still...Finally, while DPP chair Tsai Ing-wen (Sai Eibun) 蔡英文 lost to KMT mayoral candidate Eric Chu 朱立倫 in Hsinpei City 新北市, that defeat frees Ms. Tsai to run for president in 2012 unencumbered by charges that she would be 'abandoning' her post. Her party's strong showing and its recovery since the 2008 shellacking at the polls further validates her leadership and positions her as the front-runner to claim the 2012 nomination for the presidency. "
The Japan Times editorial does a good job summing up what lies ahead:
"In many ways, the critical factors shaping Taiwanese politics are beyond the control of Taiwanese. If Beijing manages to slow its economy — fears that the mainland is overheating are growing — then Taiwan will feel the reverberations and slow as well. Moreover, an aggressive Chinese foreign policy, with nationalist overtones, could unsettle the KMT for two reasons. First, frustration with the pace of rapprochement across the strait could build and hardliners in China could demand more progress and faster. That would be a mistake, but in the lead-up to the 2012 leadership transition in Beijing — 2012 is a big year for both sides of the strait — caution is unlikely to be a winning strategy. Second, and in a related vein, Beijing's recent forceful diplomacy is likely to alarm moderates in Taiwan. While focused on its neighbors, Chinese muscle-flexing could be the prelude to a harder line against Taiwan. Such an approach would likely undermine support for Mr. Ma, his policies toward China and his party as well. Unfortunately, there is little sign that such concerns carry much weight in councils in Beijing. Taiwanese politics are mercurial in the best of times. With both sides taking solace from these elections, the stage is set for a spirited — and likely bitter — contest for the 2012 ballot. The chief question for the rest of the world is how China will react to Taiwan's democratic politics. Its record to date is mixed and the prospect of its own transformation does not inspire much hope."
I won't be making any bets on the outcome of the 2012 election. As Barack Obama can tell you, an awful lot can happen in politics over a two-year period.