This Saturday, Taiwanese will go to the polls to select a new president and legislature.
The outcome of the former may not exactly be a mystery while the result of the latter might bring on a new dawn. The presidential race has been lopsided so far and a potential humiliation may be in store for the ruling party, the KMT, which has lagged since the start and had to replace its candidate halfway through the campaign.
If the DPP wins, Tsai Ing-wen would make history by being the first female Taiwan/ROC president. What would be more momentous though is that DPP victory would mark the triumph of a growing pro-Taiwan movement and the resounding rejection of a pro-China strategy undertaken by the KMT that over the past eight years has striven to boost ties with China.
Ties have increased yet local salaries have stayed stagnant or even fallen as the economy has all but shriveled up and lost much of its competitiveness while growing in dependence on China. Tsai was also the DPP candidate in the last election in 2012, but lost by a small margin to the current president Ma Ying-jeou. As such, since her defeat, she has grown and continued to attract more support. It is no surprise as the bookish, low-key Tsai has stayed on point whilst refusing to buckle under pressure or indulge in negative tactics. In contrast to the former president Chen Shui-bian, the first from the DPP, Tsai is less charismatic and confrontational, which has reassured the US and made it hard for China to attack her.
Tsai’s likely victory will not please Beijing, which is ok. The more serious issue is that Beijing’s displeasure often raises the chances of tension and conflict, something which is forgotten because a lot of media and observers give the impression that Taiwan is to blame. Here’s a good article about how silly it is to deem an island of 23 million as the provocateur regarding relations with the giant, authoritarian country across the straits.
I don’t expect anything drastic to happen from China’s side soon, if Tsai wins, but I can’t say for the future. Even still, the tide is turning for that country as evidenced by its slowing economy, stock market woes, and its increased censorship and persecution, not to mention its blatant South China Sea provocations.
The decline of the KMT, who some even forecast may lose the legislative elections as well for the first time, illustrate the folly of their pro-China strategy. They believed that Taiwan’s prosperity would be gained by fostering close ties with China and being utterly dependent on China for trade, tourism, investment and so on, whilst engaging in relatively foolish spats with the US, the Philippines and even Japan. Indeed, mainland trade and tourists have increased significantly but with little effect on the overall economy.
It is time for Taiwan to look to the future and stand up for itself. There is no need to turn its back on its Chinese heritage, but there is no need to bow down to its giant bullying neighbor and tie itself down.
I hope that the elections will be fair and peaceful, and that the right person will win.