The writing has been on the wall for KMT’s chances in the election this time around for some time. As I had discussed earlier, the battle between DPP and KMT in the 2016 election is not about independence vs. status quo as it had been 8 years back when Taiwan elected Ma Ying-jeou, or 16 years ago when Taiwan elected Chen Shui-Bian. That battle had been won long ago, with this time everyone agreeing that the status quo is the way to go. The battle this time around is about economics, about what to do with Taiwan’s stagnant wages and rising home prices.
Of course, there are plenty of symbolism that DPP – and hence Tsai – still stands for independence. DPP’s charter, for example, still officially endorses independence. Tsai has also been purposely demure and vague about her stance toward the Mainland, including her public avoidance of acknowledging the 1992 Consensus on the one-China policy.
But I think it’s possible all that is just symbolism. Given that it’s election season, and that the 1992 Consensus include details that allowed both sides to interpret things slightly differently under the broad rubric of a one China policy, I think it’s perhaps understandable Tsai want to do everything to avoid the specter of getting pinned into one specific or another interpretation.
The real reason KMT lost is because it has not properly addressed the following political trends.
First, over the last few years, many people in Taiwan have come to believe that Taiwan’s growth of the last decade or so have all benefited the very wealthy, with the vast number of Taiwanese left on the side. In the U.S. and world in general, similar things have happened, but people in the States blame on corporate welfare and special interests. In Taiwan, people have somehow come to blame closer relation with the Mainland.
Second, the younger generation are tired of lower than expected economic growth that have endured most of their adult lives. They have seen Mainland and Taiwan come closer during that time also, but see little improvement for their lives. They fear that further tightening of economic dependence will only mean even worse conditions for their future economic prospects.
The KMT’s best line of defense this election continues to be that we are the party of stability with Mainland (true for 2008 election). Vote for DPP and we risk plunging Taiwan into Turmoil.
The DPP’s response has been to capitalize on the recent trends and say, let us defend your interests and concerns. We will keep the status quo, but will work to improve your interests in mind foremost.
The Taiwan people chose the second because they understand that there is little chance that DPP can undo the rapprochement that has been developed between the two sides of the strait under Ma’s administration the last 8 years. What is needed is a fresh course for Taiwan, whatever it is. Irregardless of whether Tsai has any answers, for most people in Taiwan, harmonious relation with Mainland is a done deal. The KMT’s continued invocation of that point is passé and seems out of touch with the real issue of the day.
The truth is that harmonious relations with Mainland has always been necessary (of course) but never sufficient. Even if Taiwan were unified under China today, there would still be local politics and interests and demands that must be paid attention to and satisfied – as it is the case in any area within China – on a region by region basis.
Further, for reunification to occur peacefully and deeply in a way that China wants, it has to come politically. That means China cannot just deal with just the KMT, it must deal with the DPP as well. Viewed in that light, this election result is a great opportunity. Just as today’s KMT is not the KMT of 1949, so is today’s DPP not the DPP of 2000 … or 2008 for that matter. DPP’s election today brings so much less risk than it did 8 or 16 years ago…
It’s a new day in Taiwan. And as this blog’s moniker says, a confident and resurgent China should continually strive to seek new harmonies in a brave new world. While risks exist with DPP’s coming to power again, I believe the opportunities far outweigh the risks for China this time around.
Cheers everyone! Here is a toast to the very best for Chinese people everywhere … on both sides of the strait!!