Taiwan Election Data, the Changes, and the ROC Convergence

Wrote a bio of sorts in a German blogpost about president-elect Tsai Ing-wen last Saturday, as it seems to me that in the English-language press, there’s lots of coverage about the Taiwan elections, sometimes beyond the mere “conflict with China” issues. In most of Germany’s media, Taiwan would hardly emerge even on election days, if it wasn’t for China’s “claims” on the island.

What looks notable to me is the voter turnout in the January 16 elections: 66.27 per cent, compared with 76.04 percent in 1996, 82.7 percent in 2000, 80.28 percent in 2004, 76.33 percent in 2008, and 74.38 percent in 2012, according to the Central Election Commission (CEC), quoted by CNA. Also notable: the general trends in the pan-blue and pan-green shares in the presidential elections.

 

Taiwan's presidential elections, from 1996 to 2016

Taiwan’s presidential elections, from 1996 to 2016. The 1996 numbers for the pan-blue camp include the two independent candidates’ shares. Both of them were close to the KMT, but critical of then president Lee Teng-hui‘s China policies. Numbers taken from Wikipedia.

 

Taiwan presidential elections chart, 1996 - 2016

Usually, I’m surprised to find out how time flies. But in this case, it strikes me as odd how big change can be within “only” two decades, from 1996 to 2016. Also, no DPP candidate has ever drawn as many votes – inabsolute numbers – as Tsai Ing-wen has last Saturday. This would seem to suggest that some of the reasons for the record-low in turnout could lie in the KMT’s performance during the election campaigns. An uncertain number of people who’d normally support the KMT may have seen no sense in voting for Eric Chu, or any KMT candidate, for that matter.

Frozen Garlic, a blogger in Taiwan who has been doing a lot of number crunching during the past week, probed district-level turnout data in “blue” and “green” districts this week, and found some clues there that would support this guess.

There were, however, nearly 1.6 million voters who chose James Soong who is more China-leaning than the average KMT candidate. Soong only fared better in 2000, under what might be carefully described as exceptional circumstances.

Another notable first – in the parliamentary elections, that is – is the emergence of the “New-Power Party” – they’ve actually overtaken James Soong’s People-First Party there  (seats: 5 – 3; votes: 6.1 percent – 5.5 percent).

What does this tell about the KMT? The party remains a force to be reckoned with, for – reportedly – being one of the world’s richest political parties, and for its connections within Taiwan’s elites and civil society, big business, as well as for connections to China, and to America. But how “Chinese” can the KMT remain if it wants to remain competitive? Probably not as Chinese as incumbent president Ma Ying-jeou.

China’s accusation until December (by quoting the KMT, that is) that Tsai Ing-wen rejects the 1992 Consensus has become old news. Literally, she said in an interview with the Liberty Times on Thursday that

In 1992, the two parties [the Straits Exchange Foundation and China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits] from the two sides communicated and negotiated through an approach of mutual understanding and “seeking common ground while shelving differences,” and I understand and respect this historical fact. [The interview in English, Taipei Times]

在一九九二年,兩岸兩會秉持相互諒解、求同存異的政治思維進行溝通協商,達成了若干的共同認知與諒解,我理解和尊重這個歷史事實。[The interview in Chinese, Liberty Times]

Thinking about it, while there have been big changes during the past twenty years, there’s been a remarkable convergence toward what Taiwan and the outside world commonly refer to as the “status quo” – the KMT and the DPP used to be further apart in the past, not only in terms of public support or votes, but in terms of their respective international concepts, too.

One day after Tsai’s election, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office had announced that it would continue to use the 1992 Consensus and oppose any Taiwan independence activities in cross-strait relations, as quoted by Radio Taiwan International (RTI). And on Monday, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, during his stay in Taiwan, met with incumbent president Ma Ying-jeou, the defeated KMT presidential candidate Eric Chu, and Tsai Ing-wen, who reportedly said that [t]he U.S. anticipates seeing a successful political transition.

There is continuity in Taiwan’s foreign policy: Cindy Sui, the BBC‘s (occasional) Taiwan correspondent pointed out on election day that it was Tsai who, in 2003 and in her capacity as the Mainland Affairs Council chairperson during president Chen Shui-bian‘s presidency, made a case for further legalizing trade and communications links with China.

Tsai, as opposition leader, also took a fairly public measure on Taiwan’s (or the Republic of China’s) national day on October 10, 2011, saying that the vast majority of Taiwanese today could acknowledge that “Taiwan simply is the Republic of China”, as the two have merged, for a new life in Taiwan.

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Related Tag: Taiwan Consensus

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