I think when we look back at the 2012 election a decade from now, we might remember this as the year the economic cleavage was introduced to Taiwan’s politics.
This is the first year that big businesses have lined up so unanimously on one side. Moreover, there was a real difference in Tsai’s vision of a welfare state with wealth distributed more evenly and Ma’s focus on the traditional numbers like GDP growth.
However, if this is the first time the election has been so explicitly framed in terms of a left-right divide, we must remind ourselves that this was not a cross-cutting cleavage. Instead, the new left-right divide was simply layered on top of the China cleavage. The big businesses lined up on the KMT’s side precisely because they want access to the China market. Tsai framed her concern about the growing wealth gap in terms of how integration into the China market affects normal people’s incomes.
Maybe in the future, the left-right cleavage will take on a life of its own and cut across the traditional unification-independence axis. If it does, that might upset the KMT’s seeming perpetual majority. For now, I am simply observing the emergence of a left-right cleavage as an important way to decide which side you are on.