Ma-Xi and nationalizing the election

In my previous post, I stated that the Ma-Xi meeting increases the probability of a DPP landslide in the presidential and legislative elections. Let me elaborate a bit on the legislative races.

One of the most important effects of the meeting will be to nationalize the legislative elections. In other words, this increases the importance of national considerations and decreases the importance of local considerations. When the future of the country is under discussion, fixing potholes in roads seems a bit less important.

Nationalizing the elections will have different effects in different places. In Taipei City, it will make the DPP’s strategy of cooperating with Chinese nationalist candidates in Taipei 4, Taipei 7, and Taipei 8 much more difficult. DPP supporters will not be as willing to cast a vote that could be construed as sympathy for increased integration with China in this atmosphere. However, the KMT was probably going to win those races anyway, so the substantive effect might not be that great.

Much more important is that the KMT has dozens of incumbents running in districts that Tsai Ing-wen will win handily in the presidential race. In these districts, the KMT strategy has been to localize the election. These candidates have been telling voters to remember their personal connections, years of constituency service, and record of helping the local economy. A couple weeks ago, Eric Chu told an audience, “Don’t vote for the DPP just because you don’t like the KMT.” Those arguments just became a lot less convincing.

Last week the KMT put out some estimates (which seemed extremely optimistic to me) that they could win 50 seats, and these included 8 seats in central Taiwan as well as 8-9 in New Taipei and all 6 in Taoyuan. 5 of those targeted seats in central Taiwan, 4-5 in New Taipei, and 2-3 in Taoyuan will now be under extreme pressure. These include KMT incumbents like Cheng Ju-fen, Wang Mei-huei, and Yang Chiung-ying. If I am correct in assuming the KMT was far too optimistic, then this could affect the next tier of seats. I can even see this being the boost that would put New Power Party leader Huang Kuo-chang into the legislature. Huang is running against deep blue KMT legislator Lee Ching-hua, but New Taipei 12 is not filled with deep blue voters. The KMT has historically had comfortable majorities here, but these are probably light blue votes. Lee has tried to sell his constituency service, but he isn’t a great fit. If this election turns into a referendum on Taiwan’s future, Lee’s unabashed Chinese nationalism is going to be a heavy liability.

To the extent that Ma is thinking about elections, he seems to be calculating that by injecting cross strait relations into the debate, he can polarize the electorate along the blue-green lines that delivered electoral victories to the KMT in 2008 and 2012. What this overlooks is that those lines have almost certainly shifted decisively toward the green side. Unless he can produce some dramatic outcome that might cause large numbers of voters to reconsider their fundamental assumptions about Taiwanese politics, nationalizing the election is not going to save the KMT.

6 Responses to “Ma-Xi and nationalizing the election”

  1. Ben Goren Says:

    Agreed. I also think that M’s strategy here was to shift the focus from Chu and help him win the same way Ma did in 2012 which was “trust us to manage cross-strait relations and everything else will flow from that’. So the tactic would be to now frame the entire rest of the campaign as a vote on peaceful or tension-filled cross-strait relations, blocking out all other issues and especially Ma’s poor performance, Chu’s flip flops / weak leadership, and the poor economy that hasn’t bloomed as promised post-ECFA. Also by stealing the limelight from Chu, Ma is making this election about himself which of course runs the risk of reminding everyone why they will be glad to see the back of not just him but also his party. My first impression is that this a grand stunt that will backfire horribly even if Ma handles the Singapore meeting without providing too much for Taiwanese to worry about. It just reeks of anti-democratic United Front tactics and the KMT openly ganging up with the KMT to defeat the DPP because they can’t win the election on their own record or merits.

    • Horst Mohammed Says:

      Does this strategy make sense though? Why would you want to put an issue front-and-center that has probably been the #1 cause of voters losing trust in the KMT? Whenever the conversation turns to cross-strait relations, Tsai can just repeat her “status quo” mantra, which is a popular and easy to understand position. Chu’s and Ma’s stance on the issue may not be as confusing as Hung’s, but the onus is on them to explain what they hope to achieve with this new initiative, and if it’s going to be a starting point for political talks.

      • frozengarlic Says:

        KMT leaders such as Ma do not seem to share your assumption that cross-straits policies are the #1 cause of voters losing trust in the KMT. They have continually argued that voters are dissatisfied because of rising prices, poor implementation of programs, a perception that they are not compassionate, and so on. They seem to believe that the public still supports the fundamental direction of increasing integration with China.

  2. Ben Goren Says:

    Ugh. So many typos. Sorry. ‘KMT openly ganging up with the CCP’ …

  3. Michael Stainton Says:

    Thank you for this most helpful blog! Your dedication to analysing on the ground politics at the micro level in taiwan is really a great contribution to all of us. And stealing from your hard working expertise makes all us far away armchair “taiwan experts” look good!

  4. joequant2013 Says:

    I don’t think that electoral calculations where a big motivating factor in Ma’s actions. Believe it or not, sometimes politicians look past elections at more important things. There won’t be a big change unless someone fumbles badly, and Ma, Tsai, and Chu have been in politics long enough so that they are unlikely to fumble. Hung on the other hand……

    I doubt that this meeting will change any swing voters. The big change (which I think will be minor) is that it might give some more votes for third party candidates, if Tsai Ying-Wen is seen as being “too soft.” The fact that the DPP is likely to win and win big means that they don’t need those votes, so they are likely to be moderate.

    To the extent, that the KMT is playing the cross-straits issue, it will be to try to get KMT voters to vote. Swing voters are already supporting the DPP, and the question of how bad it will be for the KMT depends on whether they can convince deep blue voters to vote.

    The other thing is that Taiwan politics is more complex than the blue-green divide. I’m often in southern rural Taiwan, and 1) it’s remarkable how much the farmers want good relations with the Mainland even though they are all deep green and DPP since they are making good money selling agricultural products to the Mainland and 2) all politics in rural Taiwan is local and personalistic, so it’s remarkable how little people seem to care about national issues.

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