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.