Pro-independence main opposition Democratic Progressive Party chairwoman and Xinbei City mayoral candidate Tsai Ing-wen, center, waves to supporters after her defeat, Saturday, Nov. 27, 2010, in Taipei county, Taiwan. Taiwan’s ruling Nationalist Party won three out of five mayoral races Saturday, providing a boost for President Ma Ying-jeou’s policy of improving relations with China ahead of the island’s 2012 presidential poll. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
TAIPEI, Taiwan – Weekend election victories for Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou’s party in local races do not mean an easy sail for the leader’s expected 2012 re-election bid, analysts said Sunday.
The Nationalists held on to three mayoral seats in central and northern Taiwan on Saturday, including the capital of Taipei, with Ma’s signature policy of improving relations with rival China apparently winning wide support among the urban dwellers.
But two races in the rural south were won by the Democratic Progressive Party. The main opposition wants to slow reconciliation with Beijing, fearing a flood of Chinese goods to Taiwan could make lives harder for the rural poor and blue-collar workers — traditional opposition supporters.
Overall, the DPP won 50 per cent of the popular vote against the Nationalists’ 44.5 per cent.
"Ma’s re-election crisis is not lifted yet," the mass-circulation China Times newspaper said in a commentary, noting the Nationalists fought an uphill battle even though the economy rebounded strongly and soaring jobless rate had dropped.
"The urban and rural gap … will pose a tough challenge to the Nationalists," it said.
The presidential poll in March 2012 [election date is now 14 January] is expected to be fought largely on the issue of Taiwan’s relations with China, from which the island split amid civil war in 1949.
Harvard-educated Ma, 60, favours expanding Taiwan’s already robust commercial ties with the mainland.
Ma has launched direct air and shipping links with the mainland and relaxed two-way investment restrictions, while repeatedly assuring the public he will not enter political talks with the communists. Beijing has never given up its hope to eventually unify with the self-rule island.
DPP candidates chose not to challenge Ma’s China policy at the mayoral races, apparently aware of the growing popular support for engaging China to end decades of political hostilities.
But many opposition supporters continue to see Ma as leaning too close to Beijing and fear he could discuss the island’s political status with China if he should be re-elected.
"Ma has narrowly passed his midterm," said Yang Kai-huang, political science professor of National Donghwa University.
"To pass his final term in 2012, he must come up with a discourse to ensure the public that he can safeguard Taiwan’s sovereignty" while reconciling with Beijing.
Tsai Ing-wen, the chairperson of (Opposition) Democratic Progressive Party DPP of Taiwan.
Incumbent President Ma Ying-jeou is standing for re-election.