12/07/2009, 00.00
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KMT wins elections but loses ground

KMT President Ma Ying-jeou calls for an internal party review to see the reasons of its drop. Chinese media warn the vote could jeopardise Beijing-Taipei relations. Typhoon Morakot blamed for results.
Taipei (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou ordered a review of weekend local election results that saw his ruling Kuomintang (nationalist) party lose support as his own approval ratings fell. “We need to discover and analyse the reasons that our vote tally came up short of ideals. We expect that the situation differs from one place to the next,” party spokeswoman Chen Shu-jung said.

The results showed the KMT had won 47.8 per cent of the vote and the DPP 45.3 per cent. Even though the KMT retained 12 seats and the DPP had four (one seat went to an independent), Taichung Mayor Hu Chih-chiang saw the narrow gap in vote percentages as significant.

“The DPP has given up its emotional and extreme style, and transformed into a rational and centrist political party over the past two years,” Hu said. “I should recognise that the KMT definitely suffered a serious defeat [. . .]. The gap [. . .] is less than 3 per cent [. . .]. If such a result took place in a presidential election, it would be a disaster,” he said. “We are not sure [the DPP] is entering the era of Tsai Ing-wen [. . .] but we have no doubt these results have consolidated the base of Tsai's leadership in the DPP.”

Tsai Ing-wen is the new DPP leader. He took over the party after the fall of former President Chen Shuibian, who was opposed to any close ties with mainland China. Since becoming party chief, Tsai has radically moderated the party.

The relationship with mainland China remains at the heart of the island’s politics since ties were cut off in 1949.

President Ma, who is a former mayor of Taipei, has based his political action on a close rapprochement with the mainland. In the past year, he has launched a number of initiatives designed to improve economic ties between the sides even if he has not spoken outright about reunification. This attitude appears however to be bound to change.  

“Ma will have to adjust or slow down the pace of his policy of boosting China ties,” said Hsu Yung-ming, a political scientist at Soochow University in Taipei. The election was widely seen as a proxy referendum on Ma's performance since he took office in May last year, and he has to realise that getting to close to Beijing could be dangerous.

“I'm worried about the pro-Beijing policy. After a few years Taiwan will be eaten up by Beijing if Ma doesn't adopt some proper measures," said Chen Chan-ho, a middle-aged voter in northern Taiwan's Hsinchu County.

Mainland media agree with this assessment of the election results. “Setback for KMT in election could affect Chinese mainland” is the title of an article that appeared today in the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s newspaper. The results were “definitely bad news for the mainland,” said Li Jiaquan, a senior researcher with the Institute of Taiwan Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

However, local issues also played a part in the KMT’s defeat, such as the Ma administration's perceived tardy response to Typhoon Morakot in August (see “Typhoon Morakot hits Ma Ying-jeou’s government,” in AsiaNews, 19 August 2009), which killed 500 people and caused more than TWD 100 billion (US$ 3.1 billion) to agriculture, trade and construction.

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See also
Kuomintang suffers another election defeat, Ma Ying-jeou apologises
Presidential Election: Tibet might sink the KMT
Parliament changes the constitution
Thousands of activists want to “dump Ma” to preserve Taiwan’s autonomy
Opposition in Taipei to submit recall motion to oust president


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