12/03/2009, 00.00
TAIWAN – CHINA
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Local polls set for Taiwan as KMT fears defeat

Even though President Ma is on the campaign trail drumming up support, pundits say results still a toss-up. The KMT’s pro-Beijing policy, its response to the worldwide financial crisis, and its poor handling of the post-Typhoon Morakot situation are blamed.
Taipei (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Some seven million Taiwanese voters go to the polls on Saturday to elect local government officials in 17 cities and counties. The race is touted by many as a midterm test for the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) government and President Ma Yong-jeou’s mainland-engagement policy. It might also have an impact on the President's re-election bid in 2012.

Aware that a lot is at stake, Mr Ma, who is also KMT chairman, has been touring the island, drumming up support for his party’s candidates. However, many pundits say that his efforts are unlikely to produce a victory for the ruling party, given the relatively poor performance of his government in the past year.

Had elections been held last year, the KMT would have had a narrow victory over the Democratic Progressive Party because of the corruption trial of Chen Shui-bian, the former Taiwanese president and DPP chairman.  But “The tables have turned now, given some of the performances which have made the Ma government unpopular," said Wang Yeh-li, professor of political science at National Taiwan University.

Ma faced the global financial downturn a few months after he took office in May, which brought a dismal economy and rising unemployment on the island. Slow response to Typhoon Morakot, which killed more than 700 people in Taiwan, and the poor handling of its aftermath, as well as the president’s China policy, further eroded his support. His approval rating slipped to a low of 13 per cent.

After making overtures to Beijing for the first time since ties were cut in 1949 when Chang Kai-shek fled the mainland, Taipei’s engagement policy did not pay the expected dividends, and this despite the institution of direct flights between the island and the mainland and economic help to cross-strait tourism.  

Revenues generated by mainland tourists to Taiwan re likely to be lower than expected. This year around 480,000 mainland Chinese are expected to visit Taiwan, bringing in US$ 528 million in tourism revenue. The figure is lower than the NT billion (US$ 935 million) forecast by the official Tourism Bureau.

Many Taiwanese are also not that keen on the de facto reunification promoted by the government. The situation is such that on Wednesday, Taiwanese authorities vowed to protect envoys from Beijing visiting this month. Demonstrations will be allowed, but “we'll do everything we can to ensure the safety of the mainland delegates,” a spokesman for Taiwan's quasi-official Straits Exchange Foundation said.

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