Taiwan’s presidential race
An old bruiser enters the race, threatening to split the pro-China voteTAIWAN’S president, Ma Ying-jeou of the Kuomintang (KMT), who is running for re-election on January 14th, was once thought to have a clear advantage. Elected in a landslide in 2008, Mr Ma brought tensions with China to their lowest state in six decades, forged business agreements across the Taiwan Strait, and help keep an export-dependent island from being swept up in the global financial crisis. In contrast to his wealth of experience (Mr Ma has also been mayor of Taipei, the capital), his chief opponent, Tsai Ing-wen of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), is a rather owlish academic who has never before been elected to public office.
Now things are not looking nearly as certain. In recent weeks the president’s popularity has dropped. A prediction market run by National Chengchi University, accurate in the past, says the probability of his winning the election dived from over 59% on October 16th to under 42% on November 14th; Ms Tsai stands at 49%. Opinion polls in the island’s media, which usually leans towards the KMT, also show slumping popularity, though Mr Ma still leads by a few percentage points. A victory for Ms Tsai, a moderate in her party, might yet raise tensions with China, which has growled that Taiwanese moves towards independence will be met with force.
What has changed for Mr Ma is the arrival of a second China-friendly presidential candidate. James Soong was once a KMT stalwart, popular in the 1990s as governor of “Taiwan province” (a vestigial position from the days when the Taiwan government, losers in the Chinese civil war, pretended to represent all of China). Mr Soong fell out with his colleagues, and was expelled from the KMT more than a decade ago. Today his popularity ratings stand as high as 15%.
n a tight race he could easily shave off votes from Mr Ma, leading to a DPP victory. Just that happened in 2000, when Mr Soong contested the presidency and split the pro-China vote. It ensured victory for the DPP’s hardline pro-independence candidate, Chen Shui-bian, who is now serving a life sentence in jail for corruption. China favours a victory for Mr Ma. Mr Soong claims China tried to persuade him not to run, though he is probably saying that to earn kudos—even pro-China candidates must not be seen at home as too cuddly towards the Communists.
On November 15th Mr Soong cleared a hurdle when Taiwan’s Central Election Commission confirmed that he had collected enough signatures in support of his presidential bid. A Soong-KMT compact has occasionally been mooted, but now seems very unlikely. Mr Soong vows to fight to the end for Taiwan’s presidency.
But Mr Ma’s popularity was falling even before Mr Soong’s formal candidacy. He dropped a bombshell on October 17th by saying that he favours signing a peace treaty with China within the next decade, provided the public and parliament supported it. It was the first time that Mr Ma had given a timetable for negotiating such a hugely sensitive issue, and it has whipped up alarm in the media and among a China-wary public. The DPP accuses Mr Ma of steering the island towards unification. Mr Ma later backtracked, suggesting, among other things, that a treaty would need a referendum.
Ms Tsai’s popular focus, meanwhile, is on social welfare. Despite stellar economic growth of over 10% last year, Mr Ma’s China policies are still perceived to benefit big business at the expense of ordinary folk. In cities rising prices put property beyond the reach of many. At DPP rallies, supporters approve of Ms Tsai’s higher subsidies for elderly farmers. Now, darkening economic clouds in the world economy may help her case and hurt Mr Ma’s. Already exports to Europe have suffered, and reports are rising of people being laid off or asked to take unpaid leave. Mr Ma still has some cards to play: an economy that would be the envy of many elsewhere, as well as the support of those in favour of closer mainland ties who think it silly to split the pro-China vote.了解某些英文單字
bruiser, narrowing,owlish, moderate, vestigial
By MICHAEL WINES and IAN JOHNSON
A traffic accident in China that killed 23 people, mostly children, set off angry online discussions about the canyon that separates the powerful from the powerless.