Kuomintang Cruising Towards Easy Taiwan Win

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Ma Ying-jeou is cruising toward a comfortable victory in the March 22 Taiwan presidential election

Although Kuomintang candidate Ma Ying-jeou is cruising toward a comfortable victory in the March 22 Taiwan presidential election that would give his party control of both the executive and Parliament, his supporters fear that the ruling Democratic Progressive Party will stage a last-minute stunt to swing public opinion and steal a victory, as it did in 2004 after an assassination attempt that many believe was staged.

Opinion polls put Ma at least 10 percentage points ahead of DPP candidate Frank Hsieh. Already in parliamentary elections in January, the Kuomintang won a landslide victory, capturing 81 of the 113 seats.

“We suspect the DPP will do something to swing public opinion,” said Susie Chiang, chairwoman of the Taiwan Business Association of Hong Kong and a Kuomintang member of the National Assembly from 1992 to 2000. “They may produce a US passport belonging to Ma, a fake, or an incriminating video that would influence voters in south and central Taiwan.”

On March 19, 2004, one day before the last presidential election, an assailant allegedly tried to assassinate President Chen Shui-bian and Vice President Annette Lu in the southern city of Tainan. Both were released from hospital the next day without losing consciousness or undergoing surgery.

The sympathy provoked by the attack helped Chen win the next day by fewer than 30,000 votes. The body of Chen Yi-hsun, the man whom government investigators later blamed for the shooting, was found drowned in a harbour nine days after the 2004 election. Many Nationalist supporters believe that the attempt was staged to help Chen win the election.

Hsieh will need something dramatic in the next two weeks. He is suffering by association from Chen’s deep unpopularity as a result of corruption, poor management of relations with China and a weak economy.

In the first of two televised debates, on February 24 both candidates promised to liberalize trade and investment with China, with Ma outlining a detailed timetable including a promise of weekend charter flights to the mainland by July 1, daily charter flights by the end of the year and regular cross-strait direct flights by July 2009. He said he would open seven airports in Taiwan to such flights and also relax a limit on Taiwanese firms of investing just 40 percent of assets in China.

Despite the best efforts of the DPP, Taiwan’s dependence on China has increased since 2000. China is the island’s biggest export market and source of a trade surplus, with bilateral trade in 2007 worth US$124.5 billion, an increase of 15.4 per cent over 2006, with Taiwan having a surplus of US$77.1 billion. China is Taiwan’s biggest foreign investment destination, with US$100 billion from Taiwan firms. China accounted for 25.4 per cent of its exports in 2007, compared to 0.8 per cent in 1998.

Ma’s more liberal stance on ties with China makes him more popular with the business lobby. So Hsieh is attacking him on his identity, saying that he was born in Hong Kong of mainland parents and has close ties with the United States. Last month he unveiled the number of Ma’s US green card and said that his daughter is a US citizen.

In response, Ma replied that he applied for the card as a student in 1977 to facilitate finding work and bank loans, and that the card is no longer valid. His daughter, born in the US, has the right to US citizenship and will decide when she is 25, he said.

Hsieh’s best hope, and a forlorn one it is given Chinese President Hu Jintao’s current policy, is an aggressive move by China’s military. That would affirm his key theme that, with its 1,000 missiles aimed at Taiwan, Beijing is hostile and untrustworthy.

So far Beijing has been remarkably quiet during the campaign. It knows that silence is the best support it can give to Ma, its favored candidate.

On March 4, Hu said that he was willing to negotiate with any party in Taiwan that recognized the principle of one China – which excludes the DPP. “Secessionist activities in Taiwan have become the greatest menace to China’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said.

These remarks repeat views Hu and other leaders have expressed before. Better for Hsieh was the news, also announced on March 4, that China’s military spending this year will increase 17.6 per cent to 418 billion yuan, after a rise of 17.8 per cent last year. Since China is at peace with its neighbors, Taiwan is the main target of this spending.

Hsieh’s best hope is that one of China’s leaders will lose control of himself during the news conferences to be held during the National People’s Congress over the next two weeks and denounce Taiwan. These conferences are carried live on Taiwan television.

Hsieh did receive an endorsement this week from Lee Teng-hui, 85, the Kuomintang president from 1988 until 2000 and a person whose opinions carry considerable weight among the Taiwan public.

Lee told a Japanese magazine that if Ma won the cause of democracy would be set back 20 years, because a single party would have too much power.

There is little new that each can reveal about the other concerning their personal wealth. In early February, the election commission published details of it – Hsieh has three properties in Taipei and two in Kaohsiung, NT$12.35 million in bank deposits and NT$8 million in bank loans and stocks worth NT$4.4 million. Ma has NT$52.37 million in the bank, no loans, three properties in Taipei and stocks worth NT$636,000.