Tsai Ing-wen

Stability in cross-strait ties essential after Taiwan’s decisive election

The resounding victory for Tsai Ing-wen and her pro-independence Democratic People’s Party does not mean tearing up all that has gone before

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 January, 2016, 1:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 January, 2016, 1:26am

Change was in the air long before Taiwan’s election on Saturday. There was little doubt Tsai Ing-wen would become the island’s first woman president and her pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party would make significant gains against outgoing leader Ma Ying-jeou’s ruling anti-independence Kuomintang. An economy in tatters, bleak jobs outlook and concern about cross-strait ties were bound to lead to a landslide win and record losses for those in power. But a resounding victory does not mean tearing up all that has gone before and building afresh; the new government has to be pragmatic, rational and wise with its policymaking.

Tsai has already shown that towards relations with Beijing by declaring that the status quo has to be maintained. Peace and stability in cross-strait ties are essential if the economy and the livelihoods of Taiwanese are to improve. Beijing has been careful to give a measured response. Tsai has steered clear of the notion of an independent Taiwan as espoused by disgraced former DPP president Chen Shui-bian; her background in the bureaucracy has taught her the need for calm and reason.

Her toughest job will be turning around an economy that grew at less than 1 per cent last year, lifting wage levels and employment prospects, and dealing with a disaffected youth and fast-ageing population. Ma forged more than 20 deals with the mainland during his eight years in power and there is pressure to change that course, but realities have to be faced. While Tsai’s campaign emphasised innovation and improving trade ties with Southeast Asia, Japan and the US, she cannot ignore that although the mainland’s growth rate has slowed, it accounts for more than 30 per cent of Taiwanese exports and half of its tourism. No matter who is in power, ties have to be maintained and strengthened.

The election has shaken up the political landscape, creating a genuine multiparty system. Although the DPP took 68 of the 113 seats in parliament and the KMT just 35, they are joined by the New Power Party and the People First Party, ensuring there will be times when deal-making and compromise are necessary. The KMT, which has governed for all but eight of the last 70 years, is in crisis and its future lies in reform, the most pressing involving finding unity. The turnout of only 66.27 per cent, the lowest since general elections in 1996, means Tsai has to build trust and confidence among the electorate.

President Xi Jinping pointed out during his ground-breaking meeting with Ma in Singapore last November that the people of Taiwan and the mainland are brothers. Tsai cannot ignore that as she prepares to take charge.