Pragmatism the real winner in Hong Kong, Taiwan elections

  • Scaremongering no longer works as voters shun ideology in favour of livelihood issues, as the results of weekend polls show
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 November, 2018, 6:12pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 November, 2018, 4:30pm

This past weekend has been good for Beijing. Elections held in Hong Kong and Taiwan have produced results that must be pleasing to the central government.

Pro-establishment greenhorn Chan Hoi-yan easily defeated two veteran pan-democratic rivals in the by-election for the Kowloon West seat in the legislature. Though an independent, she enjoys the full backing of the powerful Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong. A former political assistant in the Food and Health Bureau, she is well-connected with the government.

Her victory means the current Legislative Council will essentially be a rubber stamp for the government, as the opposition has lost any hope of regaining veto powers, at least until the next election in 2020.

Meanwhile, in Taiwan, the political pendulum has swung back to the Kuomintang. In the so-called nine-in-one elections, the KMT gained 20 to secure 394 seats, while the Democratic Progressive Party lost 70 and now holds just 238. The mayors of the island’s three largest cities – New Taipei City, Taichung and Kaohsiung – are all KMT members.

Hongkongers care about livelihood issues, not ideology, democrats told

The DPP’s mayoral defeat in Kaohsiung was especially harsh. The city has been its stronghold for two decades, while the election has made the KMT’s charismatic Han Kuo-yu a political superstar. Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s lacklustre president, has resigned as DPP chairwoman.

The KMT accepts the one-China principle as a bedrock of cross-strait relations. The DPP may equivocate but basically wants independence for Taiwan.

Many pundits argue the KMT’s latest victories should not be read as endorsement of unification with the mainland. They may well be right; voters care more about livelihoods, jobs, the economy and the prospects of their children far more than ideologies. But then, the previous electoral victories of the DPP should not be interpreted as support for the island’s independence, either. You can’t have it both ways.

Taiwan President Tsai played independence and pro-US cards – she lost

Beijing learned from past lessons and kept its mouth shut in the lead-up to the Taiwan elections. Some anti-China critics, though, couldn’t keep quiet. Stephen Young, the former US consul general in Hong Kong, claimed Beijing’s treatment of Hong Kong had scared off Taiwan. The island’s election results say otherwise.

A few pan-democrats even tried scare tactics by warning a by-election victory for Chan could encourage Washington to revise the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act, which shields the city from US sanctions, tariffs and restrictions on hi-tech transfers. Really?

Ideologues can go home. It’s a time for pragmatists to work together now.