Nov 16, 2011

Taiwan: Tsai Ing-Wen Now Directing the Campaign Conversation

As evidenced by President Ma Ying-jeou’s recent campaign speeches, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), led by presidential candidate Ing-wen, is seeing voters shift towards its promises to take a stronger line against Beijing’s threats to the island nation’s sovereignty.

Below is an article published by the Wall Street Journal:

In an election, you know a campaign is on its back foot when it produces speeches that focus more on what political opponents are saying than on promoting its own platform.

During a speech given for the Taiwan Foreign Correspondent’s Club on Tuesday [15 November 2011], the chief strategist for Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou’s campaign, King Pu-tsung, sought to defend everything from Mr. Ma’s cross-strait policies to his personality, indicating for the first time Mr. Ma might be fighting from a position of weakness against Democratic Progressive Party candidate Tsai Ing-wen.

Framing his opening remarks around a controversy that erupted last month [October 2011] after Mr. Ma proposed Taiwan consider a peace pact with China within the decade, Mr. King argued that Taiwan’s president was seeking to clarify his views on the future direction of the Taiwan-China relationship and denied that Mr. Ma would “sell out” Taiwan as he admitted many in Taiwan worried.

Turning to the president’s leadership, Mr. King stressed that Mr. Ma had a high “emotional quotient,” and referred to his own relationship as Mr. Ma’s staffer to address complaints that the president is a waffler:

“Many say [Ma] is not decisive enough and even many pan-blue supporters criticize him. But as one of his staff, I have a different view and that is he is a very careful person…. the most important thing to him is that all sides must be fully covered and thus some may feel he is not decisive enough. However, when it comes to leading a country, you can’t flip flop over emotions but you must be very careful when crafting national policy.”

Whether or not one reads Mr. King’s comments as a sign of desperation, the Ma campaign has good reason to worry. Since Mr. Ma broached the peace pact — an issue Mr. King admitted today was more sensitive than the campaign had anticipated — his support levels, once above Ms. Tsai’s in most local polls, have slipped. Given most polls in Taiwan are aligned with media that have specific political biases and objectives, it can be difficult to know for sure where the candidates really stand with voters, but in a poll released by traditionally pro-Kuomintang TVBS last Friday [11 November 2011], Ms. Tsai led Mr. Ma with a support level of 47.3% versus his 45.8%.

Other developments likewise bode poorly for the KMT. Not only did Ms. Tsai’s DPP recently chance upon a new political weapon in the form of a piggy bank fundraising campaign, they also appear to have turned the tide in the scandal department. Just a few weeks ago much of Taiwan’s press was focused on Ms. Tsai’s running mate, ex-agricultural minister Su Jia-chyuan, who was proven to have constructed a residential mansion on property designated for farm use. Now, however, most of the media attention is focused on a series of KMT scandals, including the case of a Foreign Service official who is accused of forcing her domestic helper to work overtime for minimal pay.

As the past few months have shown, momentum in Taiwan elections can be fickle and there is plenty of time between now and the January 14th [2012] elections for new momentum-swinging scandals to break out on both sides. That’s a reality not likely lost on Mr. King, who has captained Mr. Ma’s campaigns for more than a decade, first in the Taipei mayoral races and later for the presidency.

While seeking to clarify Mr. Ma’s stance on Taiwan’s sovereignty, Mr. King announced that the KMT planned to trot out more policies designed to bolster Taiwan’s economy during a candidate debate scheduled for December [2011]. By focusing on the economy, the party might be attempting to deflect attention away from debate about Mr. Ma’s efforts to bring Taiwan closer to China, once considered a KMT strong point.

No doubt Mr. King will be relieved If Mr. Ma’s team can manage to make that switch and go back on the offensive, if only so he can dispense with offering personal testimonials about his boss’s decision-making process.