Setting the Agenda for 2015The 2016 presidential elections are approaching fast, and Thinking Taiwan wants to be part of the action by providing in-depth analysis of what is at stake for Taiwan and the region
What an exciting, and in many ways pivotal, year 2014 was for Taiwan! In the spring, civil society converged on the Legislative Yuan, which for many had come to symbolize political unaccountability, and occupied the building for more than three weeks, sparking a political crisis which will undoubtedly have long-term consequences for politics in the Taiwan Strait. Then in the fall, Taiwanese voters used their ballots to send a clear signal to the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) that they’d had enough with old practices. Nothing encapsulated that sentiment more than the election on Nov. 29 of Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), a quirky medical practitioner with no political experience and no party affiliation, over the KMT’s Sean Lien (連勝文), who was very much the “establishment” candidate.
Launched on May 6, Thinking Taiwan couldn’t have been born in more interesting times. With the 150-plus articles published since, we have sought to help our readers navigate the complex maze of Taiwan’s domestic politics and relationship with China in a period ebullient with emotions and high in uncertainty. We thank our many contributors from the fields of academia, journalism, politics and civil society, in Taiwan and overseas, for shedding light on those important issues.
The year 2015 promises to be just as exciting, and perhaps even more important, than 2014. As a result of the dramatic developments we witnessed in 2014, the political environment has changed dramatically. And this means greater uncertainty about Taiwan’s future. President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who stepped down as party chairman after the KMT was knocked out in Nov. 29 “nine-in-one” elections, will arguably be a sitting duck for the rest of his presidency and moreover faces serious challenges over allegations that he accepted improper donations from the private sector. The impact of Ma’s fall from grace on cross-strait relations has yet to be fully understood, though we can surmise that Beijing will have to wait before the Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA) and trade-in-goods agreement, which it had hoped would come into force in 2014, are implemented. It also remains to be seen whether other benchmarks, such as the opening of reciprocal “representative offices,” will occur as planned or will be shelved due to the changed environment. Whether setbacks presage greater tensions in the coming year or more understanding by Beijing is not known at this point. Eric Chu (朱立倫), the only successful KMT mayoral candidate in the six special municipalities that were up for election on Nov. 29, is set to replace Ma as party chief on Jan. 17.
The stage is set for high drama, with the 2016 elections looming large on the horizon. Many questions will need answers.
Will China, which seems to have run out of patience with Ma, give chairman Chu a chance, or will it bypass the organs of governance by intensifying its direct outreach to Taiwanese society, big business and pro-unification underworld figures? Will Chu, who faces many enemies within his party, manage to resuscitate the big machine in the wake of the Nov. 29 catastrophe? And will he serve, as promised, his full four-year mandate as New Taipei City mayor, which would disqualify him from running for president in 2016? If so, who will represent the KMT? And is there an alternative to him, a candidate who would stand a chance against the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) formidable Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), the green camp’s likeliest flag bearer in the election, who many observers agree has a good chance of winning in 2016?
Tsai undoubtedly faces many challenges of her own, and her ability to solve the riddle will determine whether her party is prepared to hold office once again. To do so, she will need to succeed in conjugating with the factionalism that threatens to split her party apart at any moment. The release of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) on medical bail earlier this month is sure to cause additional headaches for Tsai by bringing the ideological and generational divide within the party into sharper contrast. The ensuing battle could get ugly.
Beyond domestic politics, Tsai also faces an uphill battle abroad. Will she be able to appease the skeptics in Washington, D.C., who fear that a future DPP administration would lead to renewed instability in the Taiwan Strait? If Tsai is the DPP candidate for 2016, and if she wins, would China agree to work with her administration? Would Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), himself a perplexing source of unknowns, prepare for war? Or would Beijing conspire with its allies in Taiwan and elsewhere to ensure that a DPP administration is a disaster for Taiwan’s economy and that it is humiliated in the 2018 special municipality elections, thus paving the way for a Chu presidential bid in 2020?
What role will a re-energized civil society, which will also have to make choices in 2016, play in the lead-up to the elections?
And finally, what will be the ramifications of all of this on regional security, on the all-important U.S.-Taiwan-China triangular relationship?
For the coming year, Thinking Taiwan will endeavor to provide timely, clear-eyed and impartial analysis on those issues by bringing together an exceptional team of seasoned experts and emerging scholars. We hope you will join us for what promises to be an exciting period!