One week left to the 2016 elections! The war over party list votes in the legislative election intensifies; the KMT ramps up its attacks against the DPP’s Tsai; China announces plans to allow transit stops in Taiwan; Beijing also launches a new round of talks over a trade-in-goods agreement in an apparent attempt to influence the elections; rampant vote-buying cases are reported; President Ma reportedly offers to allow the majority party to form the new Cabinet. Welcome to this week’s issue of the Insider.
(Editor’s note: Under Taiwan’s election regulations, media outlets, political parties and individuals are prohibited from citing, reporting on, diffusing or reviewing poll numbers during the last 10 days prior to Election Day.)
► PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN
DPP CONCERNS: Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) on Wednesday discussed some of the major challenges facing her party in next week’s elections, warning about possible vote-buying, young voters’ unwillingness or inability to return to their hometown to cast their ballots, as well as the dilution of the DPP’s votes in the legislative elections following the rise of smaller parties. The DPP is particularly concerned that its share of the vote could be affected by the rise of Third Force parties such as the New Power Party (NPP) after members of the pan-green camp expressed their support for vote allocation, a tactical voting strategy used to evenly distribute votes. The DPP, which won 13 legislator-at-large seats in 2012, was hoping to secure at least 15-16 seats this time, but that goal could be jeopardized by that strategy.
FIERCE AT-LARGE SEATS COMPETITION: With 18 political parties taking part in the legislative elections, competition for the 34 at-large seats is the most intense ever in recent Taiwanese history. According to the Central Election Commission (CEC), 12 political parties vied for at-large seats in 2008 and 11 in 2012. In the Jan. 16 presidential and legislative elections, each voter will receive three ballots at their polling station, one ballot to vote for the president, one to choose a legislator to represent their constituency, and a third to choose a political party, which will determine the distribution of at-large legislative seats.
VOTE-BUYING ALLEGATIONS: The DPP on Tuesday announced it had identified two possible cases of vote-buying involving KMT candidates. One case surrounded KMT presidential candidate Eric Chu’s (朱立倫) Hakka supporters’ club, which is alleged to have organized free trips on Sunday to take supporters from New Taipei City to Hsinchu to participate in Chu’s campaign event, as well as for shopping and sightseeing. Accusing the KMT of involvement in nationwide vote-buying activities, the DPP warned it could file lawsuits after the elections. Chu should firmly commit himself to reform as many of the allegations of vote-buying that have surfaced are tied to the ruling party, Tsai said on Wednesday.
BEIJING’S PRE-ELECTION ‘GOODWILL’: China’s Taiwan Affairs Office on Tuesday unexpectedly announced it would allow Chinese citizens from selected areas to make transit stops in Taiwan. Passengers flying from Nanchang, Kunming and Chongqing were picked to join the trial plan. No starting date has been specified. The announcement, which was made just days before the Jan. 16 elections, has encouraged speculation that this is an attempt by Beijing to boost votes for the KMT. DPP presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen urged the Mainland Affairs Council to explain China’s transit flight proposal and to clarify if “other matters” were involved in the negotiations. Nevertheless, Tsai said she would treat the initiative “with an ordinary mind,” given that it underwent a democratic procedure and was handled with equality and dignity.
TRADE IN GOODS TALKS WITH CHINA: The Ministry of Economic Affairs announced on Tuesday that a delegation would head for Beijing the next day to attend small “informal” negotiations with China on a cross-strait trade in goods agreement. Angered by the fact that no legislative caucuses were informed of the matter until Tuesday evening, the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) criticized the ministry’s move as “a sneaky attempt to avoid legislative oversight and to influence the polls.” Minister of Economic Affairs John Deng (鄧振中) denied the TSU’s allegations. In response to a request by the DPP caucus for a suspension of related negotiations until after the Jan. 16 elections, KMT caucus whip Lai Shyh-bao (賴士葆) said it was “laudable” that the incumbent administration had not slacked off due to the elections, since the new government will not be formed until the presidential inauguration on May 20.
Separately, the TSU led 100 farmers to a protest in front of the Council of Agriculture’s headquarters on Monday to protest the proposed lifting of a ban on selected Chinese agricultural imports as part of a cross-strait trade in goods agreement under negotiation, which protesters accused as “sacrificing Taiwan’s agriculture and farmers.”
KMT STILL HOPEFUL: With the margin between KMT presidential candidate Eric Chu and his DPP opponent narrowing following the Dec. 27 presidential debate, Chu could still win the election by a narrow margin, KMT presidential campaign manager Jason Hu (胡志強) said last Friday.
KMT ESCALATES ATTACKS AGAINST TSAI: President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) on Thursday fended off criticism by the DPP’s Tsai that his administration had brought misery to the Taiwanese, accusing her of “speaking without thinking at all.” Earlier in the week, the KMT lashed out at Tsai over her contention during the televised debate on Saturday that Chu’s proposal to promote economic growth through pay raises was “unheard of.” The KMT said Tsai was a “bare-faced liar,” as “similar proposals were coherent with the new concept in academia, which has been welcomed in the U.S.”
Meanwhile, Chu’s running mate Jennifer Wang (王如玄) used some of her time during the televised vice presidential candidates’ policy presentation on Sunday to raise questions about Tsai Ing-wen’s “negotiating abilities.” Wang was echoing earlier criticism by Vice President Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) and Presidential Office spokesperson Charles Chen (陳以信). Among other things, Tsai was involved in the talks leading to Taiwan’s entry into the WTO.
The KMT’s Changhua County branch also stepped up the attacks against Tsai with accusations that she supported lifting a ban on the import of ractopamine-laced pork from the U.S. Tsai denies that her administration would allow such imports if she were elected.
Separately, the Presidential Office also issued a lengthy statement on Sunday blasting Tsai’s proposal to “establish a communication channel through which Taiwan could forge mutual understanding with China and other nations” in her closing remarks during Saturday’s debate. The Presidential Office called the idea “preposterous” and said it would “setting cross-strait ties back by 10,000 steps.”
INCREASE IN NUMBER OF CANDIDATES: More than 350 candidates will compete for 73 directly elected seats in the legislative elections on Saturday next week, a significant increase from the 269 who competed in the 2012 elections, the Central Election Commission said on Tuesday.
VOTING RIGHTS FOR THE MILITARY: Measures have been put into place to allow more military personnel to get time off on Saturday next week to vote in the presidential and legislative elections, with the lowest-ever number of personnel required to remain on duty on the polling day during a presidential election, the Ministry of National Defense said on Tuesday.
KMT COMMERCIAL PROMPTS CRITICISM: The KMT on Sunday released a new campaign commercial targeting voters in their 50s featuring a middle-aged white-collar worker who is upset with a young generation that has been “brainwashed” and who insists on doing the “right thing” by “upholding the values” tied to his beliefs on Election Day. The ad has backfired and been heavily criticized for “provoking divisions between older and younger generations.” Describing the ad as appealing to the so-called “silent majority” who wish for social stability, the KMT said its contents reflected the views of individuals from the Council for Industrial and Commercial Development, the pro-KMT private organization that produced the commercial, that “KMT presidential contender Eric Chu is the right person for the job.”
DPP’S WU TO VISIT US AFTER ELECTION: DPP Secretary-General and representative to the U.S. Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) will visit Washington later this month to give a speech on the implications of the results of the presidential election, the Central News Agency reports. Wu will deliver his speech on Jan. 19 at the invitation of the Brookings Institution and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
► ELSEWHERE IN POLITICS
MA PROPOSAL FOR NEW CABINET: President Ma has allegedly offered to allow the political party that wins a legislative majority in the Jan. 16 elections to form a new government before the May 20 presidential inauguration, the Chinese-language Apple Daily reported on Thursday. The DPP said it suspected the proposal was an election ploy to maximize votes from pan-blue supporters out of the “sense of crisis” that the DPP would control both the executive and legislative branches of government.
NEGOTIATIONS OVER WARTIME SLAVE DISPUTE: Kyodo News on Monday cited a high-level Japanese official saying that Tokyo has no intention of launching new talks with Taiwan over the issue on wartime sex slaves, a slap in the face to President Ma’s pledge in his New Year’s address that his administration would speed up negotiations with Japan to demand an official apology and compensation. Downplaying the report, which also said Tokyo does not intend to take similar steps over the issue with nations and regions other than South Korea, with which it recently struck a landmark accord over the dispute, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs vowed on Wednesday that it would continue to communicate with its Japanese counterpart. Japanese Chief Representative to Taiwan Mikio Numata was summoned to hear the Ma administration’s views on the matter.
MA REAFFIRMS ‘CONSENSUS’: During his New Year address on Friday President Ma urged his successor to refrain from being “ungrateful” for his efforts and to “cherish” the “bridge of peace” he built for cross-strait relations in his Nov. 7 meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) in Singapore. Ma said the “1992 consensus” was a “common view” shared by both sides of the Taiwan Strait and “the most favorable option” for Taiwan. Ma’s statement regarded as a response to DPP presidential candidate Tsai’s remarks during the Dec. 27 presidential debate to the effect that the so-called “1992 consensus,” which Beijing insists must be adhered to, is “just an option.”
HONG KONG INCIDENT: Both the KMT and DPP presidential candidates have urged Beijing to provide explanations about the disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers in recent weeks, which have led to speculation that the individuals were kidnapped. Chu said the ideals of freedom and democracy were particularly valued in Taiwan, while Tsai addressed Taiwanese people’s deep concerns about freedom of speech. See also this response by the Hong Kong Journalists Association to an editorial in the Global Times arguing that it is “perfectly legal” for Chinese authorities to violate the Basic Law in certain cases.
TAIWAN CONDEMNS N KOREA NUCLEAR TEST: Taipei on Wednesday condemned North Korea’s detonation of a hydrogen bomb as “provocative action” and cautioned against any move that could undermine stability in the region.
► TRADE & ECONOMY
TAIEX DROPS ON FIRST TRADING DAY: Shares in Taiwan closed in negative territory on the first trading day of the new year, marking the biggest fall on the first trading day of a new year on the Taiwan Stock Exchange since 1999. Financial Supervisory Commission chairman William Tseng (曾銘宗) on Tuesday attributed the plunge partly to the downward spiral in the European stock market and a cautious sentiment ahead of the Jan. 16 elections.
NT DOLLAR HITS RECORD-LOW: The New Taiwan dollar shed 0.55 percent to end at NT$33.453 against the greenback in Taipei trading, hitting a six-and-a-half year low, as a result of geopolitical tensions following North Korea’s alleged hydrogen bomb test and an economic downturn.
The Taiwan Insider is a weekly feature prepared by the Thinking Taiwan Foundation’s Chris Wang, Serena Chuang and staff members. Comments? Leads? You can reach us at email@example.com. Click here to subscribe to the Insider and receive it in your e-mail.
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