President Ma Ying-jeou’s Kuomintang party declared victory in Taiwan’s election, a win that would give the incumbent a renewed mandate to press for closer ties with China that have eased decades-old tensions across the Taiwan Strait.
Ma, the 61-year-old leader of the ruling Kuomintang Party, was leading challenger Tsai Ing-wen, the Democratic Progressive Party candidate, 51.9 percent to 45.3 percent with more than 11 million votes counted, Taiwan’s television network TVBS reported. Other networks including Sanlih TV reported similar results. Taiwan has 18 million eligible voters.
“The Taiwanese people can now be at ease and we hope that cross strait peace won’t regress,” Kuomintang Party Honorary Chairman Wu Po-Hsiung said at a rally in Taipei. “The biggest challenge for the next four years will still be the economy.”
The party’s victory may offer Ma a mandate to forge ahead with agreements expanding cross-strait trade and investment. During the campaign, Ma said that a surge in two-way trade, investment and tourism across the Taiwan Strait helped Taiwan’s export-dependent economy.
As the count streamed in, crowds continued to build outside KMT headquarters in Taipei where party tallies flashed on a large screen. Perched on plastic stools, supporters waved Taiwan and campaign flags, chanting “keep going Ma Ying-jeou.”
With 84 percent of precincts and about 10 million votes tallied, the official Central Election Commission website showed Ma had a lead of 50.9 percent to Tsai’s 46.3 percent.
Ma, 61, and Tsai made final appeals to voters yesterday. Tsai, 55, worked to damp concern that her victory would harm relations with China, which considers Taiwan part of its territory and has said Tsai’s go-slow approach to the mainland will set back cross-strait relations. Ma touted Taiwan’s economic growth and renewed ties with China, which will also undergo a leadership change this year.
“So support Ma Ying-jeou’s cross-strait policy,” Ma said at a rally yesterday in Taiwan’s Miaoli County. “That will raise Taiwan’s competitiveness.”
Tsai countered that the links Ma engineered with the mainland risk binding the island’s economy too closely to China and eroding its political freedoms. Ma is backed by business leaders including Terry Gou, chairman of Foxconn Technology Group, which has more than 1 million employees in China.
“Everyone’s very confident, and the stock market will rally on Monday,” Gou told Taiwan television station TVBS outside a polling station. “If this election leads to any changes or uncertainties, everyone will have to pay the price for their own decisions.”
The U.S. stance on the election became a focal point of attention yesterday after Douglas Paal, a former head of the American Institute in Taiwan, the de facto U.S. embassy, was cited in the local media as saying he supports the so-called 1992 consensus that Ma’s Kuomintang and the government in Beijing use as a basis for their negotiations.
Tsai doesn’t recognize the consensus, in which both sides agree that there is only one China, with each party differing on the meaning. Paal also criticized Tsai’s plan to forge a “Taiwan Consensus” on relations with the mainland, according to the English-language Taipei Times.
Former Senator Frank Murkowski, an Alaska Republican who is an election observer, told reporters in Taipei that Paal’s comments were “irresponsible” because they gave voters the impression that the U.S. was backing Ma in the election. The U.S. says it isn’t taking sides in the contest. Paal, in an e-mail, said he spoke “only for myself” in making comments on the consequences of policy choices.
“It’s hard to imagine bilateral relations without the 92 consensus,” Cher Wang, Taiwan’s richest person and chairwoman of HTC Corp., told reporters yesterday in Taipei. “It’s impossible to understand there are people who don’t believe in the 92 consensus.”
Under Ma’s administration, a six-decade ban on direct air, sea and postal links with the mainland came to an end. Two-way trade reached $160 billion last year, a 10 percent increase from 2010, according to Chinese customs statistics.
As China’s economy slows, Taiwan’s growth also is moderating. Growth slowed to 3.4 percent in the quarter ended Sept. 30, from 6.6 percent in the first three months of last year. Nomura Holdings Inc. forecasts GDP will drop 0.3 percent in the current quarter from a year earlier.
Taiwan’s voters also choose a new parliament today, the first time the two elections have been held on the same day. The ruling KMT kept control of Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan when the opposition DPP held the presidency from 2000-2008. The division of power resulted in delays in implementing government policies, from financial-sector consolidation to defense purchases.
The candidate with the plurality of votes wins, and there is no run-off election. The inauguration takes place in May. Taiwan’s presidents can serve a maximum of two four-year terms.
James Soong, the People First Party candidate, had less than 3 percent of the vote, TVBS and the Central Election Commission reported.