The relatively low poll numbers for Ma Ying-jeou, the Nationalist Party leader and President of the Republic of China, would seem to bolster the opposition’s prospects for the November elections—and perhaps in the 2016 presidential contest. Ma is a lame-duck, and the occupation of the Legislative Yuan by students this year would seem to stymie his efforts to build cross Strait economic ties. Further, some on the island feel strongly that the promised economic benefits of cross Strait economic relations have not been been realized, or have not been shared equitably among Taiwanese. The mainland’s increasingly aggressive policies toward Japan and others in the region has not helped Ma, who has emphasized how better relations with Beijing would help stabilize the region.
Further, the Democratic Progressive Party has some strong leaders with with good reputations for their governance of cities or counties on Taiwan.
However, based on two trips to Taiwan this summer, and what I’ve read, I think the DPP is not, and should not become, over-confident.
1. Taiwan has a history of “surprises” right before major elections.
2. It is unknown to what extent the mainland will encourage or facilitate the return of Taiwanese to vote in a non-presidential election.
3. The DPP has a difficult relationship with the students and activists who occupied the legislature in early 2014. It is unclear whether the party will be harness that discontent at the ballot box. These young people probably won’t vote for the Nationalist Party, but will they turn out for the DPP?
4. Greater cross Strait ties have created some economic incentives for some constituencies to temper their support of the DPP. This was seen in southern Taiwan during the last presidential contest.
5. In the past, the Nationalists have been able to portray the DDP as unrealistic about Taiwan’s power and its potential to create international space. How long will the legacy of Chen Shui-bian haunt the DPP?
6. Some strong Nationalist politicians in central and northern Taiwan might be able to stake out independent positions that distance themselves from Ma in the minds of voters.