According to the Wall Street Journal: “President Ma's approval rating rose for most of 2010 after dropping precipitously following the government's bungled response to typhoon Morakot in 2009, Taiwan's most deadly on record. But it has been sliding since January 2011, falling to 32.9 percent according to an April poll from Taiwan's Global Views magazine.

Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times, “As he nears the end of his first term, PresidentMa Ying-jeou faces a litany of challenges that might sound familiar to Western politicians: stagnant wages, a growing wealth gap and steep housing prices that have frozen young urbanites out of the real estate market. His main opponent in this month’s elections has vowed to create well-paid jobs, 800,000 units of low-cost housing and more generous subsidies for retirees and farmers. But when voters go to the polls they will also be guided by their views on a separate, overwhelmingly important issue: whether this vibrantly democratic island of 23 million should speed, slow or halt its wary embrace of China. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, January 4, 2012 \~]

“Mr. Ma, 61, a Nationalist, has overseen a raft of agreements that have revolutionized the way ordinary Chinese and Taiwanese interact. There are now direct flights, postal services and new shipping routes between Taiwan and the mainland, and a landmark free trade agreement has slashed tariffs on hundreds of goods. The agreements opened the gates to the deluge of Chinese tourists — 213,000 arrived in November, 30 percent more than in November 2010 — who buoyed the local economy with more than $3 billion in spending last year. Other firsts include a pair of giant pandas from China, an early reward for Mr. Ma’s Beijing-friendly gestures, and nearly 1,000 mainland students who now study at Taiwan universities. \~\

“The burst of contact has reawakened old sensitivities and raised new ones. Nathan Batto, a political scientist at the Academia Sinica, a research institute in Taipei, said that the underlying issue for many voters was whether Taiwan could remain autonomous. “The single question that frames all elections here is who we are and what do we want to be,” he said. “Should Taiwan get closer to China or keep its distance?” \~\

Even in the DPP’s traditional bases of support, like the largely ethnic Taiwanese population of southern Pingtung County where she was born, are tilting toward the Nationalists. Since 2008, mainland officials, encouraged by Mr. Ma’s new trade policies, have been offering princely sums for every last mango, banana and orchid the Pingtung farmers grow. “President Ma promised he would open agricultural markets to China, and in his first month he did,” said Cheng Cheng-ying, manager of the Taiwan Floriculture Exports Association. Invoking the blue flag of the Nationalists and the green of Ms. Tsai’s party, he said, “If you ask my neighbors, they say they are green, but inside they have all become a little bit blue.”

Ma Ying-jeou Wins Taiwan’s 2012 Presidential Elections

In January 2012, Ma Ying-jeou was elected to a second term in Taiwan’s fifth presidential contest since it emerged from single-party rule in 1996.. The poll was Taiwan’s first-ever combined presidential and legislative election. Ma and his running mate, then-Premier Wu Den-yih, of the Kuomintang (KMT), won the election with 51.6 percent of the vote. The Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen got 45.6 percent; the People First Party’s (PFP) James Soong and his vice presidential candidate got 2.8 percent. The KMT also won a clear majority in the Legislative Yuan, or the lawmaking body of government. The election had been expected to be tight but Ma won by a relatively comfortable margin of six percentage points. Soong had been expected to siphon off as much a tenth of the electorate from Mr. Ma, but that didn’t happen.

Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times, Ma “was re-elected by a comfortable margin, fending off a fierce challenge from his main rival, Tsai Ing-wen, who criticized his handling of the economy but also sought to exploit fears among voters that his conciliatory approach toward China was eroding the island’s sovereignty. A second term for Mr. Ma is likely to please Beijing, which has matched his enthusiasm for cross-strait rapprochement with a variety of economic and trade pacts. Those policies, and the wealth that flowed to exporters, helped solidify his support among business leaders and investors. More than 200,000 citizens who live and work in China returned home to vote, most of them taking the direct flights that Mr. Ma helped establish during his first year in office. Not surprisingly, many of the returnees were Ma supporters spurred by surveys that had showed him in a neck-and-neck bid for survival. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, January 14, 2012 /*]

According to Reuters: However, Ma’s victory was much reduced from the near 17-point margin he had over the DPP at the last election in 2008. The Nationalist Party also won a clear majority in parliament, which should give Ma a fillip in pushing through policy. The election commission said the Nationalists won 64 seats in the 113-member legislature, although that is also lower than the 81 seats they had in the outgoing house. “We will continue to let economic growth flourish, protect cross-strait peace and friendly relations to achieve more concrete results in cooperation in important areas,” said Lien Chan, the honorary chairman of the Nationalists. But in an acknowledgement of the reduced majority, he added: “We need to discuss thoroughly the criticism the voters have handed to us.” [Source: James Pomfret and Jonathan Standing, Reuters, January 14, 2012 |::|]

Jacobs wrote: “Much of the day-to-day campaign, however, focused on retail politics, with Ms. Tsai mining popular anxiety over the island’s slide from the heady 1990s, when reliably double-digit economic growth from high-tech manufacturing helped earn Taiwan a place among the so-called Asian Tigers. High expectations among Taiwan’s people partly explain widespread dissatisfaction that persists despite an unemployment rate of 4.28 percent. Many here blame Mr. Ma for stagnant wages and a growing wealth gap that has made housing unaffordable for millions of middle-class Taiwanese. /*\

Tsai Ing-wen, Ma’s Challenger in the 2012 Presidential Election

Tsai Ing-wen, chairwoman of the Democratic Progressive Party and a political moderate who supports economic cooperation with China, was the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate in the 2012 elections. The first woman to bid for Taiwan’s presidency, she beat out former Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang by a single percentage point in an island-wide phone poll that served as the DPP’s primary. Tsai like Ma is a former law academic. She holds a doctorate from the London School of Economics. According to Reuters, “she appeared unable to press home her charges that Ma had pursued his pro-China policy with little regard to rising costs of living and a widening income gap at home.

Paul Mozur wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “A former professor known for her academic demeanor, Ms. Tsai is viewed as a moderate in the DPP. As chairwoman she has sought to increase the party's contacts with China and has accepted the necessity of economic cooperation with China, while insisting that Taiwan should simultaneously broaden trade and investment ties with other countries. Political analysts say that Ms. Tsai will seek to strike a balance between her party's formal pro-independence stance and constructive engagement with China on economic issues. The DPP received a drubbing in 2008 presidential and legislative elections following widespread accusations of corruption against former president Chen Shui-bian, who was stridently anti-Beijing. [Source: Paul Mozur, Wall Street Journal, April 28, 2011 ||||]

“The DPP has staged a strong recovery, winning the popular vote in municipal elections last year on a platform that emphasized social equality. Hao Pei-Chih, a professor at National Taipei University, said Ms. Tsai could win if the campaign focuses on social issues and eschews ideological battles about cross-Straits relations. "I look at my students, and many of them are very pessimistic about the future. When they get out of school they're not sure they will have a job," said Ms. Hao. "In order to attract these young first-time voters and key independent voters, she will likely seek to turn the dialogue to social issues like the wealth gap, rising housing costs and unemployment." ||||

On a visit to Washington, Tsai assured the United States she was not a radical and she would not whip up tensions with China if elected president. She said the DPP’s position on China has "matured along with the development of Taiwan's democracy." "The DPP's approach towards China will be stable and balanced," Tsai said at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank. "Our policy must be in line with the mainstream consensus in our society as well as international expectations and therefore we will refrain from extreme or radical approaches," she said. Tsai, however, criticized Ma for a "lack of dedication to a strong defense." [Source: Shaun Tandon, AFP, September 13, 2011]

Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times, “Tsai’ Democratic Progressive Party has traditionally advocated formal independence. In the past, pushes for independence have irritated China. Beijing has not been coy in telegraphing its preference. At a recent news conference, a spokesman for its Taiwan Affairs Office said a victory for Ms. Tsai could “inevitably threaten the peaceful development of cross-strait ties.” [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, January 4, 2012]

AFP reported: “The DPP has sharply criticized a Taiwan-China free trade agreement — one of Ma's signature achievements — saying that it could lead to Beijing's domination of the island by non-military means. But Tsai said that as the deal is already signed, the party would consider revisions only through "democratic procedures."

Campaigning in Taiwan’s 2012 Presidential Election

Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times, “The race has been dominated by parochial concerns and mudslinging. Ms. Tsai and her surrogates accused the president of using the intelligence authorities to monitor her campaign illegally. The Ma camp has been raising questions about Ms. Tsai’s role in a state-financed biotech company that yielded her handsome profits. Both have denied any wrongdoing. The front-runners dance gingerly around the issue of China. It emerges mostly in the form of debate on the so-called 1992 Consensus, a nebulous pact between Beijing and Nationalist Party leaders that allows both to recognize the principle of one China, bypassing uncomfortable details. Ms. Tsai, a former minister of the Mainland Affairs Council, which helps set cross-strait policy, says the arrangement is a fiction. She wants the voters to determine how Taiwan defines itself in future negotiations with China. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, January 4, 2012]

Jens Kastner wrote in the Asia Times, “Instead of making plausible to the Taiwanese electorate that a DPP win would cause cross-strait relations, and in turn also the economy, to become a certain mess, his campaign staff expended most of their effort on accusing Tsai Ing-wen and figures around her of crookedness. As their latest "masterpiece", the Ma team dug up the "Yu Chang case", claiming that when serving as vice premier Tsai once aided a biotech start-up that her family subsequently invested in, only to be found out for doctoring dates on documents they presented to implicate Tsai. [Source: Jens Kastner, Asia Times, December 21, 2011 ]

“In the meantime, the DPP's candidate has been vociferously demanding a reasonable share of the big China-business cake for the low and middle income classes. Tsai's calls fall on fertile ground as despite lucrative cross-strait ties, the unemployment rate stands at around 4.3 percent, significantly higher than those of export rivals Hong Kong, South Korea and Singapore, and per capita income refuses to rise over US$20,000. The wealth gap is increasing, and average house prices remain at 9.2 times annual household income.”

John F. Copper wrote in the Taiwan Review, “Opinion polls published in several newspapers during the campaign showed that Ma was attracting more female voters than Tsai. First lady Chow Mei-ching went on the campaign trail and helped Ma. She was well liked and presented her husband’s case with grace. Tsai also played to young and first-time voters. She was the opposition, liberal, and fresh blood. Many thought she should have appealed to youthful voters. Like women voters, however, various news polls suggested that young people preferred Ma and the KMT. Most of Taiwan’s youth are quite international in their thinking, while numerous polls show they admire mainland China’s accomplishments and would even like to work there. The DPP candidate made a point during the campaign that she was a member of the Hakka, one of Taiwan’s minority ethnic groups, and thus appealed to Hakkas for their vote. Ma also claimed Hakka heritage, however, and had courted such voters much earlier. More important was the fact the Hakka and the Fujian Taiwanese, the latter being the DPP’s main voting base, had a long history of mutual aversion. Added to that, political allegiances are quite lasting in most countries and Taiwan is no exception. Hakkas voted for Ma. [Source: John F. Copper, Taiwan Review, April 1, 2012. Copper is a Professor of International Studies at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee]

Spying Allegations in the 2012 Presidential Election

During the campaign, Tsai accused government intelligence services ostensibly under the control of Ma Ying-jeou of tracking her campaign events for political advantage. Annie Huang of Associated Press wrote: The allegations of intelligence service abuse were first raised last week by Taiwan's Next Magazine, which said National Security Council Secretary General Hu Wei-chen instructed Justice Ministry investigators to monitor Tsai's activities in May after she became a presidential candidate. Hu reports directly to Ma. Next said the bureau reported back to a Hu subordinate last month with details of Tsai's campaign events and her meetings with political activists, including evaluations of how many votes they were likely to bring to Tsai should they support her. It said the information was then passed onto Ma. The magazine published names of 28 Justice Ministry officials it alleged were involved in monitoring Tsai, and printed a purported bureau memorandum with the political evaluations. Tsai said Next's allegations raised questions about Ma's oft-repeated promise to keep Taiwan's intelligence services out of politics. [Source: Annie Huang, Associated Press, January 3, 2012 \=/]

"In a democratic society if the president directs the intelligence services to monitor a rival's campaign, that would be a very serious matter," she said. For his part Ma denied receiving any information on Tsai and insisted he was opposed to using state organs for political purposes. "I detest this kind of snooping and will by no means allow it to happen," he said. The National Security Council acknowledged last month's meeting with the Investigations Bureau, but denied that it received any campaign intelligence from Bureau officials, or that any such intelligence was passed to Ma. The Investigations Bureau said that it followed the activities of presidential candidates in line with its mandate to provide them physical protection, but was in no way involved with collecting political intelligence. \=/

How Did Ma Ying-jeou Wins Taiwan’s 2012 Presidential Elections

John F. Copper wrote in the Taiwan Review, “The salient question is: Why did Ma and his team do well while Tsai and Soong did not perform up to expectations? It was thought during the campaign that a faltering economy and the KMT’s poor governance at the local level handicapped Ma. It was also believed that James Soong, who was part of the pan-blue, or conservative camp led by the KMT, might split the vote and hand the election to Tsai. Ma was able to overcome these handicaps, while Tsai and Soong faced serious obstacles and did not deal with them so deftly. [Source: John F. Copper, Taiwan Review, April 1, 2012. Copper is a Professor of International Studies at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. He is the author of Taiwan: Nation-State or Province?, which is in its fifth edition, and Taiwan’s Democracy on Trial, which was published in 2010. =\=]

“While the economy was sputtering by Taiwan’s standards, Ma reminded voters that he had engineered spectacular growth in 2010 and 2011 (better than mainland China during part of that period), attributed the current slowdown to economic problems in Europe and the United States, and inspired public confidence that he could get high growth back on track. More to the point, most voters perceived that he could do better than Tsai in managing the economy. =\=

“Concerning governance, the president made leadership at the national level, not the local level, the issue. He told voters that he and the KMT could run the country better. Most voters perceived that the KMT’s record on national issues was better than the DPP’s, which was important because this was a national election. Both Tsai and her running mate lacked experience in national politics; both lost high-profile mayoral elections in 2010. =\=

“Finally, Ma created a sense of crisis, or a feeling that Taiwan was at a turning point. He made pan-blue voters—those supporting the KMT or PFP—realize that if they voted for Soong, they would actually be supporting Tsai, since Soong had no chance of winning. Helping him make this argument was a recent history of the blue vote splitting, as it did so in 1994, when the DPP’s Chen Shui-bian won the Taipei mayoral election, and again in 2000 when Chen won the presidency. Thus conservative voters who originally favored Soong pivoted and voted for Ma. =\=

“If President Ma handled his problems well, DPP chairwoman Tsai did not. Ma and the KMT were better organized and ran a better campaign. Ma ran on his record and used data to present his case. For Tsai, it was different. This is not to say that Tsai lacked political acumen. She brought the DPP out of the malaise it had been in since former President Chen Shui-bian sullied the party’s reputation with his conviction and jailing for corruption after his term ended in 2008. Tsai also oversaw a number of local DPP election wins and a good performance in the 2010 special municipality elections. =\=

“Tsai faced difficulties during the campaign, however, that were perhaps impossible for anyone to surmount. Most of them were inherent in the nature of her party and her voting base. Tsai would have lost support and votes if she had adopted different policies. This was most apparent in the realm of external policy. Tsai could not formulate a foreign policy that was both rational and would satisfy her voters, a perennial weakness for her party. The DPP’s base eschews close ties with mainland China, which it perceives will make Taiwan dependent and lose its sovereignty. Yet mainland China is an economic juggernaut. For Taiwan, there is little hope of expanding trade relations with Europe, Japan, or the United States in the short term; they are all in or emerging from the doldrums economically. Without increasing cross-strait commerce with mainland China, Taiwan would not see positive economic growth. Worse, both mainland China and the United States were seen as supporting Ma. Beijing was subtle enough that its actions did not create a backlash as had happened in previous elections. =\=

China and the 2012 Presidential Elections

Keith B. Richburg wrote in the Washington Post, “Tsai angered Beijing by refusing to publicly support an informal, unwritten, 20-year-old agreement between the two sides stipulating that there is just “one China.” Polls a month before the election suggested a dead heat between Ma and Tsai. Ma stumbled when he suggested that Taiwan might be ready to sign a peace accord with China within 10 years. He later rolled back the remarks, but the critical response suggested that many Taiwanese saw him as moving too close too quickly to the Communist government in Beijing. Several analysts said a victory by Tsai would mark a personal setback to Chinese President Hu Jintao, who has made improving relations with Taiwan a key part of his legacy. [Source: Keith B. Richburg, Washington Post, December 9, 2011 ***]

“Chinese leaders and others on the mainland have made clear their dislike of Tsai’s party and their preference for Ma’s reelection, but they also fear that any blatant interference might create a backlash among Taiwanese voters. For the moment, China’s main response appears to be a kind of regional get-out-the-vote effort on Ma’s behalf. That has meant encouraging some of the estimated ――1 million Taiwanese living and doing business in China to return to Taiwan in time to cast their ballots, presumably for Ma. The Chinese government association that supports Taiwanese businesses on the mainland announced on its Web site that it had negotiated with the main airlines flying between China and Taiwan to offer heavily discounted tickets for Taiwanese who wanted to fly home between Jan. 1 and the morning of Jan. 14, election day. ***

“Chen Naishu, 38, a Taiwanese coffee shop owner who has lived in Beijing for 11 years, said she bought one of the discounted tickets for 2,280 Chinese renminbi (about $359), or half the normal fare. “They think the Taiwanese people living on the mainland prefer [the Kuomintang] candidate,” she said. But in a sign of the inherent risk in the strategy, Chen said she would decide whom to vote for only after she studies the candidates’ positions. In addition, Chinese officials have lately been speaking loudly about the need to maintain the so-called 1992 consensus — the informal agreement from both sides of the Taiwan Strait that there is just “one China.” And some officials and government-affiliated academics have been quietly warning of the calamities that might ensue if Tsai Ing-wen is elected.” ***

Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times, “Beijing had no immediate comment on Mr. Ma’s victory but Communist Party officials in recent months had made no secret of their antipathy toward Ms. Tsai and her Democratic Progressive Party, which has long championed political independence. Although Ms. Tsai had moderated her party’s stance in recent months, many voters recalled the eight years of President Chen Shui-bian of Democratic Progressive Party whose antagonism toward China soured relations. “What this election showed is that business interests in Taiwan now trump ideology ones,” said Edward I-hsin Chen, a political scientists at Tamkang University in Taipei. “There is no turning back on relations with China.” Except for the eight years of Mr. Chen’s presidency, the Nationalists have governed the island, including four decades of martial law. /\ [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, January 14, 2012 /]

“A plurality of voters appeared to side with Mr. Ma’s contention that improved relations with China were the island’s best hope for prosperity. Although she has no interest in unification, Chao Pei-nan, a housewife, 55, said there was nothing to be gained by alienating China. “Isolation will do us no good,” said Ms. Chao, who returned here from New Zealand last week to vote. “In fact, the closer we get to China, the more they will see the benefits of democracy and freedom and the better the chance we have to influence them.” /*\

Three months before the election, AFP reported: Taiwan warned Chinese tourists they risk being deported if they get involved in upcoming presidential elections, saying even waving a campaign banner would constitute undue interference. Interior Minister Jiang Yi-huah said,“Existing laws and regulations can be used to restrain Chinese visitors from interfering in Taiwan's elections, and in serious cases they can be deported at once. Chinese visitors to Taiwan are very clear about what they can and cannot do, and they're not allowed to hand out campaign flyers or waving candidates' banners.” [Source: AFP, October 26, 2011]

Taiwan 2012 Presidential Election Stirs Hopes Among Chinese for Democracy

Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times, “There was another winner in the election that handed President a second term in office — the faint but unmistakable clamor for democracy in China. Thanks in large part to an uncharacteristically hands-off approach by Chinese Internet censors, the campaign between Mr. Ma and his main challenger was avidly followed by millions of mainland Chinese, who consumed online tidbits of election news and biting commentary that they then spit out far and wide through social media outlets. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, January 12, 2012 ^+^]

“As the election played out, a palpable giddiness spread through the Twitter-like microblog services that have as many as 250 million members. They marveled at how smoothly the voting went, how graciously the loser,Tsai Ing-wen, conceded and how Mr. Ma gave his victory speech in the rain without the benefit of an underling’s umbrella — in contrast with the pampering that Chinese officials often receive. “It’s all anyone on Weibo was talking about,” said Zhang Ming, a political science professor at Renmin University in Beijing, referring to Sina Weibo, China’s most popular microblog service. ^+^

“Users expressed barbed humor about their own unelected leaders — and envy over Taiwan’s prodigious liberties — but also deeply felt pride that their putative compatriots pulled off a seamless election free of the violence that marred previous campaigns in Taiwan, including a 2004 assassination attempt against the president at the time, Chen Shui-bian. “On the other side of the sea, Taiwan erected a mirror. And on this side of the sea, we saw ourselves in the future,” read one well-forwarded comment by Xu Wei, a wine expert. ^+^

“The election presented Chinese leaders with something of a challenge. To allow unfettered news media coverage of the race was out of the question, but to strangle the news online of a major international story might have provoked an uncomfortable backlash from China’s increasingly savvy Internet users. The result was schizophrenic: in contrast to the relatively freewheeling commentary found on microblogs and Internet portals, the official press provided spare and neutered coverage of the balloting. As is typical for politically sensitive news events, Chinese newspapers were instructed to run only Xinhua’s account of the election, but many editors appeared to make up for such constraints by running banner headlines, splashy graphics and large photographs of a triumphant, rain-soaked president. “No one told us we couldn’t put the election on our front page, so that’s what we did,” one editor of a large daily newspaper said subversively. ^+^

“David Bandurski, a researcher at Hong Kong University’s China Media Project, said the disparity in coverage between the state media and privately owned Internet portals suggested that officials were still unsure how to grapple with a rapidly evolving medium. “The control regime, if you call it that, is still trying to catch up,” he said. “If their approach is too stringent, they risk a blowback.” For those who hanker for political reform, the momentary stasis was welcome. An early opening arrived, month, when Chinese discovered they were able to watch the presidential debate online. Just as impressive for many were the campaign photographs that showed the candidates glad-handing in public. One image that inspired a welter of favorable reaction was an encounter between Mr. Ma and a peevish pork vendor who turned away in disgust. “At a time like this, one can really see who is the servant and who is the master, and experience what a balanced system is,” wrote the Chinese blogger Han Zhiguo. ^+^

“Interest in the race snowballed in recent weeks and a number of high-profile mainland businessmen decided to travel to Taiwan to see the contest up close. Among them was Wang Shi, one of China’s biggest real estate tycoons, who sent out regular microblog dispatches from political rallies. “Everything went orderly and there were no surprises,” he wrote over the weekend to his four million followers. “The political environment has really matured.” Another mainland businessman who spent several days in Taiwan said the election had a profound impact on his understanding of politics. Seated on a plane bound for Beijing, he described how he had been led to believe that Taiwan’s democracy was chaotic and shallow, its elections prone to violence. Not anymore, he said. “This is an amazing idea, to be able to choose the people who represent you,” said the man, who asked to remain nameless so he could speak without restraint. “I think democracy will come to China. It’s only a matter of time.” But it seems the most telling commentary on the election was a joke that had been forwarded thousands of times in recent days. A Taiwanese man brags to his Chinese friend that he will go to the polls in the morning and know the results that evening. “You guys are too backward,” the Chinese friend responds. “If we had to vote tomorrow morning, we would already know who is elected by tonight.” ^+^

Ma Ying-jeou Starts Second Term Amid Protests

In May 2012, Ma Ying-jeou was sworn in for his second and last four-year term as Taiwan’s president as the opposition rallied against utility hikes and beef imports from the United States. AFP reported: In his inaugural speech to hundreds of dignitaries from the island and abroad Ma, vowed to pursue free trade agreements with other countries and continue rapprochement policies with China. "We must step up the pace of liberalisation; there can be no further delay. Only if Taiwan opens up to the world will the world embrace Taiwan," he said, adding that the island would have to ditch its "protectionist mindset" and "revise outdated legislation". [Source: AFP, May 20, 2012]

“The start of Ma's second term was greeted with angry protests in which hundreds of demonstrators pelted eggs at a huge portrait of the head of state. Ma has come under fire over a recent series of moves including "double hikes" in fuel and electricity prices amid a slowing economy and rising inflation. His government's plan to allow imports of US beef treated with the growth drug ractopamine also triggered several protests by local farmers. Ma's popularity plunged to 19.5 percent, its lowest level in nearly three years according to a poll of 1,086 people released by Wealth Magazine last week. [Ibid]

Economic Policy Under Ma Ying-jeou

Under Chen, Ma’s predecessor, the Taiwanese economy expanded at a respectable 4 per cent but Ma and many of his supporters in the Taiwanese business community insisted that Taiwan could do much better with closer ties to the supercharged Chinese economy. "There is strong demand for more contact with the mainland," Ma said.

After Ma came into office in May 2008, the economy experienced its worst recession, with exports plunging and unemployment reaching a record high of over 6 percent, as the Lehman Brother global economic crisis began to take its toll. But as the crisis eased and Ma’s Beijing-friendly policies bore fruit Taiwan’s economy improved. Benefits of improved relations with China has included thousands of Chinese tourists who come each day and large amounts of purchases from Chinese procurement missions.

Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times, The economic benefits from Mr. Ma’s first term have been pronounced. A landmark trade agreement between the two sides removed tariffs on hundreds of products, helping to boost Taiwan’s exports to China to $115 billion in 2011, a 35 percent from 2009. Spending by mainland tourists has pumped $3 billion into the local economy. During Ma’s tenure Taiwanese exports and investment on the mainland have soared; at home, the local economy has been buoyed by more than 3 million mainland tourists who began arriving shortly after his inauguration. Those policies, and the wealth that flowed to exporters, helped solidify his support among business leaders and investors. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, January 14, 2012]

Gross domestic product (GDP) growth was 10.8 percent in 2010 but economic growth has not translated into wage increases for ordinary workers. And Taiwan's wealth gap has grown to historic highs, sparking widespread social resentments.

Ma Ying-jeou Struggles as Kuomintang Hit by Scandal

In September 2013, William Wan wrote in the Washington Post, “A widening political scandal is threatening to split Taiwan’s ruling party and set back efforts to build closer economic ties with China. Allegations of influence peddling by Taiwanese politicians, driven in part by investigators’ wiretaps of one lawmaker’s cellphone conversations, have stirred fear and paranoia among some political leaders. “I’m sorry. It’s not safe to talk right now. We are being monitored,” said a political adviser within the Nationalist Party, whose leaders have both driven the investigation and been the ones most damaged by it. [Source: William Wan, Washington Post, September 12, 2013 ^*^]

“Taiwan’s justice minister has been forced out, and its high-profile legislative speaker has been expelled by his party. The fallout could have sweeping consequences for Taiwanese politics, weakening the already unpopular administration of President Ma Ying-jeou and giving a boost to the opposition party, which is much less friendly toward mainland China.^*^

“The dominoes began falling when Taiwan’s high court overturned lawmaker Ker Chien-ming’s guilty verdict on embezzlement charges. A special investigative unit within the Taiwanese Justice Department subsequently wiretapped Ker’s cellphone, and, according to prosecutors, recorded conversations in which legislative speaker Wang Jin-pyng and Justice Minister Tseng Yung-fu agreed to help Ker ensure that the overturned ruling stuck. Both Wang and Tseng have denied the charges of meddling, but Tseng has since stepped down, and Wang’s party membership was revoked Wednesday. Wang has vowed to fight his expulsion to keep his legislative position. ^*^

“At the heart of the growing rift is a long-simmering rivalry within the Nationalist Party between Ma, its chairman, and Wang, a party heavyweight who has held the speakership since 1999. Their rivalry dates to 2005, when both competed to lead the Nationalist Party, also called the Kuomintang. They butted heads again in 2008, competing for their party’s presidential nomination. ^*^

“Ma called Wang’s alleged meddling in the court case “the most serious infringement in the history of Taiwan’s judiciary.” Under Ma, Taiwan’s often-fractious relationship with China has hit its calmest point in decades. But Ma has taken a beating in opinion polls and has one of the lowest approval ratings among Taiwanese president. One recent poll has his rating at 11 percent. The use of wiretapping has angered critics , who say the administration overstepped the constitution to pursue Ma’s politically motivated desire to oust Wang. Ma’s party has also seen serious erosion in public support as the economy has struggled. And the justice minister’s ouster is at least the fifth cabinet-level resignation this year. The others included a defense minister who left over criticism of an army trainee’s death, a replacement defense minister who left over plagiarism and a premier who resigned partly over the economy. ^*^

“The expulsion of Wang, who held significant sway in the parliament, could create further roadblocks for Ma’s policy goals, including getting approval for a service-trade agreement with China. Some in Taiwan have opposed the agreement over fears that the island is already too economically tied to the mainland. Wang also had good ties with Taiwan’s opposition party, which has criticized Ma for his handling of the investigation and referred to the wiretapping scandal as “Taiwan’s Watergate.” ^*^

Ma also made a number of decisions that seemed callous to the poor. In 2011 it was revealed that the Ma administration spent US$7.15 million on the staging of a two-night rock musical just days after it decided to cut milk subsidies for poor children. [Source: Jens Kastner, Asia Times, November, 8, 2011 |=|]

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourism Bureau, Republic of China (Taiwan), Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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