Tsai's popularity may be on upswing, but no bets on 2020 yet

January 09, 2019 12:21
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has seen her approval ratings improve after she staunchly rejected Beijing’s suggestions on "1992 consensus” and “one country, two systems”. Photo: Reuters

Following the resounding defeat of her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in the nine-in-one local elections in November last year, Taiwan's leader Tsai Ing-wen accepted responsibility for the loss and stepped down as party chairwoman.

On Sunday, Cho Jung-tai, former secretary-general of the Executive Yuan and a person widely seen as Tsai’s steadfast supporter, was elected the new chairman of the DPP.

Meanwhile, Tsai’s popularity, which had stood at rock bottom after the November local elections disaster, has witnessed a sudden and miraculous upswing, thanks to her outright rejection of the "1992 consensus” and “one country, two systems” that was proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in a Jan. 2 speech to commemorate the 40th anniversary of issuing the so-called "Message to Compatriots in Taiwan".

The problem is, even if Tsai’s popularity has rebounded significantly for the time being due to her tough stance on Beijing, it doesn’t necessarily mean she can secure her second-term in the 2020 presidential election.

Tsai and the ruling DPP must acknowledge one fact: the stunning victory of Han Kuo-yu, the Kuomintang (KMT) candidate who has publicly endorsed the “1992 consensus”, in the mayoral race in Kaohsiung is a clear signal that what the Taiwanese people mostly want right now is improved livelihoods and a revived economy.

The Taiwan president might be able to build hype for her cross-strait policy during her election campaign if she seeks a second term, and withstand pressure from both the pro-independence and pro-reunification factions, but the question is: can she really convince Taiwanese voters that they can have the opportunity “to make big bucks” under her second-term rule?

Tsai may find it difficult to convince voters on the economic front, unlike, say, Ko Wen-je, who has succeeded in getting re-elected as the Taipei mayor, and subsequently talked about "one family" of the two sides of the Strait in a bid to generate mainland business opportunities for Taiwan.

As such, if Tsai remains unable to deliver any tangible results in improving livelihoods and jump-starting the economy during her remaining term of office, chances are, the KMT may stand a chance to reclaim the office of president in the 2020 election.

As far as Xi is concerned, even if the KMT is able to return to power in 2020, he is likely to discover that his "one country, two systems” call may not have a receptive audience in Taiwan, as both the pan-blue and pan-green coalitions have rejected the idea outright.

Still, at the very least, if the KMT is back into power again, there is a chance that Beijing and Taipei can put an end to their ongoing standoff through official cross-strait political dialogue.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 8

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal