Ma Ying-jeou wins second term as Taiwan's president


TAIWAN’S BEIJING-friendly president Ma Ying-jeou has won a second four-year term in office in a victory welcomed by China. He was challenged by Tsai Ing-wen, from a pro-independence party.

While Mr Ma made it clear, after declaring victory in Saturday’s polls, that he wanted to strengthen economic ties before addressing political issues, Beijing has promised to co-operate with self-ruled Taiwan after the win.

His victory will disappoint those in Taiwan who fear for their de factoindependence. “With mainland relations, we will work on the economy first and politics later, work on the easier tasks first and the more difficult ones later,” Mr Ma said. “There is no rush to open up political dialogue. It’s not a looming issue.”

During his first term, Taiwan increased the number of direct flights to China and opened the floodgates to Taiwanese tourists and opened trade avenues.

Mr Ma won 51.6 per cent of the vote against 45.6 per cent for Ms Tsai, while a third candidate, James Soong, once a heavyweight with Mr Ma’s Nationalist Party, achieved 2.8 per cent.

Mr Ma’s party, the Kuomintang, also held the 113-seat legislature, but with a reduced majority.

Taiwan split from mainland China after the Kuomintang lost the civil war to the Communists in 1949. Since then China has insisted that Taiwan is a prodigal province which needs to be brought back into the fold, by force if necessary.

China still has hundreds of missiles pointed at Taiwan across the Strait of Taiwan and the island of 23 million exists in a state of permanent readiness in case China ever decides to launch an attack.

Ms Tsai was similar in character to Mr Ma, so the election result probably reflects more of a victory for a softly-softly approach to China than showing massive support for his personal appeal.

While Ms Tsai was a strong candidate, she did not have the powerful populist appeal of her predecessor at the helm of the Democratic People’s Party, Chen Shui-bian, who is in jail for corruption.

When Mr Ma was elected for the first time four years ago, he abandoned the mainland-baiting policies of Chen and China quickly moderated the sabre-rattling against Taiwan.

This less aggressive response was evident from initial reactions across the strait. The first came from the official Xinhua news agency: “The results of the elections have indicated that the peaceful development of the cross-strait relations is a correct path and has been widely recognised by the Taiwan people.”

Washington welcomed the result, possibly with a certain relief, as Mr Ma’s win gets the US government out of a bind – it has pledged to defend Taiwan if the mainland should attack but it has seen its economic closeness to China become ever cosier in recent years.