On Saturday, Taiwan’s 17 million voters head to the polls to elect a new president. For most of the campaign, the dominant issue has been the economy. Both Frank Hsieh of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and Ma Ying-jeou of the Kuomintang favor closer business ties with China. Ma, for instance, has promoted a Greater China Common Market. Hsieh has adopted a less integrationist approach.
At one point, it didn’t really matter what Hsieh wanted. His opponent, the charismatic Ma, was ahead by a gigantic margin. Depending on the poll, his lead was ten, twenty, or thirty points. Those big margins, however, existed before the outbreak of the insurgency in Tibet—and Beijing’s harsh crackdown. After the bloodshed, Ma’s almost insurmountable lead has appeared to vanish. Taiwan law prohibits the release of polling data ten days before an election, but private polls by the two parties show a tight race with the Kuomintang candidate slightly ahead.
“I severely condemn the violence used by the Chinese authorities,” Ma said at the beginning of this week. He even suggested the possibility of a boycott of the Olympics. Yet the Tibet issue has clearly helped Hsieh, the standard-bearer of the pro-independence party. “Ma’s one-China market would mean that tomorrow’s Taiwan will be like today’s Tibet,” he said on Sunday. If there is one sentiment that unites the Taiwanese today, it is the desire to maintain their own way of life and freedoms. As Shieh Jhy-wey, the island’s minister of information, said, “We don’t want to have the same fate as Tibet.”
So Beijing, on the verge of getting rid of the Democratic Progressive Party, has once again revived the fortunes of the pro-independence forces on Taiwan. Whoever wins on Saturday will face a Taiwanese electorate increasingly wary of the repressive Chinese state.