“US and China fret over Taiwan vote”

Asia Times has the latest on the Ma-Tsai race, where Tsai is looking ok by most accounts:

The presidential election in Taiwan is scheduled for January 14, 2012, and the race is extremely tight. Regardless of the outcome, the election will have significant impact on the cross-Strait situation and on United States interests.

With the election only 10 weeks away, polls show Ma in a dead heat with Tsai Ing-wen, the candidate from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Together with the People First Party and Chinese New Party, Ma’s ruling Kuomintang (KMT) party forms the Taiwanese Pan-Blue coalition.

On November 4, xFuture, a market operated by Taipei’s National Chengchi University where users bet on future events similar to investors in a stock market, gave Tsai a 49.7% chance of victory and Ma a 45.2% chance.

A third candidate, James Soong from the People First Party (PFP), announced on November 1 that he would enter the race after collecting the requisite number of signatures to add his name to the ballot. Most polls indicate that Soong can obtain approximately 10-14% of the total, drawing an equal number of votes from both of the other candidates.

However, it is more likely that Soong will siphon votes from Ma and tip the results in favor of Tsai. In the 2000 elections, Soong ran as a third-party candidate, splitting the Pan-Blue vote, which enabled Chen Shui-bian to win with only 39.3%.

If Ma is re-elected for a second term, Beijing may become impatient for faster progress toward reunification and pressure Taipei to launch talks aimed at settling political differences. Absent a domestic consensus on the island, cross-strait political talks could be extremely divisive with negative repercussions both within Taiwan and between the two sides of the strait.

A victory by Tsai would create different challenges. Tsai is unlikely to accept the two pillars on which mainland China has based its willingness to engage with Taipei: the 1992 Consensus – the formula that made possible the historic Singapore talks between Taiwan and the mainland in 1993 and represents an understanding that there is only one China, though disagreement persists on how to define it – and opposition to Taiwan’s independence.

A Ma victory is Beijing’s preferred outcome, although in private conversations, Chinese officials and scholars do not conceal their disappointment and frustration with Ma’s cautious approach to mainland China and his insistence that many cross-strait agreements yield greater benefits for Taiwan than for the mainland.

Even if no substantial progress toward reunification is achieved in a second term under Ma’s rule, mainland officials are confident that cross-strait relations will at least be stable and predictable, enabling Beijing to focus attention on other pressing matters.

Ma has said that Taiwan could “cautiously consider” signing a peace agreement with mainland China within the next decade if the pact met three preconditions: it wins strong support from Taiwan’s people, whose views would be polled in a referendum; it meets the actual needs of the nation; and it is supervised by Taiwan’s legislature.

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