March changing Taiwan election dynamic

Editorial | Mary Ma 12 Jun 2019

Developments since more than one million people marched against the extradition bill have been worrisome.

An unprecedented call for a general strike here, and the US State Department's warning that swift passage of the bill would endanger the SAR's special status under the US-Hong Kong Policy Act mark a rapid deterioration of the situation that policymakers might have not anticipated when introducing the bill.

The government must handle the extremely delicate situation with great care - to prevent what's already a serious scenario from worsening - for it's never in the interests of the SAR to find itself squeezed into a tectonic fight between two giants.

Legislative Council president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen indicated yesterday that the second and third readings of the bill would be completed as early as June 20, a week sooner than revealed by pro-establishment lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun.

Nonetheless, while it's ill advised for the opposition to call a general strike, it's never too late for policymakers to close the Pandora's box.

Meanwhile, across the Taiwan Strait, it's increasingly clear the extradition bill fiasco is having an impact on Taiwan's presidential election, and may tilt the favorable balance away from the Kuomintang - the pro-China party that Beijing wants reinstated as the island's ruling party.

As in Hong Kong since the last Legco election, economic and livelihood issues have largely dominated Taiwan, edging democratic topics to secondary places.

That pattern could be changing, as the situation in Taiwan appears to be shifting in line with what recently unfolded in the SAR. If the trend continues, it's probable political issues would overtake other local concerns for the first time since Taiwan's county elections, in which a renewed focus on economy led to a major setback for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party.

Taiwan's presidential election will be held in January. As incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen defends her post against the serious challenge by former premier William Lai Ching-te within the DPP, five candidates on the other side, the Kuomintang, are running in the primary. They include Foxconn founder Terry Gou, Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu, former New Taipei City mayor Eric Chu Li-luan, former Taipei county magistrate Chou Hsi-wei and school principal Chang Ya-chung.

Since Sunday's enormous march in the SAR, nearly all candidates seeking Taiwan's presidency have taken their chances to voice opposition to Hong Kong's "one country, two systems" policy, and reiterate commitment to safeguarding democracy in Taiwan.

Han, a KMT front runner, ignored the march's ramifications at first, asserting "I don't know. I don't understand" in response to a question put by the media during an election rally. Then the next day, he issued a statement vowing that no matter how the "one country, two systems" policy was being implemented in Hong Kong, that arrangement wouldn't be suitable for Taiwan.

If Han's visit to Beijing's central liaison office during a recent trip to the SAR was regarded as a blessing to cross-strait economic ties after the election, it's now fast becoming an event that's more likely to haunt the KMT candidate.

The SAR administration may be unaware that they unwittingly opened Pandora's box - or in more modern terminology: a can of worms.

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