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Taiwanese Vote with Their Pocketbooks for Incumbent President Ma

Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou thanks volunteers at his campaign headquarters in Taipei on Sunday after his re-election win. Photo by Patrick Lin/AFP/Getty Images.

Much is made of Taiwan’s relations with the United States and China, but rather it was economic and social issues that drove Taiwanese to the polls on Saturday to re-elect President Ma Ying-jeou to four more years, says GlobalPost’s Cain Nunns.

Nunns reported in Taipei on the elections and spoke to us about the results from the island country of 23 million. The Beijing government insists Taiwan is part of China even as Taiwan pursues trade and other relations with countries around the world.

Ma won by a surprisingly comfortable margin — 51.6 percent to opposition Democratic Progressive party candidate Tsai Ing-wen’s 45.6 percent. Leading up to the vote, polls indicated a much closer match.

Ma steered the country through the global financial crisis — in 2010 Taiwan’s GDP grew by 10.9 percent — and voters were looking for the status quo, said Nunns.

The opposition argued that much of those gains were felt by the rich, said Nunns, but Ma was just asking for patience. “He was hoping that they would trickle down to the middle class and more jobs would be created….The voters saw that the economy rebounded and decided to give him four more years.”

Tsai’s backers also criticized the Ma government for being too ready to do business with China.

The Harvard-educated Ma, 61, was born in Hong Kong to relatively wealthy parents. The leader of the Kuomintang of China — translated as Chinese Nationalist Party — Ma is considered a bridge between the old regime and the new, democratic Taiwan, said Nunns.

The election in general showed the stability of Taiwan’s democracy, Nunns continued. There were no scuffles or problems with ballots, and voter turnout was more than 70 percent. “People went out the night before and went home early so they could get up and vote. And they partied afterward whether they won or not.”

Some problems still exist, however, such as it being hard for an incumbent to lose because they have the force of the government behind them. But in general, elections are free and fair, he added.

President Obama congratulated Ma in a statement and said the United States would maintain close “unofficial ties” with its people.

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