Will cheap flight tickets buy over Taishang hearts and minds?

With the battle heating up ahead of the presidential election, recent polls show that it will be a close contest, with either the KMT or DPP potentially to gain presidential office in January 2012. Within Taiwan, the division of votes has more or less been settled. The general impression of blue voters is that they are more passive compared with passionate green voters. But no matter how passive they are, blue voters hardly would have voted for the green party. If there will not be any unexpected event (for instance gun-shooting episode) happening before the election, there are two uncertainties to resolve that will point towards which party would have the better chance of winning next year.

One uncertainty is James Soong, as it is difficult to say how many votes Soong will steal from the deep-blue voters on Ma’s side. The other uncertainty is the crucial group of Taishang and their relatives in China. The date of the presidential election is 14 January, only a week ahead of Chinese New Year. Local Taiwanese Business Associations (TBAs) started to negotiate with airlines which run direct flights from China to Taiwan in order to sell package tickets: purchasing a return flight for voting plus a return flight for the Chinese New Year means a discount of 75% off a return ticket price rather than two return tickets’ price. Considering the direct flight at Chinese New Year is always difficult in terms of price and availability, this package is attractive to many Taishangs, and in a way, has boosted their motivation to vote in the presidential election.

However, can we be sure those Taishang in China will vote for the KMT?  The stereotype is that most Taishangs vote favourably for the KMT, but my new book, Taiwanese Business or Chinese Security Asset indicates that Taishang have slightly changed their position after witnessing four direct presidential elections. This is not to say that Taishang  have changed completely to support the green party, however, it would be prudent not to align Taishangs automatically with the KMT. Most Taishang expressed that their desire is to maintain peace across the Strait, and to see the Taipei government having more decisive strength in negotiating with the Chinese government. Taishang are disappointed with the slow pace of signing the MOU because this has hampered the possibility of getting loans from local Chinese banks. Taishang do appreciate Ma’s policies of opening three direct links and keeping a steady and friendly relationship with China.

However, the most sticky finding in my book is that some Taishang feel that they were better off under the DPP’s government because local Chinese officials have treated them as the VIP investors in order to win their votes for the KMT. When the KMT came to power in 2008, the Taishang lost their privileged role because their ‘strategic value’ of ‘overthrowing’ the DPP government  had disappeared, and Taipei and Beijing interacted smoothly without any help from the Taishang bridging effect. Package flights indeed shall boost the number of Taishang and their relatives’ turnout, but whether all of the Taishang and their families’  votes go to the blue party, remains a question.

Chun-Yi Lee is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Nottingham, where she focuses on Chinese labour practices and the role of Taishang.