Taipei: Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou may slow down an aggressive push for improved ties with China after the island's voters showed disquiet with his policies in local elections, analysts said.
Seventeen counties and cities were contested in Saturday's poll, and Ma's Kuomintang (KMT) party lost control of two, while the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which favours formal independence, gained one.
"Ma will have to adjust or slow down the pace of his policy of boosting China ties," said Hsu Yung-ming, a political scientist at Soochow University in Taipei.
The election was widely seen as a proxy referendum on Ma's performance since he assumed office in May 2008, ending eight years in opposition for the KMT.
Ma was elected on a promise to improve the economy for the island society of 23 million, mainly by pursuing closer relations with the booming mainland.
His win was widely seen as a sign of disaffection after years of stale and unproductive tensions with the China under the DPP, but the poll could suggest that the pendulum is now swinging back.
"Ma will become more cautious and conservative if he interprets the people's dissatisfaction as mistrust of his China policies," said George Tsai, an expert on China affairs at Taipei's Chinese Culture University.
China and Taiwan have been governed separately since the end of a civil war in 1949, but Beijing still considers the island part of its territory and has vowed to take it back, by force if necessary.
The balance of power -- both economic, political and military -- is tilting ever more in China's favour, and Ma's policy is seen as an attempt to secure the best possible conditions in the face of the mainland giant.
His administration has announced its intention of signing a wide-ranging Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, or ECFA, with the mainland next year, arguing it will boost employment on the recession-hit island.
However, the DPP has warned the agreement could erode Taiwan's de facto independence, and may not reap the benefits promised by the KMT.
"I'm worried about the pro-Beijing policy. After a few years Taiwan will be eaten up by Beijing if Ma doesn't adopt some proper measures," said Chen Chan-ho, a middle-aged voter in north Taiwan Hsinchu county.
"ECFA is a bad thing. Once Taiwan has signed the agreement, more people will lose jobs," he said, voicing concern that Taiwan's labour force will be no match for the mainland's disciplined and low-paid workers.
The Taipei-based Liberty Times said Ma's China-friendly policies were to blame for his party's poor showing.
"Taiwanese voters have become increasingly suspicious about his policies tilting in favour of China and drifting off Taiwan identity, as well as his administration's incapability to rule the country," it said.
Paradoxically, however, Ma may find it easier to deal with Beijing after the election result, some analysts argued.
"Beijing is likely to be more accommodative and cooperative as it would much rather deal with the China-friendly Ma than the DPP and it would not want to see the DPP in power again," said Tsai.
The poll was also a showdown between two key political figures, Ma and DPP chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen, possible rivals in the 2012 presidential election.
Local issues also played a part, such as the Ma administration's perceived tardy response to Typhoon Morakot, which killed hundreds of people in August.
"This election is a popularity contest between Ma and Tsai Ing-wen as this is the first major election since both assumed leadership of their parties," said Chang Ya-chung, political scientist at National Taiwan University.
"Ma tried to boost his support which has been hit hard since Typhoon Morakot while Tsai hoped to reverse her party's disadvantages after its large defeat in last year's presidential vote."
The KMT won in 12 counties and cities, while the DPP came out on top in four, and an independent candidate was the winner in one county.
First Published: Sunday, December 06, 2009, 14:12