HONOLULU — Surprises and exciting finishes are the rule in Taiwan's elections. In the months before the presidential election on March 22, Nationalist Party (KMT) candidate Ma Ying-jeou led Democratic Progress Party (DPP) candidate Frank Hsieh Chang-ting in public opinion polls by as much as 20 percent, but the gap appeared to be shrinking as the vote approached.

Several ethnically charged criticisms of Ma were eating into his lead. Hsieh and other DPP figures argued that the "one China market" advocated by Ma and running mate Vincent Siew would increase unemployment and lower wages in Taiwan while hastening Taiwan's absorption by China. Ma previously held a U.S. green card. When questioned about it, he first said he did not have one, then said that it had lapsed and that he never intended to conceal it.

The DPP used this issue and what they called Ma's inadequate explanation to challenge his commitment to Taiwan. The recent Chinese crackdown on Tibetan protesters allowed the DPP to play on Taiwanese fears of China and to link these fears with Ma. Ma unwittingly abetted this strategy when he initially said it was not clear whether the Chinese government or the protesters were to blame for the violence.