If you think politics in Taiwan has been eventful in recent times, spare a thought for the people of the UK.
Since 2010, they have endured the first coalition government in living memory, a referendum on introducing a different voting system (result: No), a referendum on Scotland leaving the UK (No), and most recently a referendum on whether the UK should leave the EU (Yes).
Throw in the general election of 2015 and there has been almost seven years of non-stop political campaigning. And now, just as people thought there was to be some respite, the Prime Minister, Theresa May, has called another general election, to take place on June 8th.
In Taiwan, Parliaments are fixed and it is not possible to call an election because it takes political sense to do so. But the UK system is different.
Before 2010, the Prime Minister could call an election pretty much whenever they wanted to. This changed with the Fixed Term Parliaments Act of 2011, which legislated that elections should take place every five years. But, a clause in that law means that if 2/3rds of MPs are in favour, Parliament can vote to have a general election.
With all major opposition parties supporting the Prime Minister’s call to have a new general election, the bureaucratic hurdles that now have to be crossed promise to be a formality.
But why would the British Prime Minister want to have a general election now? The answer, as with pretty much everything in Britain right now, is Brexit.
The current government, which is controlled by the Conservative Party, has been developing a strategy to carry out the will of the British people and leave the European Union since the referendum result. Last month, they triggered the start of the exit process, which as I wrote at the time offers an opportunity for Britain and Taiwan to forge closer trading and cultural ties.
British Prime Minister Theresa May (Wikimedia Commons)
But there is still a sizeable and vocal minority of British people, and politicians, who oppose Brexit and the government fears they will try and sabotage the process to prove their points.
With polls in the UK showing the government and its negotiating position is popular, while the opposition party, much like the KMT, is stuck in internal disarray and polling at historic lows, the Prime Minister has made the political judgment that she can win a bigger majority and a mandate for her negotiating position through a general election.
It will also give the next government five years to sort out Brexit and its aftermath, rather than have a general election just a year after Brexit is concluded.
So, holding the election now is both in the best interests of Britain, and the political interests of the governing party, the Conservatives.
But what is its likely impact on relations with non-EU states such as Taiwan? Well at this early stage, there appears to only be positives that can be drawn from the decision.
The current Taiwan government has indicated a desire for a free trade agreement, which the UK appears to be receptive to as well. A recent delegation from the British-Taiwanese All-Party Parliamentary Group talked up the idea, while recent visits from such dignitaries as the Lord Mayor of London, Jeffrey Mountevans, the Minister of State for International Trade, Greg Hands, the Prime Minister’s trade envoy, Lord Faulkner, and the UK Special Representative for Climate Change, Sir David King, suggests the government is keen on the idea too.
Having the current government in place until at least 2022 would appear to boost the chances of such an agreement being reached in the wake of Brexit, without domestic political requirements providing British authorities with a distraction.
The economic impact of the announcement also makes for good news for those Taiwanese companies selling to the UK. The British pound has strengthened on the basis of a decision which the markets believe will add certainty and stability to the Brexit process. This means that the value of products being sold to the UK will have increased, with all signs suggesting that a further strengthening of the pound is likely if the Conservative Party does, as expected, win the election.
But for many of the people of the UK, their views on the latest election have been summed up rather neatly by Brenda for Bristol, in a voxpop interview for the BBC, which has gone viral online.
When informed there was to be another election, her response was to say “You’re joking? Not another one? Oh, for God’s sake, I can’t stand this. There’s too much politics going on at the moment.”
Sentiments shared by many British people today!