Taiwan Election: Lai Ching-te Elected as President, DPP Wins Historic Third Term

Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs welcomed the smooth running of the island’s 8th direct presidential election.

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After Taiwan voted in an election that holds significance well beyond its borders, the self-governing island, home to 24 million people, re-elected incumbent DPP leader Lai Ching-te on Saturday, 13 January, Reuters reported.

Polls in Taiwan opened on Saturday morning and conclude at 4 pm local (1:30 pm IST), and the anticipated later in the evening, owed to Taiwan's well-renowned counting process.

Importantly, Current Vice President Lai's DPP is a strong believer in Taiwan's separate identity and has strongly rejected China's territorial claims. Their sweeping win, an unprecedented third term in Taiwanese politics, comes after voters have purportedly rejected Chinese calls not to vote for Lai and the DPP.

Approximately 19.5 million individuals registered to vote, and reports say that a significant number have already turned out early. Media reports also mentioned the presence of substantial queues at polling stations, with Taiwan Railways recording a record 758,000 ticket sales on Friday, courtesy a huge influx of people returning home to vote.

All three candidates, namely Lai Ching-te of the DPP, Hou Yu-ih of the KMT, and Ko Wen-je of the TPP, cast their votes on Saturday morning.


Who is Lai Ching-te?

Lai Ching-te, the frontrunner representing the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), steps into the presidential race as the incumbent vice president succeeding Tsai Ing-wen, who will retire at the represent the continuity of her tenure since she is ineligible for reelection due to term limits. Lai, alongside his running mate, former Taiwanese envoy to the United States Hsiao Bi-Khim, represents the continuity choice.

With a background in medicine and a long tenure within the DPP, Lai initially gained recognition for his outspoken advocacy of Taiwan's independence. However, his stance has gradually shifted towards supporting the island's "status quo," signaling a de facto independence.

Hsiao's selection as Lai's running mate significantly boosted his appeal, especially among younger voters.

The DPP’s Lai has remained a strong advocate for Taiwan's independence and has maintained close ties with Washington. The presence of a former envoy to the US as Lai’s running mate is only a sign to the DPP’s aim to further strengthen ties with the US.


What Next for Taiwan and China? 

China's CCP government, which considers Taiwan (officially the Republic of China) a breakaway province, views the DPP as hurdle and had made its desire to see the party out of power plenty evident.


Because the DPP's strategy centers on reinforcing Taiwan's peaceful status quo by fostering stronger global alliances, particularly with the US. Lai does have his fair share of shortcomings in Washington compared to Tsai or Hsiao, but the inclusion of a former Taiwanese envoy to US as Lai’s running mate, despite her facing Chinese sanctions, aims to smoothen ties with Washington.

Lai remains openly disliked by the Chinese government, earning him the label of a "complete troublemaker."

During her two terms, President Tsai Ing-wen prioritised modernising Taiwan's military and elevating its global presence as a supporter of democracy, and the DPP's strategy to counter Taiwan's reliance on China included bolstering connections with the US and other regional entities, including initiatives in tourism. Lai's policies are expected to follow a similar line.

In his New Year's address, China's President, Xi Jinping, emphasized the "historical inevitability" of reunifying the motherland. The CCP aims to pursue this objective through political and economic coercion rather than direct military confrontation.

While a potential victory for Lai is not immediately expected to trigger military action from China, there's speculation that Beijing may not wait until the Presidential inauguration in May to initiate actions.

Analysts suggest that responses could include suspending the 2010 trade agreement, a recent point of contention. Additionally, there's an anticipation of heightened Chinese military exercises in the vicinity of the island as a potential reaction.

This tactic has been deployed twice in the past two years by Beijing, notably in response to significant events such as a historic visit by then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan in August 2022 and President Tsai's meetings with top US officials during her transit through the US in April 2022.


The Competitors

On the opposing front stood Hou You-yi, the main candidate from the more conservative Kuomintang (KMT). Hou, a former police officer and renowned mayor of New Taipei City, who had aimed at bringing a working-class background to the polls, in an attempt to bridge the gap between its older and younger supporters.

Hou's presidential bid was paired with Jaw Shaw-kong, a media figure and firm advocate for China-Taiwan unification under a different government than the CCP. Jaw's inclusion as the vice-presidential candidate had garnered attention, occasionally overshadowing Hou's campaign, according to some reports.

Hou's platform emphasised on augmenting economic ties and initiating dialogue with China as a means to maintain peace. However, his hardline rejection of Taiwan's independence and the "one country, two systems" model proposed by the Chinese Communist Party had left much ambiguity regarding his stance on China.

However, the expected disruptor to the established candidates was Ko Wen-je from the newly formed Taiwan People's Party (TPP). A former popular Taipei mayor and a surgeon turned politician, Ko promoted himself as a technocrat, leveraging his scientific background for governance.

Ko's TPP, initially positioned against the KMT, had shown a recent alignment with the party during this election cycle. Despite aiming for a "middle way" between the DPP and the KMT on China-related policies, Ko's strategies mirrored closer alignment with the KMT, contradicting his initial claims.

Billionaire Terry Gou, the Foxconn founder, briefly ran as an independent candidate but withdrew in November due to insufficient public support.

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Topics:   China   Taiwan   Election 

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