Taiwan’s DPP wins presidency in election closely watched by China


Taiwanese voters elected the Democratic Progressive Party’s Lai Ching-te to be the island’s president with 40% of the vote, according to Taiwan’s central election commission with almost all votes tallied. The DPP will now serve a third consecutive presidential term—the first time a party has done so since democratic elections began in 1996—following the eight-year tenure of Tsai Ing-wen.

In his victory speech, Lai thanked the Taiwanese people for “writing a new chapter in our democracy.” Acknowledging the island’s tense relations with the People’s Republic of China, Lai pledged to maintain “peace and stability” in the Taiwan straits. Lai will succeed Tsai as Taiwan’s president in May.

Taiwan is a critical geopolitical flashpoint. The island is a self-governing democracy, yet the People’s Republic of China regards the island as a breakaway province and has not ruled out using force to unify the island with mainland China. Taiwan also plays an outsized role in the world economy as an important producer of leading-edge semiconductors from companies like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company.

Nearly 20 million people in Taiwan could vote in Saturday’s election. The island has conducted direct presidential elections every four years since 1996, following almost four decades of martial law under the Kuomintang, now the main opposition party. 

The Central Election Commission reported lower-than-expected turnout of just under 70%; polling suggested that turnout could have gone as high as 75%.

In comments to Fortune last November, Ivy Kwek, a China and Taiwan analyst at the think tank International Crisis Group, suggested a DPP victory might push Beijing to realize that the Taiwanese party is “here to stay,” and to thus find a way to have dialogue between the two sides. Beijing has expressed its dislike for the DPP, which takes a stronger stance against China.

Despite some recent public discontent with the DPP, Lai was long the frontrunner in the presidential elections, partly due to a divided opposition. The KMT, the main opposition party, and the new Taiwan People’s Party, failed to find a way to work together, following a chaotic attempt at an alliance. 

On Saturday, KMT presidential candidate Hou You-ih garnered 33.4% of the vote while the TPP’s presidential candidate Ko Wen-je got 26.4% of the vote.  

On the Taiwanese political spectrum, the DPP is tougher on China, and lists deepening democracy and safeguarding Taiwan’s sovereignty as party values. The KMT, which is relatively more friendly towards China than the DPP, characterized the election as a choice between peace (with the KMT) and war (with the DPP). Finally, the TPP positioned itself as an alternative to the two major parties.

The DPP loses at the local level

Cross-strait relations were not the only factor in the elections, with some voters putting greater weight on domestic issues, such as rising housing prices and stagnant wages. On Saturday, voters were also choosing representatives for the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan’s legislative body.

Following Saturday’s elections, the KMT is now the largest party in the 113-member Legislative Yuan by a whisker, winning 52 seats compared to the DPP’s 51. That likely sets up the TPP, with 8 seats, as the kingmakers. (Two independent candidates hold the remainder).

Lai, in his victory remarks, acknowledged that the DPP did not hold onto a legislative majority. The president needs to work with the Yuan, and so Lai will need to cut across party lines to implement policy.

At a KMT rally in Zhudong, a small town in Hsinchu county, roughly 47 miles south of Taipei, voters gathered the day before the election to hear not from the party’s presidential candidate, but from Lin Szu-Ming, the candidate running for local office. Attendees wore blue hats; blue is traditionally the color of the KMT, compared to green for the DPP. Those on stage repeated the KMT’s key message for the election: That a vote for the KMT would be a vote for peace and prosperity.

Hsinchu is the home of the Hsinchu Science Park, the hub for high tech companies like TSMC and United Microelectronics Corporation. Hsinchu traditionally leans towards the KMT. 

At around 8:00pm Taiwan time on Saturday, the KMT’s presidential candidate conceded and expressed regret at not being able to get his party into the presidential office. 

“I have disappointed everyone,” Hou told supporters at the Banqiao No. 1 sports stadium in New Taipei City, just outside Taipei. 

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