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HomeAsiaThe Diplomat: Taiwan's DPP Secures Presidency but Faces Challenges in Legislature

The Diplomat: Taiwan’s DPP Secures Presidency but Faces Challenges in Legislature

Current Vice President of Taiwan

Current Vice President Lai Ching-te (also know as William Lai) of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won the Taiwanese presidential election on January 13. Lai secured victory with 5,586,019 votes, while Hou Yu-ih of the Kuomintang (KMT) took 4,671,021 votes. Ko Wen-je, the candidate of the relatively new Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), had a strong performance for a third-party candidate, winning 3,690,466 votes.

In percentage terms, Lai secured 40 percent of votes, while Hou got 33.5 percent and Ko 26.5 percent. In his victory speech, Lai emphasized that the election was a result of the Taiwanese people making themselves heard, despite attempts at interference. He also vowed to maintain the cross-strait status quo.

Lai further highlighted his intentions to maintain continuity with his predecessor, Tsai Ing-wen, and his openness to communication with China if it respects the dignity of the Taiwanese people. He also noted that peace was in the common interest of both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

The Chinese government has sought to portray Lai as a pro-independence provocateur, drawing attention to his past pro-independence comments. However, in as statement on January 13, China’s Foreign Ministry tried to downplay the election, stating that Taiwan is part of China and that the Chinese government upholds the one-China principle.

Ko’s strong performance stemmed from a split vote in the pan-Blue camp, despite a public debacle leading to a dramatic disintegration of the prospect of a joint ticket between the KMT and TPP, attributed partly to poor negotiating by Ko. Evidently, the incident did not prevent strong support for Ko, particularly among young people, though surprising given his reputation for public misogyny and his controversial proposal to revive the disputed Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement.

Polls had hinted at a clear lead for Lai over his opponents, yet several unexpected incidents during the polling blackout period appeared to introduce wrinkles into the election campaign, including a national alert sent to residents of Taiwan over a Chinese satellite launch and comments by former President Ma Ying-jeou urging Taiwanese to “have faith in Xi Jinping” and calling for a reduction in Taiwan’s military budget.

The win means an unprecedented third consecutive presidential term for the DPP. Yet Lai’s lower vote count shows that he does not enjoy as strong a mandate as the incumbent Tsai when she took office in 2020, potentially due in part to the impact of the 2019 protests in Hong Kong. The DPP was also unable to maintain its current majority in the legislature, with the TPP managing to position itself as holding the crucial balance of power between the two major parties.

Given the close results, it is expected that the KMT will push for 2020 presidential candidate and former Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu to become the speaker of the Legislative Yuan. It remains to be seen whether the TPP will back this proposal and whether the KMT will engage in tactics against the DPP by way of the legislature.

Furthermore, the DPP was hurt by its inability to resolve economic issues during its eight years in power, contributing to the TPP’s appeal, particularly among young people. Going forward, the DPP will need to consider more than just its cross-strait position, as the election serves as a warning that it needs to work on its messaging to avoid defeat in future election cycles.


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