Ruling-party candidate William Lai emerged victorious in Taiwan’s presidential election on Jan. 13, a result that will determine the trajectory of the self-ruled democracy’s contentious relations with China over the next four years.
China had called the poll a choice between war and peace. Beijing strongly opposes Lai, the current vice president who abandoned his medical career to pursue politics from the grassroots to the presidency.
At stake is peace, social stability and prosperity on the island, 160km off the coast of China, which Beijing claims as its own and to be retaken by force if necessary. China is run by the Chinese Communist Party, which allows no political opposition.
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While domestic issues such as the sluggish economy and expensive housing also featured prominently in the campaign, Lai’s Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) appeal to self-determination, social justice and rejection of China’s threats ultimately won out. It’s the first time a single party has led Taiwan for three consecutive four-year presidential terms since the first open presidential election in 1996.
Lai and President Tsai Ing-wen reject China’s sovereignty claims over Taiwan, a former Japanese colony. They have, however, offered to speak with Beijing, which has repeatedly refused to hold talks and called them separatists.
Beijing was believed to have favored the candidate from the more China-friendly Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), also known as Kuomintang, or KMT. Its candidate, Hou You-yi, also had promised to restart talks with China while bolstering national defense. He had vowed not to move toward unifying the two sides of the Taiwan Strait if elected.
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In his concession speech, Hou apologized for “not working hard enough” to regain power for the KMT, which ran Taiwan under martial law for nearly four decades before democratic reforms in the 1980s.
A third candidate in the race, Ko Wen-je of the smaller Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), had drawn the support particularly of young people wanting an alternative to the KMT and DPP, Taiwan’s traditional opposing parties, which have largely taken turns governing since the 1990s.
Ko said that dialogue between the sides was crucial, but that his bottom line would be that Taiwan needs to remain democratic and free.
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Chen Binhua, spokesperson of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said that Beijing wouldn’t accept the election result as representing “the mainstream public opinion on the island,” without giving any evidence or justification.
The United States, which is bound by its laws to provide Taiwan with the weapons needed to defend itself, had pledged support for whichever government emerges, reinforced by the Biden administration’s plans to send an unofficial delegation made up of former senior officials to the island shortly after the election.
Lai won nearly 5.6 million votes, amassing just over 40 percent, while Hou claimed 33.5 percent and Ko garnered 26.5 percent.
Photo: Bloomberg 照片：彭博社
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