Lai Ching-te wins Taiwan Presidential Election

Taiwan President-elect Lai Ching-te holds a press conference following his victory in Taipei, Taiwan, on Jan. 13, 2024.[VOA}

Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party secured an unprecedented third consecutive presidential term Saturday, with the party’s candidate, current Vice President Lai Ching-te, winning 40% of the ballot.

He defeated Hou Yu-ih of the China-friendly opposition party Kuomintang, or KMT, and Ko Wen-je of the Taiwan People’s Party.

During his speech, Lai said his win was a victory for democracy.

“We are telling the international community that between democracy and authoritarianism, we will stand on the side of democracy,” he told a room of more than 100 local and international journalists.

He said that the Taiwanese people successfully resisted external forces’ attempts to interfere in the election, hinting at the wide range of tactics used by China during the monthslong presidential campaign.

“We trust that only the people of Taiwan have the right to choose their own president,” he said.

Lai said that because he and his vice-presidential candidate, Hsiao Bi-khim, were elected, Taiwan will continue to “walk on the right path forward.”

“We will not turn around or look backward,” Lai said.

Reiterating his commitment to maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, Lai expressed his willingness to engage with Beijing on the basis of dignity and parity.

“We will use exchanges to replace obstructionism, dialogue to replace confrontation, and confidently pursue exchanges and cooperation with China,” he said. KMT’s Hou, a former police chief, gave his concession speech at 8 p.m., apologizing for failing to help the main opposition party return to power but emphasizing that he had done everything he could throughout the campaign.

 

“I’ve let you down, and I’m here to express my deepest apology,” he told a group of disappointed supporters and bowed twice.

Some analysts say the election outcome shows that more Taiwanese people support Taiwan in continuing the current administration’s foreign policy approach of maintaining a distance from Beijing and continuing to deepen ties with the United States.

“This result shows that many Taiwanese people approve the Tsai administration’s approach of building closer ties with like-minded countries,” Yen Wei-Ting, an expert on Taiwan politics at Franklin and Marshall College, told VOA by phone.

Other experts say the outcome also suggests that Taiwanese voters remain cautious about electing a leader who advocates closer ties with China. “This certainly shows that there’s no consensus on a more conciliatory approach with China,” Timothy Rich, an expert on Taiwan politics at Western Kentucky University, told VOA in a written response.

During the presidential campaign, the DPP’s Lai repeatedly characterized the election as “a choice between democracy and autocracy,” while the KMT’s Hou framed the election as “a choice between war and peace.”

Over the last few months, Lai focused on highlighting the threats posed by China’s growing military maneuvers around Taiwan and Beijing’s coercive economic measures. On the other hand, the KMT’s Hou vowed to restart a dialogue and exchange with China, blaming the DPP-led government for taunting Beijing and heightening the risk of a war across the Taiwan Strait over the last eight years.

Supporters of Taiwan People's Party presidential candidate Ko Wen-je, who has tried to present his party as an alternative to the two main parties, react to results of the presidential election in New Taipei City on Jan. 13, 2024.

Some Taiwanese voters told VOA they feel relieved because Lai’s victory suggests Taiwan will continue to deepen ties with like-minded democracies such as the U.S., an approach that can help counter Beijing’s growing pressure and threats.

“I think there won’t be much change to Taiwan’s diplomatic approach and defense policies, and this will allow Taiwan to further increase its international visibility, which is something positive for us,” Anthony Yang, a 36-year-old commercial airplane pilot in Taoyuan City, told VOA in a written response.

However, with no political party securing a majority in Taiwan’s legislature, Yang said he worries the DPP-led government won’t be able to easily implement certain policies, such as strengthening Taiwan’s defense capabilities.

“Since the DPP fails to secure a majority in the legislature, its attempt to implement policies won’t be smooth and Taiwan will likely make much less progress for the next four years,” he said.

While some voters feel relieved by the election outcome, others say nothing will change in Taiwan in the next four years and they worry China’s pressure on Taiwan will continue to increase.

“China will likely put more pressure on Taiwan, and it will be much harder for Taiwanese companies to do business in China,” Chin Szu, a 38-year-old engineer in Taipei City, told VOA in a phone call.

In his view, the next Taiwanese government should focus on improving Taiwan’s economy and avoid putting too much effort into confronting China. “They should do whatever they can to help improve Taiwan’s economy because that’s what many Taiwanese people like me would prefer,” Szu said.

 

 

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