Supporters of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) await the announcement of official results at the January 13, 2024 convention in Taipei, Taiwan.
Annabelle Chih | Getty Images News | Getty Images
TAIPEI – Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party won an unprecedented third consecutive presidential term as incoming leader Lai Ching-te vowed to remain open in his approach to governance while pledging to build consensus in a divided legislature.
The result of Saturday’s presidential election is likely to go to Beijing, which has repeatedly described Laie as a “hard-nosed Taiwan independence worker” and a dangerous separatist. There are also concerns that it could subsequently affect frosty relations between China and the US and security in the wider Indo-Pacific region, with China escalating military activities in the Taiwan Strait and other nearby waters.
“As president, I have an important responsibility to maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” Lai told a news conference in an official party translation of his comments in Mandarin.
“I will act in accordance with our democratic and free constitutional order, in a way that is balanced and maintains the status quo across the strait,” he added. “According to the principles of dignity and parity, we will use exchanges to replace obstruction, dialogue to replace confrontation, and confidently present exchanges and cooperation with China.”
The Chinese Communist Party has refused to negotiate with outgoing President Tsai Ing-wen since she took office in 2016. The DPP has not accepted the so-called “1992 Consensus,” which challenges the tacit “one China” agreement among the then-KMT. government and Chinese Communist Party officials, which Beijing sees as the basis for a cross-strait clash.
The DPP’s Lai – Taiwan’s current vice president – won more than 40% of the popular vote in Taiwan’s eighth presidential election. The DPP is the first party to win the presidency three times in a row since the introduction of direct presidential elections in 1996. Beijing framed the election as a choice between “peace and war, prosperity and decline”.
The Kuomintang or KMT, Beijing’s preferred political partner, won roughly 33% of the vote with Hou You-yi in first place. Ko Wen-je — a grumpy, straight-laced former mayor of Taipei who ran under the banner of the newly formed Taiwan People’s Party in 2019 — won just over 26% of the vote.
Taiwan’s President-elect Lai Ching-te (L) gestures next to his running mate Hsiao Bi-khim during a rally outside the headquarters of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in Taipei on January 13, 2024 after winning the presidential election.
Yasuyoshi Chiba | AFP | Getty Images
However, the outcome of the race for control of Taiwan’s 113-seat legislature is much less clear. Taiwan’s new government will also have its hands full with voters largely concerned with bread-and-butter issues, particularly stagnant wages at a time of escalating rents and house prices exacerbated by high inflation.
Voter turnout appeared to be the second weakest since direct presidential elections began in Taiwan in 1996. According to preliminary data from Taiwan’s Central Election Commission, 71.9% of all eligible voters cast their ballots in this year’s presidential election.
China has never relinquished its claim to Taiwan – which has been self-governing since the Chinese Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang, fled to the island after being defeated in the Chinese Civil War in 1949.
Chinese President Xi Jinping considers reunification with the mainland a “historical inevitability”. Xi told US counterpart Joe Biden on the sidelines of the APEC leaders’ summit in November that Taiwan had always been the “most important and sensitive” issue in China-US relations.
Biden has pledged to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion, a position that has angered Beijing.
Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in 2022, becoming the highest-ranking US official to visit the island in more than two decades. Her trip was one of the reasons communications between the world’s two leading powers stalled before tentatively resuming just months ago.