Lai Ching-te Triumphs in Taiwan’s Presidential Election

The candidate from Taiwan's ruling party, who is skeptical of China, emerges victorious in the presidential election.

Taiwan's president-elect from the Democratic Progressive Party Lai Ching-te (center) speaks to supporters at a rally at the party's headquarters in Taipei on Saturday. Annabelle Chih/Getty Images

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP): Taiwan’s next president-elect is Lai Ching-te of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), following a three-way election that will define the self-ruled island’s future position toward China.

Since its inception as an alliance of underground dissident parties in the 1980s, the DPP has now secured a third term in the presidency, a first in Taiwan’s brief democratic history.

This year’s election came after more than a month of heated campaigning by all three parties, each arguing that they would boost the island’s economy while providing the best protection against China.

The election of Lai “foreshadows tensions with China.”

Analysts predict that the DPP’s presidential victory will heighten tensions with China, which has sworn to take control of Taiwan one day and has not ruled out launching a military assault to do so. Beijing has often labeled Lai a “separatist,” and Beijing sanctioned his vice presidential running mate, Bi-khim Hsiao, in April.

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In his victory speech, Lai stated that Taiwan is eager to negotiate with China “on the basis of dignity and parity,” but that his administration will be “determined” to protect Taiwan from Chinese threats and intimidation.

“Instead of using the military approach, [Beijing] will use more economic coercion, diplomatic coercion, information warfare, and possibly more trade,” said Fang-yu Chen, a political science professor at Soochow University in Taipei. “But that being said, we still have to get ready.”

Saturday’s vote ended at 4 p.m., with the KMT surrendering the presidential election before 8 p.m.

“I’m sorry I disappointed my supporters, and I would like to apologize,” Hou of the KMT told the reporters. Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) leader Ko Wen-je also acknowledged defeat.

The presidential election on Saturday was hotly contested, with the KMT receiving over 3.9 million votes and the TPP receiving over 3.1 million. DPP received almost 5 million votes.

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Taiwan does not allow absentee voting for security reasons, requiring all voters to cast their ballots in person, on paper only. The physical ballots are then counted by hand at each voting station, a wholly manual operation.

However, Taiwan’s election is not solely about China.

Analysts believe that the growth of the TPP in Taiwan’s historically two-party political system reflects voter frustration with the alleged corruption and ideological rigidity of the island’s more established parties, the DPP and the KMT.

Younger people, in particular, have drawn to the TPP, which has vowed to address soaring property costs as well as increase expenditure on healthcare and rent subsidies.

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“Housing prices are insane, and the economy is tanking,” said Kevin Ko, 29, a project manager at a technology firm in Taipei. “Our generation of 25–30 year old, the younger generation, has been [voting] in elections a lot, but will Taiwan really get better?”

Lai recognized in his victory speech that his party did not maintain a parliamentary majority. “The elections have told us that people expect an effective government as well as strong checks and balances,” Lai said, adding that he will work with opposition parties to solve Taiwan’s challenges.

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