Landslide Electoral Win for President Tsai
Incumbent presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) on January 11 won a landslide victory against her Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) opponent, Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu, defeating him by almost 20 percentage points. Tsai, who garnered a record-breaking 8.17 million votes (57.13%), in her victory speech stressed unity in the face of mounting challenges from China. She also reiterated her commitment to maintaining peaceful, stable cross-Strait relations and reminded Beijing that “peace, parity, democracy, and dialogue are the keys to positive cross-Strait interactions and long-term stable development.”
The election cycle took place amid growing concern about attempts by China to influence the election results through disinformation campaigns and other means. The election was also noteworthy for the high voter turnout, estimated at 74.9%, much higher than the record-low 66.27% turnout in the 2016 national elections. Restrictions on exit polls make it difficult to gauge voter demographics, but reportedly a very high number of young people turned out to vote. Due to the lack of absentee voting in Taiwan, tens of thousands of voters returned home from abroad to take part in the elections.
Commentators attributed Tsai’s victory to Taiwan’s stronger economic performance over the past year, as well as the increasingly violent situation in Hong Kong, which stoked public fears about pursuing closer relations with China. In addition, opponent Han Kuo-yu’s campaign was marred by a series of public gaffes and minor scandals, including reports of extramarital affairs and luxury property deals that were at odds with his purported “everyman” image. Han was also hurt by voter resentment of his decision to run for president so quickly after being elected mayor of Kaohsiung in November 2018.
Many voters were also wary of Han’s attitude regarding cross-Strait relations. Their concerns were intensified by reports from Australia that a self-professed Chinese spy claimed to have worked with a Chinese businessman to influence the Taiwan elections. The efforts purportedly included funneling millions of dollars into the campaigns of Beijing-preferred candidates.
Han made his concession speech shortly after the election results were called, stating that “Taiwan’s democracy, freedom and rule of law are the most valuable treasures we have.” He will continue his term as mayor of Kaohsiung.
DPP Retains Legislative Majority
The DPP retained majority control of Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan in the January balloting, although it lost seven seats, while the opposition KMT gained three. In addition, the Taiwan People’s Party, established last year by Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je, won five seats, while the New Power Party clinched three seats, and the pro-independence Taiwan Statebuilding Party took one seat. Five independent candidates were also elected.
In Taiwan, 73 of the 113 legislative seats are filled by candidates elected from geographical constituencies, while six seats are reserved for representatives from aboriginal constituencies and 34 legislators are selected from party lists on the basis of proportional representation. The DPP and KMT each obtained 13 seats from the party list vote.
Academia Sinica researcher Nathan Batto, who runs the Taiwan politics blog Frozen Garlic, observes that compared to previous elections, third-party candidates had a much stronger showing in 2020. At the district level, both the New Power Party and the Taiwan People’s Party’s candidates performed well, while independents and third parties received over 30% of the party list vote.
“The two big parties [KMT and DPP] still sit atop the political structure, but their coalitions are a lot less solid than they might appear,” notes Batto. “This is especially true for the DPP, which succeeded in pulling together a massive presidential coalition from several forces who don’t really all want the same things.”
KMT Chairman Resigns Following Election
Wu Den-yih on January 11 announced that he would resign as KMT chairman, shortly after the party’s crushing loss in both the presidential and legislative elections. Wu, along with other top-ranking party members, stepped down from their posts to take responsibility for the defeat. Lin Rong-te, a long-time party member who served on the KMT’s Central Standing Committee (CSC), will fill in as interim chairman. His proposal to limit the age of CSC members to 60 years or younger has been met with opposition from other committee members who believe that all ages should be represented.
In the meantime, several prominent party members have announced their candidacy for the chairmanship in the election scheduled for March 7. Chang Ya-chung, a former aide to 2016 KMT presidential candidate Hung Hsiu-chu and president of the party-affiliated Sun Yat-sen School, was the first to announce his intention to run. His announcement was followed by that of Blue Sky Action Alliance Chairman Wu Chih-chang and then by former KMT vice chairman Hau Lung-bin, an ex-mayor of Taipei.
EU Signals Support for Taiwan
The European Parliament, the EU’s legislative branch, on January 16 passed two resolutions with provisions expressing support for Taiwan’s participation in international organizations. The two resolutions, titled the “Common Foreign and Security Policy” and the “Common Security and Defense Policy,” also call for peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues and the maintenance of the status quo across the Taiwan Strait. Further, they express concern regarding election interference by foreign autocratic regimes and the spread of disinformation in Taiwan and elsewhere in the region.