Taiwanese voters defy China’s threats, herald in new democratic era

In 2024, more than 40 countries around the world will hold elections, and Taiwan’s election in January, the first one, has garnered overwhelming global attention because it was seen as a vote between democracy and dictatorship, affecting Taiwan’s future and global geopolitics.

Watch the video here.

Taiwanese on 13 January voted for their new president as well as members of the Legislative Yuan, the 113-seat unicameral parliament. The elections are held every four years. 

There were three candidates in the presidential election: Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)’s Lai Ching-te, opposition Kuomintang (KMT)’s Hou Yu-ih, and Taiwan People’s Party (TPP)’s Ko Wen-je.

What are the results of the elections?

According to Taiwan’s Central Election Commission, Lai Ching-te and Hsiao Bi-khim (Lai’s vice-presidential running mate) won the election with 5.58 million votes, 40.1 percent of the total. Hou Yu-ih took 33.44 percent while Ko Wen-je took 26.43 percent. Lai’s victory marked an unprecedented third consecutive term in office for the DPP, since the introduction of democratic polls for Taiwan’s presidency in 1996.

However, the ruling DPP only managed to secure 51 out of 113 legislative seats, which means it lost the majority in the Legislative Yuan. The KMT took 52 seats, TPP took eight while the remaining two seats were won by candidates with no party affiliation. No party held an absolute majority.

Why are the election results like this?

At the presidential election in 2020, the DPP’s Tsai Ing-wen defeated her opponent with 8.17 million votes, 57.13 percent of the total. The sharp drop to 40.1 percent this year showed that the DPP is losing the support of young voters, generally refer to voters age between 20 (legal voting age) and 34, who switched to the TPP.

Some young voters blamed the DPP for not doing enough to improve the domestic bread and butter issues, for hurting their prospect and future, and some were cynical of the ideological conflicts between the U.S. and China. 

Additionally, conservative voters blamed the DPP for offending China and for instigating conflicts.

When President Tsai Ing-wen took office in 2016, she promised to improve the economic situation of the young generation. Effective January 1, 2024, she increased the monthly minimum wage to NT$27,470 (US$882), from NT$20,008 (US$643) in 2016. The hourly minimum wage was also increased from NT$120 (US$3.85) to NT$183 (US$5.88). More than two million workers have benefited from the government’s flagship minimum wage labor policy.

However, analysts believed this move only benefited the workers at the lowest strata but do not raise the overall salary level. There are still 4.08 million people with an average monthly salary of less than NTD 43,000, and more than 60 percent of the young people earning less than NTD 35,000. The youths struggle to keep up with the high prices in big cities like Taipei and many of them take on freelance jobs on top of their full-time jobs.

The relatively low salary of the youths will also exacerbate the problem of low birth rate. Taiwan currently has the lowest birthrate in the world, and its population has been experiencing negative growth for three consecutive years.

A forum on Taiwan’s elections was held for Hongkongers at a bar in Taipei. 

How will the result of the election affect Taiwan’s future and global geopolitics?

As the DPP remains in the presidency for the next four years, cross-strait and international relations are expected to continue along the path set by President Tsai Ing-wen over the past eight years in maintaining status quo. 

Due to Lai not being China’s favored candidate, it is foreseeable that his administration will have minimum dialogue with the Communist Party of China. The new administration will do more to strengthen ties with the U.S. and western countries to maintain peace and harmony, and stability of Taiwan Strait. 

Domestically, as no single political party has a majority in the Legislative Yuan, it will be difficult for the Lai administration to pass legislation, especially those concerning defense and arms deals.

Watch the video here.

All photos credit: Patricia Cheung

Top photo: Supporters at a political rally.

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