GP Insights

GP Insights # 219, 18 January 2020

Taiwan: DPP returns to power with a large mandate
Yashaskar Shubham

What happened?
Tsai Ing-Wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won her second term for the presidential election in Taiwan. The election counting which took place on last Saturday saw the DPP and Tsai win the Presidential election with the largest margin by far in the history of Taiwan.

Tsai's main rivals in the election included Han Kuo-Yu of the Nationalist Party (KMT) and James Soong of the People First Party. Tsai registered over 57 per cent of the vote in the election against her main competitions Han Kuo-Yu who registered 38 percentage and James Soong who got only four per cent.

What is the background?
China has been a significant source of division for Taiwan and the debate over independence versus unification has always been a hot topic and the deciding factor for the elections. Taiwan also has long been cast in the shadows of China and the Washington-Beijing relationship. The two major parties KMT and DPP, are at the opposite spectrums of this debate. The KMT is more of a conservative, pro-unification and pro-China party while the DPP leans more towards left, pro-US and pro-independence. 

Tsai Ing-Wen was not a strong contender in the beginning. Even a year before the present election, the chances of her return seemed unlikely. The DPP performed disastrously in the November 2018 mid-term elections which cost Tsai the party leadership as the DPP lost its control over major cities and districts.

In the present election as well chances seemed very slim. However, things started to take a turn for Tsai after the break out of the Hong-Kong protest against the implementation of the new extradition bill passed by the Chinese government. The Hong Kong protest resulted in the rise of anti-Chinese sentiments in a Taiwanese population concerning security and independence of the people over the Chinese plan of bringing Taiwan into the same 'one country, two systems' model which is implemented in Hong Kong.

On the wave of the anti-Chinese sentiment, Tsai registered her landmark victory against the KMT which has a more sympathetic side towards China and support its claim over Taiwan.

What does it mean?
First, Tsai's victory over the populist ideals of Han Kuo-Yu and KMT reinforces the fact that the Taiwanese population cherish their freedom and democracy. The DPP will likely emphasise on maintaining the de facto democracy in Taiwan, and it is highly unlikely that the region will accept the 'one country, two systems' model approach that is pushed by the Chinese in the next four years.

Second, it will be interesting to see how China responds to this victory. The Chinese have previously stated that Taiwan is an integral part of China, and they will take back control of the island by force if required. However, it seems unlikely that China will opt for the use of force shortly. There are high possibilities of diplomatic sanctions by Beijing to put pressure on the government as a method of teaching Tsai a lesson.

Third, there are vast geostrategic implications of Taiwan elections in the Indo Pacific region, and Taiwan has long been seen as a battle for dominance in the region between the US and China. Thus the win for DPP makes it clear that it will not be the end of US dominance against the Chinese in the Indo Pacific region for the next four years at least.

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