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Taiwan Election 2024: The return of DPP

  Femy Francis

Taiwan Election 2024: The return of DPP

What Happened?
On 13 January, Taiwan held its eighth presidential election, where the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) came out victorious, making William Lai Ching-te the eighth President of Taiwan. DPP won with 40 per cent of the total votes cast, defeating Kuomintang’s (KMT) Hou Yu-ih, who secured 33.5 per cent, and Taiwan People's Party’s (TPP) Ko Wen-je, who secured 26.5 per cent votes. While the DPP was able to form a government, it lost control over the legislative Yuan, securing 51 seats out of 113, while KMT and TPP secured 52 and 8 seats respectively. The voter turnout was at 71.9 per cent, with about 14 million Taiwanese people participating. Lai's first victory address stated that the elections "have shown the world the Taiwanese people's insistence on democracy,” and he expressed hope that “the other side of the Taiwan Strait can also fully understand such a voice." Hou congratulated Lai and the DPP, stating: "I hope all parties can unite together after the election when we face Taiwan's challenges." Ko expressed his satisfaction with TPP's performance, stating that they are now a "key opposition force" in Taiwanese politics. Lai's victory will bring the DPP back into power for the third term consecutively, following Tsai Ing-wen's two terms.

After his victory, Lai expressed that the result showcased Taiwain’s decision to choose “democracy over authoritarianism,” and its success in omitting external factors influencing the elections. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said: “The outcome of the recent leadership election in the Taiwan region also won't change the prevailing consensus of the international community on adhering to the one-China principle.” He also condemned the international community for supporting the results. Further, when the Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa congratulated Lai and described him as “an extremely crucial partner and an important friend,” Japan was warned of interfering in the internal affairs of China. The UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron sent his regards, stating: “The elections today are a testament to Taiwan’s vibrant democracy. I offer warm congratulations to the people of Taiwan on the smooth conduct of those elections and to Dr Lai Ching-te and his party on his election.” China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) spokesperson, Chen Binhua, stated that the DPP's re-election did not represent the mainstream public opinion. Chen also asserted that "Taiwan is China's Taiwan" and that the "motherland will eventually be reunified and will inevitably be reunified." US President Joe Biden expressed that the US did not support an independent Taiwan, clarifying the American stance.

What is the background?
First, a brief note on the previous elections. In 2002, DPP’s Chen Shui-bian became the first non-KMT elected President. He lacked a majority in the legislative Yuan and the opposition formed a “Blue coalition” to form a majority. Chen remained in power till 2008, when he was defeated by Ma Ying-jeou of KMT, under whom Taiwan aimed to build better economic and social ties with the PRC. Ma stayed in power till 2016, and during his term, a Sunflower Student Movement took place, opposing the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement with China. This led to the formation of hosts of third parties in Taiwan, which was a vital contributor to DPP’s victory in 2016. Tsai Ing-wen led the DPP and formed the government, where she  frequently visited the US and Europe, forging close relationships with the policymakers and the diaspora. Additionally, she staunchly opposed the “1992 consensus” and Xi's proposal of a “one country, two systems” policy.  In 2020, Tsai came to power again under DPP. William Lai Ching-te's win in 2024 has thus kept the DPP in power for a third term.

Second, the primary concerns of 2024. The year 2023 saw a decline in the GDP to 1.4 per cent from 2.6 per cent in 2021. An economic stagnation is internally plaguing Taiwan due to weak global demand and bare minimum capital investment. There is a gap between the wage growth and the inflationary prices. The government has been caught between providing for social development and national defence in the face of China's threat. Additionally, Taiwan’s ageing demography would be an added burden on the economy, with an increasing number of the population coming under the bracket of 65 and above. While the China issue looms large in the Taiwanese elections, an increasing number of the population, especially the youth, have expressed dissatisfaction with it overshadowing the domestic concerns of Taiwan.

Third, who wanted what. The DPP’s ultimate manifesto is the establishment of the Republic of Taiwan as a sovereign, independent, and autonomous nation. The party believes that Taiwan is not a part of the Republic of China and nor does its sovereignty encompass China. They want to reinstate their territorial sovereignty and build on Taiwanese society on the values of pluralism. The current party policy of the DPP aims to have an open dialogue with the opposition party and the external contentions while standing affirmed to its independent Taiwan vision. Hou’s KMT party was seen as more pro-China. During his campaign, Hou stressed that his party would establish dialogue in the Taiwan Strait to deter aggression, and added: “I will seek to interact constructively with Beijing in ways consistent with the Republic of China’s constitution and its laws.” He also promoted the “1992 Consensus” between KMT and CCP, which aimed to create a channel for semi-formal exchange, and had a tacit agreement over the "One China" policy, where both sides differed on the definition of what constitutes China. Ko’ TPP party, formed in 2019, called for a pragmatic solution to the challenges faced by Taiwan. TPP expressed that the two-party politics was hindering its growth, and therefore it was a third option to the citizens of Taiwan. Their campaign focused on economic, educational development and independent deterrence building, setting itself apart from the pro/anti-China narratives of KMT and DPP.

Fourth, the China factor. Chinese President Xi Jinping in his New Year's speech of 2024 expressed that China's reunification with Taiwan is inevitable. China has been a strong proponent of the "One China" policy, which sees Taiwan as a part of mainland China. For years, China has been accused of using intimidation tactics to further its agenda. Taiwan's National Defense Ministry has accused Beijing of heightening military activities in the strait by sending "spy balloons," fleets, and aircrafts, as a way of interfering with the 2024 elections.

Fifth, international stakes. The US viewed the conflict in the Taiwan Strait as a significant part of deterring Chinese aggressive postulates. Taiwan is also strategically located, as it is close to both the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea, which is one of the world's busiest shipping routes. The region is a vital link to the north of East Asia, the Middle East, and Europe for trade. Taiwan also stands within the First Island Chain, which includes the Philippines, South Korea, and Japan, which are critical US allies.

What does it mean?
First, a win for democracy. the DPP’s reelection shows Taiwan’s desire for continuity, stability and a government that is a proponent of democracy and independence. It also showcased the will of the citizens, who were seemingly unfazed by the threat of Chinese aggression if DPP was reinstated to power. The is a strong resolve observed amongst the Taiwanese citizens who want to uphold the country’s sovereignty. 

Second, mixed mandate. While Lai was able to secure the win for DPP, the party lost its control over the legislature, where they were able to secure 51 out of 113 seats. This poses a problem for the DPP's functioning as a party, as without a majority, the prospects of passing bills becomes difficult. Lai stated that they would humbly review the results, and that the DPP aims to build an environment of cooperation and consultation with other parties.

Third, TPP shifted Taiwan's political landscape. TPP's results stand to be impressive in light of how young the party is, also given the fact that it independently faced two dominant national parties of Taiwan. It has struck a chord with the younger population of Taiwan through its focus on the immediate internal economic and social. Since its inception, TPP wanted to become an alternative to the "Green" (DPP) and "Blue" (KMT) political divide. Its’ eight seats in the legislature will be significant, and its inception in Taiwanese politics has changed the bipolar dominance of DPP and KMT.  The election showcases the changing sentiments of voters, who want a more pluralistic political arena.

Third, a disgruntled Beijing. The Chinese aggression towards and in the Taiwan Strait may increase as they view Lai as "separatist." The Strait could observe heightened tensions and confrontation, as mainland China may up its ante to deter Taiwan's independent sentiments and continue to intimidate Taiwan with its reunification ambitions. China also believes that the DPP does not represent the will of its citizens.

Fourth, Taiwan’s alignment with US interests. Taiwan stands vital to the West, where it is seen asa fort of democracy in the face of authoritarianism. While the US officially has not recognized Taiwan as an independent state, it has time and again expressed its dissatisfaction with China's aggression in the Strait. The US has followed the policy of "Strategic ambiguity," where it has been intentionally vague. Meanwhile, the two have built a solid unofficial relationship, where the US aims to support Taiwan's autonomy without being seen as a party supporting the push for Taiwan's independence from China. Therein lies serious skepticism regarding US support amongst Taiwanese citizens when facing Chinese aggression.

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