Taiwan Elects Its First Female President

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Taiwan opened the polls at 8am for presidential and legislative elections on January 16, bringing to an end months of speculation about the results and its ramification on East Asia politics. The race that attracted the most attention was the contest for Taiwan’s presidency with the opposition’s Democratic Party candidate, Tsai Ing-wen with a large lead over the ruling party’s Eric Chu. The opposition beat the ruling party in a landslide victory that reset Taiwan’s political landscape.

According to Taiwan’s Central Electoral Commission, Tsai Ing-wen and running mate Chen Chien-jen claimed 56.2 percent of the votes defeating Eric Chu of the Kuomintang (KMT) party at 30.09 percent, and third party candidate James Soong at 12.8 percent.

Tsai Ing-wen is Taiwan’s first female president. She was elected by a convincing margin that will give her a clear mandate going forward. In her victory speech, Tsai said the election results proved the strength of Taiwan’s democracy. She hailed a “new era” in Taiwan and promised to work with other political parties on major issues.

Eric Chu of the KMT had conceded defeat and congratulated Tsai on her victory. He also resigned as chair of the KMT, apologising for failing the voters and Taiwan. It is the second time in just over two years the KMT has had to look for a new chair. Ma Ying-jeou resigned his post as party chair after a sweeping defeat in November 2014 local elections.

Supporters of Taiwan’s ruling KMT party presidential candidate Eric Chu

Supporters of Taiwan’s ruling KMT party presidential candidate Eric Chu

Tsai is steely in her belief that Taiwan’s future should be determined by its people, which is a direct affront to China which sees Taiwan as a province to be reunified by force if need be. What Beijing will have to realise is Tsai’s stand on Taiwan’s sovereignty and what her next move will be. She has skilfully avoided clarification on this.

She is not just a mystery to China, many Taiwanese see her as an enigmatic force, difficult to predict. Tsai is Taiwan’s first female leader but unlike other Asian women who rose to the top, she does not belong to a political family. She spent the first thirty years of her life deep in academic pursuits, getting a bachelor of law at National Taiwan University, a master’s in law at Cornell University and a PhD at the London School of Economics, eventually becoming a law professor.

Supporter of Tsai Ing-wen gets emotional during acceptance speech

Supporter of Tsai Ing-wen gets emotional during acceptance speech

What is at stake for Tsai’s administration is the fundamental issue at the heart of any discussion of Taiwan in its relationship with China, which views it as a breakaway province that will one day be reunited with the mainland. The primary reason for the KMT losing the elections was because they supported the notion that Taiwan and the mainland are part of one China and continued to negotiate deals and develop relations with Beijing. A majority of voters did not share this view and sided with the Democratic Progressive Party.

But Tsai makes clear that she holds Taiwan’s democracy dear, she agreed to take over the DPP in the throes of crisis in 2008 because she believed that a strong opposition was crucial for democracy. It remains unclear what Tsai’s stance on China will be as she begins her presidency but this is certainly an interesting time for Taiwan’s democracy.

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