Taiwan elects Tsai Ing-wen as its first female president!
-Dr. Abdul Ruff
Taiwan has elected its first female president in a landmark election that could possibly unsettle relations with China. Ms Tsai, 59, leads the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The new president will take over from Ma, who will step down on May 20 after serving two four-year terms.
Tsai Ing-wen, 59, leader of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), that wants independence from China, won the presidency with 56.1% of the vote after eight years under the government of the pro-China Kuomintang (KMT) or Nationalist Party. Ms Tsai had a commanding lead in the vote count when Eric Chu of the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) admitted defeat. Chu congratulated Tsai Ing-wen and announced he was quitting as KMT head. Taiwan’s Premier Mao Chi-kuo also resigned.
The supporters of Tsai Ing-wen filled streets, waving party banners and cheering to victory announcements made from a stage. The election also marked the first time the KMT has lost control of the island’s legislature. The DPP took 68 of the 113 seats in Taiwan’s parliament compared to the KMT’s 35. “Our democratic way of life is forever the resolve of Taiwan’s 23 million people,” she said. She thanked the US and Japan for their support and vowed Taiwan would contribute to peace and stability in the region.
In her victory speech, she vowed to preserve the status quo in relations with China, adding Beijing must respect Taiwan’s democracy and both sides must ensure there are no provocations. Ms Tsai hailed a “new era” in Taiwan and pledged to co-operate with other political parties on major issues. The will of the Taiwanese people would be the basis for relations with China, Ms Tsai said. She also acknowledged the tenuous relationship with China, saying both sides have a responsibility to do their utmost to find mutually acceptable ways to interact and ensure no provocation and no surprises. “I also want to emphasize that both sides of the Taiwanese Strait have a responsibility to find mutually acceptable means of interaction that are based on dignity and reciprocity.
Ms Tsai, a former scholar, has said she wants to “maintain [the] status quo” with China. She became chairwoman of the DPP in 2008, after it saw a string of corruption scandals. She had lost a presidential bid in 2012 but has subsequently led the party to regional election victories. She has won increased support from the public partly because of widespread dissatisfaction over the KMT and President Ma Ying-jeou’s handling of the economy and widening wealth gap.
The KMT forged closer ties with China under President Ma Ying-jeou. The election marked the first time the KMT has lost control of the island’s legislature. The DPP took 68 of the 113 seats in Taiwan’s parliament compared to the KMT’s 35. Eric Chu, the Nationalist Party candidate in Taiwan’s presidential election conceded defeat and congratulated rival Tsai Ing-wen on her victory.
China sees the island Taiwan as a breakaway province – which it has threatened to take back by force if necessary. China and Taiwan — officially the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China — separated in 1949 following the Communist victory on the mainland in the civil war. The two sides have been governed separately since, though a shared cultural and linguistic heritage mostly endures — with Mandarin spoken as the official language in both places. The sides have agreed since 1992 on a “one China” policy, in which both governments claim sovereignty over mainland China and Taiwan — but crucially neither recognizes the other’s legitimacy.
Taiwan’s freewheeling democracy stands in sharp contrast to China’s one-party state Tsai’s DPP has traditionally leaned in favor of independence for the island from mainland China. That could anger Beijing, which views Taiwan as an integral part of its territory that is to be taken by force if necessary. Beijing has missiles pointed at the island. An editorial carried on China’s official Xinhua news agency said there was no denying that the DPP’s return rule poses grave challenges to cross-strait relations.And a statement from China’s Taiwan Affairs Office quoted by Xinhua said it resolutely opposed any form of secessionist activities seeking ‘Taiwan independence.
The election came just months after a historic meeting between the leaders of Taiwan and China. However, the flagging economy as well as Taiwan’s relationship with China both played a role in the voters’ choice. The KMT has been in power for most of the past 70 years and has overseen improved relations with Beijing – Ms Tsai’s is only the second-ever victory for the DPP. The first was by pro-independence advocate Chen Shui-bian; during his time as president between 2000 and 2008 tensions with China escalated.
The victory by Tsai Ing-wen marks a defeat for not only the pro-unification ruling party KMT but also China. Saturday’s polls come after a historic meeting between President Ma and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Singapore in November for talks that were seen as largely symbolic – the first in more than 60 years. Despite the past eight years of reduced tensions and much improved relations built by the KMT and China, Taiwanese voters have voted for Ms Tsai from the pro-independence party instead. Basically, they’ve voted to keep Beijing at a distance.
This reflects not only widespread dissatisfaction with President Ma Ying-jeou of the KMT over insufficient measures to improve the lacklustre economy, low wages and widening wealth gap – it also reflects growing worries by Taiwanese people that the island may become too economically dependent on China and that this will make it hard for Taiwan to fend off pressures by Beijing to reunify with it one day.
Taiwan for all practical purposes been independent since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949, when the defeated Nationalist government fled to the island as the Communists, under Mao Zedong, swept to power. In 2014, hundreds of students occupied the parliament in the largest show of anti-Chinese sentiment on the island for years. Labeled the Sunflower Movement, protesters demanded more transparency in trade pacts negotiated with China.
The message voters have sent Beijing is that, while they want reduced tensions and good relations, they cherish Taiwan’s sovereignty, democracy and self-rule even more. The challenge now is for Ms Tsai to find a way to work with China, the island’s biggest export market, trade partner and security threat.
General view is that the new president would slash down her anti-China rhetoric that she used during the campaign and would opt for good relations with China. However, she would strive for freedom from mainland as her party’s objective in a sustained, proactive manner.